I read “Mission Possible” (spring 2019) with amazement at the hard work and creativity of Williams scientists. However, I couldn’t help but think how much money is being spent on U.S. space programs (as well as on educating space scientists) while countless people are suffering from cancer, Alzheimer’s and many other modern diseases. I simply can’t get excited about learning more about black holes while I know that family friends are sitting home not able to live their lives. If we could take all the money going to space science and channel it to finding cures and preventions for these diseases, think how far we could get. The money could help fix our food system (change it over to organic, sustainable farms featuring pastured, happy meat and veggies, and reduce the focus on ground stripping—and unhealthy—grains and soy) as well as overhaul the healthcare system that is so Band-Aid and pill happy rather than eager to find and eliminate root causes. Both our food and healthcare systems play a big role in this sickening of America. I just can’t see how we can look outside the Earth when we can’t even take care of the inhabitants (or the actual Earth) right here on Earth.
—Becky (Wetzel) Sodon ’93, Atlantic Highlands, N.J.
While it was impressive to see so many alums aiming for the stars, I was sorry to see that the article did not include mention of another Eph helping us to explore space—Dr. Robert Hoyt ’90. Not only is Rob a true rocket scientist, but he has also built a company, Tethers Unlimited (TUI). This company has grown from a single idea to a significant enterprise that is using cutting-edge science to make real-world progress in space exploration. Led by Rob, the TUI team now creates high-performance components for small satellites, robotic assembly and fabrication technologies, optical fiber winding and deployment, navigation sensors, satellite communications systems and other advanced technology areas. I’m not a scientist myself, but I love that I can look up at the sky at night and know that yet another Eph is helping us to understand just a little bit more about all the stars we see—and all the things we can’t.
—Matt Levin ’90, Berlin, Vt.
Anti-Semitism in Context
I read with great interest “Anti-Semitism in Context” (spring 2019), describing Professor Jeffrey Israel’s recently inaugurated course. The college’s formidable intellectual and pedagogical resources will no doubt prove valuable in their newly directed attention to this perennially thorny topic. I’m pleased to see that Professor Israel has chosen to move discussions in the classroom beyond religious considerations in order to expose racist dimensions of animus against Jews. However, given the explicitly racial ideology by which the Nazis loudly justified the Holocaust, it surprises and concerns me that such exposure at this point is needed. Moreover, I’d question Professor Israel’s assertion that anti-Semitism has been “under-theorized.” Perhaps the reverse is true: Both anti-Semitic ideologues and critically removed commentators have filtered the flesh-and-blood humanity from living, breathing people who happen to be Jewish. Concrete results were acutely perceived by American GIs, who as liberators were overwhelmed by the stench of Dachau and Buchenwald.
—Donald Mender ’71, Rhinebeck, N.Y.
For the Record
Francis Oakley’s memoir (excerpted in “In Pursuit of Liberal Learning,” spring 2019) has it that the Latin requirement was dropped in the 1930s. I wish I had known that 10 years later, struggling to meet a three-year Latin requirement.
—Victor Earle ’54, Amagansett, N.Y.
There now exists in academe what is called the (University of) Chicago Statement, a declaration that supports full and open debate on campus about subjects that many may find not only offensive but unwise, immoral or simply wrong headed. Some institutions have adopted such a statement. However, President Mandel has not even mentioned that her new community—both students and faculty—has already rejected an initiative to adopt such a statement by stating, in part, the concern for “the potential harm it [could] inflict upon our community.” I mention the foregoing because the president’s initial commentaries in Williams Magazine have spoken to both a new classroom course (Free Speech and its Enemies, mentioned in “Intentional Joy,” summer 2018) and a study to “bring clarity” to the role of campus speakers so that both “free expression and inclusion” are protected (“A Position of Strength,” spring 2019). That is an impossibility, since true free speech is not negotiable. Apparently, the cultural weather report for Billville is a fixed phenomenon: Snowflakes.
—Ted Baumgardner ’57, Winter Park, Fla.
More on Armstrong
Your article “Histories in the Making” (fall 2018) failed to do justice to Samuel Chapman Armstrong, Class of 1862. The son of protestant missionaries in Hawaii, Armstrong graduated from Punahou School and came to Williams in 1860 after the death of his father. When the Civil War broke out, he volunteered for service and was commissioned a captain. He raised a company of soldiers in the Troy, N.Y., area, which became part of the 125th New York Regiment. The regiment fought at Harpers Ferry and Gettysburg, where they helped to repel Pickett’s Charge. Armstrong then volunteered to lead black troops, which many officers decided to do, and became the colonel in charge of the 8th U.S. Colored Troops in 1864. He ended the war with the rank of brigadier general. His experience led him to found Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia as a training ground for black teachers. His most famous student and protégé was Booker T. Washington, who described Armstrong in Up from Slavery as the “noblest, rarest human being that it has ever been my privilege to meet. … One might have removed from Hampton all the buildings, classrooms, teachers and industries and given the men and women there the opportunity of coming into daily contact with General Armstrong, and that alone would have been a liberal education.” Sounds like James Garfield’s description of Mark Hopkins and the log.
—John K. Dirlam ’68, Wellesley, Mass
For Such a Time as This
In “For Such a Time as This” (spring 2019) it is asserted that the seeds of the Africana Studies Department were sown in the agreement between Preston Washington ’70 and Provost Steve Lewis ’60 that ended the Afro-American Society’s occupation of Hopkins Hall in April 1969. That is not, however, historically accurate. Those seeds had in fact already been sown in spring 1968, when the society made a case for the establishment of an interdepartmental program in Afro-American studies. That idea, taken up in the fall by the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP), acting in consultation with the pertinent departments and the leadership of the society, eventuated in the formal proposal for the establishment of such a program that the CEP brought up for a successful vote at the February 1969 faculty meeting, two months before the occupation itself. Why emphasize the timing? Because it may serve to remind us that curricular innovations responsive to student ideas and needs may well be the outcome not of campus upheavals but of the college’s established governance processes. In that respect, the Afro-American Studies Program paralleled the Williams-in-India program and the interdepartmental major in the history of ideas that were both voted in that same year.
—Francis Oakley, Williams President, Emeritus, and Chair of the CEP, 1968-69
Professor Oakley courteously shared with me a letter he’d written and intended to have published in the summer 2019 issue. Since then, I have had an opportunity to participate in the beautiful commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Africana Studies, which brought Black alumni from across five decades, including five members of the 1968-1969 Afro-American Society (AAS) who occupied Hopkins Hall in April 1969. The recollections of these men and women, as well as institutional recordings of that moment, confirm Professor Oakley’s assertion that the “seeds” of the Africana Studies Department had been sown in the spring of 1968, when AAS submitted a “proposal” for creating more physical, cultural and curricular spaces on campus for Black students, including an Afro-American Studies Program. However, the original 1968 proposal, and the 1969 demands and occupation, were not at all disconnected actions but part of a stream of organizing that was consistent with those of contemporaneous Black student movements across the globe. The Hopkins Occupation was another, perhaps more publicly dramatic, stage of AAS’s long efforts to bring the college into a new age. It reminds us that the moral urgency of student agitation speeds the slow, grinding wheels of institutional governance.
—James Manigault-Bryant, Associate Professor and Chair, Africana Studies Department