Angela Davis, Bureau of Study Counsel, climate change
Crime and Incarceration
The article about Elizabeth Hinton (“Color and Incarceration,” by Lydialyle Gibson, September-October, page 40) included an observation by Hinton when she visited a loved one inside a California prison and saw “all these black and brown families.” I work for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), dedicated to helping incarcerated men and women successfully transition back into society and reform our criminal justice system. I have walked into numerous prisons in California, which has one of the world’s largest prison systems. Each time I step into one of these institutions, my breath is taken away by the image of a sea of black and brown bodies in oversized blue prison uniforms, slowly pacing these prison yards in a fog of hopelessness.
I’ve also seen how education can help break through this fog. Sam Lewis, ARC’s executive director, often speaks with me about how education dramatically changed his life during his 24 years of incarceration in a California prison. I applaud and second Hinton’s call for Harvard to invest in prison education. Education is and will continue to be critical in developing the leadership of those most impacted by our justice system. As an alum, I would love to see Harvard lead in this effort.
Bikila Ochoa, Ph.D. ’09
Speak Up, Please
Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or send comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hinton’s critique of our criminal justice system, and her call for policy reform, are compelling and convincing. But aside from a few casual references, the article ignores an essential dimension of the story: the victims. It is as if none of the incarcerated had committed an offense graver than possession of recreational drugs. Yet in many if not most cases, the victims of crime are from the same disadvantaged socioeconomic, racial, or ethnic groups as the perpetrators. Moreover, victim compensation, sometimes in lieu of incarceration, should be a key element of humane and effective offender rehabilitation.
In portraying the perpetrators as the victims, the author airbrushes the real victims out of the story. Truly, justice is blind.
Andrew Sorokowski, A.M. ’75
The article was disappointing because it left out an important part of the story. Gibson overlooked James Forman Jr.’s book, Locking Up Our Own, subtitled Crime and Punishment in Black America, which won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2018. I am interested in the topic because I have been a criminal defense lawyer for most of my career, beginning in 1981.
The article sums up Hinton’s book as:
[telling] the story of how federal policies—shaped by presidential administrations and endorsed by Congress—ratcheted up surveillance and punishment in black urban neighborhoods from the 1960s through the 1980s, how criminalization was steadily expanded, and how all of this was driven by deeply held assumptions about the cultural and behavioral inferiority of black Americans.
Gibson overlooks the most important point of Locking Up Our Own: that “amid a surge in crime and drug addiction,” black mayors, judges, and police chiefs who took office in the 1970s, “fearing that the gains of the civil rights movement were being undermined by lawlessness, embraced tough-on-crime measures, including longer sentences and aggressive police tactics” (as the dust jacket puts it). Those officials responded to the demands of black people to do something about the crime in their neighborhoods.
There were big changes in the late 1980s with the advent of the federal sentencing guidelines. Drug cases, even for small amounts of illegal drugs, were prosecuted in federal court instead of state court to take advantage of long mandatory minimum sentences. While many black people were sentenced to prison for crimes involving crack cocaine in urban areas, white people were imprisoned for methamphetamine offenses in rural areas.
We warmly thank readers who help support publication of Harvard Magazine. Donors during the past year are recognized in the print version of this issue. Your contributions (and advertising revenues) underpin this nonprofit enterprise; the remaining operating deficit is funded by a subvention from the Harvard president’s office. (The magazine’s finances are described further at harvardmagazine.com/why-donate.)
We hope that readers and others who are interested in faculty members’ research will enjoy the new “Ask a Harvard Professor” podcast. To learn more and to subscribe, go to harvardmag.com/podcast. If the initial season, now under way, finds an audience (please spread the word!) and attracts support, we will make this effort a regular part of our service on readers’—and listeners’—behalf.
In effect, our country decided to treat illegal drug possession and sales as a criminal-justice problem instead of a public-health challenge. Many public officials, black and white, were making decisions with the best of intentions that resulted in what is now called mass incarceration. Fear of crime motivated all races to do something. I hope Hinton is telling the whole story to her classes about how we got to now.
Patrick Deaton, M.P.A. ’87
The statistics are painfully clear: 50 percent of U.S. murders are committed by 6 percent of our population, black males. A very high violent crime rate in black communities requires police presence to (a) protect potential victims, mostly black, and (b) deter more serious crime. But Hinton concludes that history and white racism are to blame for black crime and imprisonment. Are we to believe that the black community bears no responsibility for its behavior?
