Why Liberal Arts?

Hopkins Gate MottoI applaud the Committee on Educational Policy’s effort to explore the question “Why Liberal Arts?” (fall 2014). However, the inclusion of alumni on the committee would provide valuable perspective on how the breadth of academic, cultural, athletic and social experiences available through a Williams education creates the foundation for a rewarding and fulfilling personal and professional life. We alumni live the value of that education and can share what worked well, what didn’t, what the invaluable and treasured opportunities were and what we now know we overlooked. “Williams taught me how to think” summarizes my four years of college. The development of skills in critical reasoning, receptiveness to new ideas, skepticism, diligence, attention to detail, valuing diverse opinions, perseverance, personal expression and inquisitiveness is one short answer to the question, “Why Liberal Arts?” Inviting other alumni viewpoints would make the committee’s work even more effective in examining the Williams experience.

—Bill Leininger ’86, San Diego, Calif. 

History of the Book

01a Sumerian cuneiform tablet (letter)_[32]History of the Book” (fall 2014) was a lively printer’s case of printing history. But one important little machine was missing: the manual typewriter. Its keys gave first light to most books and other writings for 100 years after the 1870s, and it is still used in the developing world. It helped feed my family and led me to a newsy, clickety-clack start in newspapering. The manual typewriter had more inventors than keys. One American, Christopher Latham Sholes, is credited with the first commercially successful one in 1873; he coined the word “typewriter” and developed the famous “QWERTY” top row. For a story in The Baltimore Sun, consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Baltimore novelist Stephen Dixon told me about their refusal to write on anything else. Dixon said, “Computers feel awful. There was nothing to it. Too easy. So ticky-tacky. I feel creative on a manual. I love the keyboard action. It’s like playing a piano.” Nader liked banging away on a manual machine that sounds alive. My boss deviously assigned me, a non-technical scribbler, to learn computers and teach our newspaper staff the same in 1975. At first, typewriter and pencil/pad were my only teaching tools that didn’t crash, but we finally said a sad farewell to the old faithful Royals, Smith Coronas and Underwoods.

—Ernest F. Imhoff ’59, Baltimore, Md. 

In “History of the Book,” the caption for the 17th century printer’s type case is incorrect, stating that it “holds all the individual pieces of metal type to set a text by hand, with small letters in the ‘lower’ part of the case and capital letters in the ‘upper part.’” In fact, two separate cases are involved. The upper case is a double-cap case to hold capital and small capital letters. The lower case holds miniscules, figures, punctuation and letter spaces. Since text uses relatively few capitals, they are held farthest from the compositor.

—Charles Klensch ’48, New York, N.Y. 

Sex Work and Sports Events

jruv_RLR_IMG_2201_[33]In “Sex Work and Sports Events” (fall 2014), using “sex work” to refer to prostituted people represents a perspective that supports legalized prostitution. This term normalizes an industry that is based on exploitation and avoids recognizing the structures that allow the commercial sex industry to be growing across the globe. The answer is not an illogical effort to better regulate or legalize an industry that is based on inequality. This leads to focusing on allegedly improving working conditions within a slavery system instead of abolishing slavery outright. The most effective effort is to criminalize demand perpetrated by the (mainly) men driving the industry, hold them accountable for buying people’s bodies and decriminalize those being prostituted—the Nordic model. Recognizing the link between the porn industry in creating demand is integral to working toward change. The vast majority of prostituted people are not there by choice—most are trafficked and come from high-risk populations such as foster care in the U.S. While it’s extremely important to initiate multiple approaches to addressing the problem of prostitution, like providing support services to help people get out of “the life,” it’s equally important to address the risk factors such as poverty that ensnare mostly women into “the life.” To learn more, please read Rachel Lloyd’s book Girls Like Us and Victor Malerek’s ethnographic research about the horrors of sex slavery in his books The Natashas and The Johns.

Where are the strong feminist voices within the women’s, gender and sexuality studies department at Williams who are willing to challenge the construct that it is acceptable for men to buy people’s bodies—usually those who are less advantaged—and use them for their sexual pleasure? College students deserve to be taught about the realities of sex trafficking and the commercial sex industry.

—Alexis Ladd, PA ’15, Boxborough, Mass. 

Jews at Williams

Chesta-retWith regard to “Gentlemen Jews” (summer 2014): whether or not my relative (on my mother’s side) Edward S. Greenbaum, Class of 1910, or his brother Lawrence Greenbaum, Class of 1909, was screening Jewish applicants, my father, Harry Meirowitz (later Harry Merwin), Class of 1920, the son of a working-class immigrant Jewish family, was not excluded from Williams. After his graduation he attended Harvard Law School and later married a close relative of the Greenbaum family. When I attended Williams as a member of the Class of 1950, anti-semitism was not entirely absent from the campus, with very few of the fraternities accepting Jewish students and some nasty outbreaks in the dorms (one of which I vividly remember to this day). It is clear that the situation has improved greatly in the 60-plus years since I was a student.

—Don Merwin ’50, Denver, Colo.