Richard Merlo ’57
“Color and Incarceration” tells a tragic story. To the extent Hinton’s and others’ research in this field defines the problems to be solved, it is useful. This past August 30, Norfolk, Virginia’s, black police chief said, after a bloody week in which 10 people were shot and 5 killed, he is forming a committee to address the public-health crisis of young black men and gun violence the in the same way that they look at the opioid crisis. This means looking at poverty, education, and children regularly witnessing and being victims of gun violence. Black men are either suspect or victim in 93 percent of shootings in Norfolk, often both.
The chief said those demographics have persisted throughout his 30-year career. Black men were victims in 71 percent of the 450 homicides from 2006 to 2017. In the 320 killings in which police arrested someone, that suspect was black 78 percent of the time. He has been saying to groups: Guns are everywhere, shooters are getting younger, and Norfolk residents aren’t energized enough.
The racial makeup of Norfolk is : 47.1 percent white; 43.1 percent African American; 0.5 percent Native American; 3.3 percent Asian; 0.2 percent Pacific Islander; 2.2 percent other races; and 3.6 percent two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 6.6 percent.
Where are the calls for Pareto analyses and research that help will help us set things right?
Robert Armour, M.B.A. ’67
Virginia Beach, Va.
Professor Elizabeth Hinton seems to view poverty and racial oppression as the underlying causes of violent crime.
The homicide offending rate for blacks in St. Louis is about 116 per 100,000 (https://www.slmpd.org/images/2018_Homicide_Stats_for_Website.pdf). This is 13 times the rate of 9 per 100,000 in New York City (https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nypd/downloads/pdf/analysis_and_planning/yea....). The poverty rate in St. Louis is 23 percent, versus 19 percent in New York City.
New York City’s overall homicide rate declined from 31 per 100,000 in 1990 to 3.4 per 100,000 in 2018. Its poverty rate was 19 percent in both years.
Varying levels of poverty and racial oppression do not explain the homicide offending rate for blacks being 13 times higher in St. Louis than in New York City or the 90 percent decline in New York City’s homicide rate since 1990. What does?
Andrew Campbell ’74
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Elizabeth Hinton has done valuable research, but the her book From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime and the article give a misleading picture of the origin of the dramatic growth in our prison population. Chronological plots of crime statistics from Baltimore* and Massachusetts offer a better picture of what happened (*FBI UCR Crime data from a student research project led by me at George Mason University [in preparation]).
A combination of factors including rise in drug use and other developments in the 1960s led to a huge surge in crime nationwide. This ultimately led to a bipartisan-supported increase in police resources and stiffening of sentencing that peaked with the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act. The Baltimore plot suggests it had major effect in reducing crime.
Blacks bore the brunt of increased incarceration because higher percentages lived in poverty-burdened neighborhoods that are breeding grounds for crime. The anti-crime movement overreacted—a typical American behavior—but was fundamentally motivated against lawlessness, not a vendetta against African Americans.
Frank T. Manheim ’52
Harvard Magazine’s hagiographic paean to Angela Davis (“Revisiting Angela Davis,” the sidebar to “Color and Incarceration,” September-October, page 44) at least does touch on reality by noting a few of the details of her part in a horrible terrorist murder in the 1970s. Too bad the tone about that incident is so forgiving and low key.
However, to then pass off her totalitarian sympathies by simply saying she was a “member” of the Communist Party is an outrageous evasion. She was the vice presidential candidate of the American Communist Party twice, supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1979 in Moscow. It’s nice that Davis cares, or says she does, about prisoners in this country. However, when Czech dissident Jeri Pelikan publicly called on her to defend his imprisoned dissident comrades, she refused. When Alan Dershowitz asked her to support Eastern bloc political prisoners, she told him that “they are all Zionist fascists and opponents of socialism.” Which of course calls attention to her strong support for the anti-Zionist BDS movement, which aims to dismantle the Jewish homeland.
Angela Davis is a thoroughly reprehensible extreme leftist and a hypocrite when it comes to prisoners’ rights. It is a shame that such a puff piece on her made it into your pages, and it is a disgrace for Harvard to have anything to do with glorifying or honoring her.
Jonathan Burack ’64
East Lansing, Mich.
In “Revisiting Angela Davis,” on the exciting, upcoming exhibit from the papers of Angela Davis recently acquired by the Schlesinger Library, there is a questionable characterization of the “attack on the Marin County Courthouse” in 1970 that resulted in her arrest and trial on multiple charges related to this event.
Often referred to as the August 7 Revolt or Rebellion, the courthouse action was initiated by Jonathan Jackson, the younger brother of George Jackson, who was the most influential of the radical black prisoners referred to as the Soledad Brothers after being accused of the murder of a guard in the California state prison of that name. The sidebar states that the courthouse action was “intended to free the Soledad Brothers but instead left four people dead…,” a claim that was actually used by the prosecution in her trial to support the argument that Davis’s personal relationship with George Jackson was the principal motive for her involvement with the incident. The prosecution could not present definitive evidence for this claim, as detailed in Davis’s Autobiography, describing the cross-examination of chief prosecutor Albert Harris by the defense on that point. The implication that the four deaths resulting from the action were attributable to the brutality of Jackson and three militant prisoners during that incident was also contested in the cross-examination. Jonathan Jackson, prisoners James McClain and William Christmas, and Judge Haley were shot and killed inside a van by San Quentin guards in line with the policy at that time that all escapes must be prevented, even if the killing of hostages might be involved.
Anna Wexler, Ed.D. ’98
Jamaica Plain, Mass.
Bureau of Study Counsel
We are the five living former directors and associate directors of the Bureau of Study Counsel (BSC), representing nearly a half-century (1971-2019) of the BSC’s existence since its founding in the mid 1940s. We are concerned about the characterizations of the bureau offered as justification for its closing (“Bureau of Study Counsel, R.I.P.”; harvardmag.com/bsc-to-arc-19). We appreciate the magazine’s recognition that something important to students’ educational experience will likely be lost (“A Chill in the Air?” September-October, page 5). In our direct and extensive experiences of the BSC, we know it as an office that is deeply committed to an educational mission and model and that has continuously evolved to support the learning and developmental needs of an ever-changing student population.
The primary mission of the BSC has always been educational. BSC services have helped students sharpen their academic skills (reading, time management, problem-solving) with the broader goal of helping each student develop an independent mind that can, among other things, take thoughtful perspective on sources of knowledge and authority; reckon with complexity and uncertainty; generate and evaluate new possibilities; engage difficult endeavors with rigor and purpose; and weigh choices and consequences against deeply considered values. These capabilities are central to the College’s mission and the aims of a liberal arts and sciences education and are as relevant today as they were in the post-World War II era of the BSC’s founding.
When the College hired a new director in 2005, it expressly reconfirmed the BSC’s mission as an academic support office, not a mental-health service—a clarification that was necessary given that Harvard had moved oversight of the BSC to the University Health Services the previous year (a shift which the BSC counselors at that time cautioned against). In 2015, the staff welcomed the move back to the College as a renewed endorsement of the BSC’s original and continuing focus on learning and development.
During the last few decades, at Harvard and beyond, the term “mental health” has slipped almost unquestioned into everyday parlance and has become overly applied to human experience, including the inherently personal and emotional aspects of education and learning. The best educational/developmental support welcomes the rich complex whole of students’ experience of learning. Although such support—including that offered by the BSC—is appropriately informed by the fields of psychology and neuroscience, it is not mental-health treatment.
Listening closely to students’ experiences of learning has helped the BSC staff identify and bring early attention to emerging educational issues and trends—often long in advance of these becoming College priorities—including diversity, inclusion, and belonging in the University; plagiarism and academic integrity; academic stress and resilience; the role of technology in the college experience; and the value of a holistic approach to learning and development. The BSC has a longstanding record of hiring diverse staff from the fields of education and psychology as well as a history of drawing upon and contributing to evolving models and materials in the field of student learning and development.
For over 70 years the BSC has provided an educational setting in which students from every background have found the practical support, illuminating perspectives, and personal courage needed to engage in transformational learning. We five educators who lived and led two-thirds of the BSC’s long history are grateful to have been a part of such an innovative and inclusive learning service dedicated to promoting the intellectual and ethical development of our students.
Suzanne Renna, Ed.D. ’88
Former associate director and
former acting director
Ann Fleck-Henderson ’64, Ph.D.
Former associate director
Jean Wu, Ed.D. ’84
Former associate director
Abigail Lipson, Ph.D.
Sheila Reindl ’80, Ed.D. ’95
Former associate director
In an essay on “Climate Change” [President Lawrence S. Bacow’s regular letter to readers, September-October, page 3], it is stated that “The scientific consensus is by now clear:” Convenient, because there is not a word in the article to support this so-called science. Nor is there any mention that carbon dioxide, a small fraction of one-half of 1 percent of the earth’s atmosphere, is essential for plant life, and so for all life on earth—including us. One shudders to think how long life could “flourish” in this academically ideal “decarbonized future.”
Of course, the “scientific consensus” on the structure of the universe was settled by Ptolemy, creation by the Bible, gravity by Newton—until someone like Galileo, or Darwin, or Einstein, with the imagination and courage to challenge consensus, follow-the-crowd thinking came along. One hopes for something better from a major university. Nullius in verba.
William J. Jones, J.D. ’60
Editor’s note: The nearly universal scientific consensus, worldwide and among Harvard experts, is that increased man-made emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are accelerating the warming of the planet and climate change—as has been scientifically predicted for decades. No one disputes that plants use carbon dioxide. Decarbonization refers to reducing man-made emissions from combusting fossil fuels, burning forests, and so on—not to changing the natural chemistry of the atmosphere. The magazine’s extensive coverage of these issues is searchable online at www.harvardmagazine.com; the president’s letter is about University affairs from his perspective, not an article or a report summarizing the underlying science.
I read with admiration and sadness the Undergraduate column by Isa Flores-Jones ’19, who writes of the disempowerment she felt as a climate activist trying, in vain, to convince Harvard to divest its holdings from oil and gas companies before her graduation (“Movement Ecology,” September-October, page 35). As Undergraduate columnist from 1985 to 1987, I well remember the “Divest Now” balloon tethered to my and many classmates’ graduation mortar boards—referring not to the University’s fossil-fuel assets, but to holdings in companies doing business with then-apartheid South Africa.
Then, as now, the Overseers made student activists feel they had no agency. As Flores-Jones describes: they listened politely, acknowledged students’ quaint idealism, and disclaimed any power to change the status quo. Affirmation and moral conviction came, instead, from afar: a graduation-day phone call from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to student movement leaders, assuring them their efforts would matter in the end. And matter they did.
Although the lesson of history is that we don’t learn from history, the denouement of the present divestment story seems particularly obvious. Couldn’t Harvard simply cut to the finish, and show that America’s most powerful institutions can occasionally be leaders rather than laggards?
Claudia Polsky ’87
Associate clinical professor of law
and director, Environmental Law Clinic
UC, Berkeley School of Law
I write to challenge President Bacow’s call for a “decarbonized future.” While all scientists agree that the earth has warmed and is still warming since the end of the Little Ice Age in 1850, there is no “consensus” that anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) is the cause of either past or future warming. See, e.g., www.PetitionProject.org, where 31,487 scientists expressly dispute the “consensus” to which President Bacow erroneously refers. In my view, the current climate-change hysteria is based solely upon the projections of several dozen relatively crude and defective computer climate models. All of those models assume their own conclusion that: current and future anthropogenic CO2 will “cause” the glaciers to melt, the seas to rise, and shorelines to disappear. I liken the scary predictions of those modelers to the Wizard of Oz. President Obama has appropriately disregarded all of that CO2 hysteria and recently purchased his dream home on the immediate shoreline of Martha’s Vineyard Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He obviously has no fear of future sea-level rise.
Ten years ago, two distinguished German physicists destroyed the modelers’ unsupported CO2 hypothesis (see “Falsification of the Atmospheric CO2 Greenhouse Effects Within the Frame of Physics,” by Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf D. Tscheuschner, Int.J.Mod.Phys.B, vol. 23, no. 3, 2009). Since that time, no physicist at Harvard, or any other institution, has even attempted, much less succeeded, in showing that Gerlich and Tscheuschner’s falsification of the “anthropogenic CO2 warming hypothesis” is scientifically incorrect. Because there is no valid scientific evidence that the “anthropogenic CO2 warming hypothesis” has any basis in physics and/or the real world, there is obviously no need to put the entire world through the unimaginable and impossible task of “decarbonization.”
Don W. Crockett, J.D. ’66
President Bacow in his essay says, “If the future is our genuine concern, we must face up to the stark reality of climate change.” He proceeds to tout Harvard’s “research, education, and engagement” but refers to the reasonable demand that Harvard act on its principles by divesting from its fossil-fuel investments only by noting that the debate about divestment “will no doubt continue.” What is he waiting for? How long can Harvard continue to urge its employees and students to recycle their cups while avoiding taking the ethical step—and showing true leadership among universities—by divesting? And he doesn’t even mention the advocacy for Harvard to divest from its investments in prisons, which are huge parts of a greedy and profoundly racist and classist set of enterprises.
Paula J. Caplan ’69
Associate, Du Bois Institute, Hutchins Center for
African and African American Research
Relative to the health of Mother Earth, the question is whether divestment is primarily a moral or a practical issue. Due to insatiable demand, the overuse of fossil fuels may be permanently damaging the planet; consumption is out of control, for political and economic reasons only indirectly related to good and evil. Thus the corruption of the fossil-fuel industry, and whether or not using a plastic toothbrush is morally superior to smoking a cigarette, are both incidental; unchecked consumption is the issue, regardless of the moral character of fossil-fuel sellers who merely supply the market with what it wants. And because they sell to anyone, as far as good and evil are concerned it is their absence of morality that should concern us; cold, mercenary, and devoid of conscience, they bargain with saints and sinners alike. This is what an Exxon share really signifies—a for-profit investment in a ruthless trade that does not trouble itself with delicate matters of conscience, and soils its hands as conditions require.
So the least the apologists for fossil-fuel investment can do is stop patronizing us with their pseudo-moral arguments of convenience—for the sake of intellectual honesty, if nothing else. Otherwise we must take their position for what it is: a timid, unprincipled concession to the raw power of a worldwide behemoth, to which many research universities are now attached like remoras to the back of a whale. And since we are known by the company we keep, we are left with two questions; for what do we stand, and how will we be remembered. Slavery once had its share of ardent defenders who saw positive moral good in it; how long, then, will it take the fossil-fuel apologists to see the bankruptcy of their position for themselves.
Frank Morgan ’73, Ds ’79
In his September message to the Harvard community, President Bacow summarized his concerns on climate change and fossil fuels: Climate change is a crisis…fossil fuels are the problem…We hope to be fossil-fuel free by 2050.
Is the “We” President Bacow is referring to, to make all buildings of the Harvard community fossil-free by 2050? If so, how would one measure the cost and benefit to the University? Or is “We” referring to a larger entity?
As we debate the extent and location of “Climate Change” problems, we must not forget the Hockey Stick hoax of East Anglia University, which most agree was based on manipulated data.
On August 8, 2019, there was a United Nations Intergovernmental Panel that announced that global warming was devastating crop production and threatening food shortages. This news was contradicted 20 days later, by a Wall Street Journal article that global crop production is setting new records.
I would like to see a report by a skilled scientist of the Harvard community evaluate the research done by the petroleum engineer Robert Rapier in his paper, published by Forbes on July 1, 2018, titled “China emits more carbon dioxide then the U.S. and EU Combined.” Rapier’s statistics indicate a substantial growth of global emissions of CO2 between 1990 and 2017 from 11 to 18 billion tons/year. In 1990, free Europe and the U.S. combined emitted 9 billion tons, and in 2017 it dropped to 8 billion tons. During the same period the emissions of CO2 in China increased from 2 to 10 billion tons.
A question for our Harvard community should be, what is the measure we should be using in defining the dangers of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere?. And what is the view of Professor William Happer of Princeton?
David Scott ’51, M.B.A. ’53
I was disappointed by Mr. Bacow’s column, particularly by his comment that “The scientific consensus is by now clear.”
While periodically scientific consensus may be clear, it is never immutable nor settled. Science is based on observation; and as we continue to observe more and gain more facts, scientific consensus moves on.
The “scientific consensus” was settled that everything revolved around the earth before Galileo. In the Soviet Union, the “scientific consensus” was settled under the Lysenkoist theory that changes to living beings could be passed on genetically. And so on.
I would also observe that “climate change” is and always has been ongoing. As far as I can understand, the earth’s climate has been changing for several million years. It is hard to know what exactly is different right now and why we should suddenly be alarmed about a process that does predate us by the aforementioned several million years and which seems not to have resulted in catastrophe for tens of thousands of years (ever since the last Ice Age.)
I applaud Mr. Bacow’s call for additional research. But the president of Harvard, of all people, should not indulge in unscientific and even anti-scientific appeals to a current consensus.
Tom Neagle, M.B.A. ’72
Fort Mill, S.C.
Larry Bacow’s climate-change column was the most globally important piece I recall reading in Harvard magazine in decades.
By way of background for this comment, I spent many years studying various fields of science before becoming a Humphrey Fellow at Harvard Business School a lifetime ago. With my M.B.A. degree in hand, I worked as a management consultant for Arthur D. Little Inc., then headed up a similar but smaller firm with a reputation for high-quality consulting work. From this education and experience, through HBS, ADL, and a nearly 40-year-long career, I learned how to sort out the real from the fake, and the important from the trivial.
Now, as a parent, a grandparent, and someone who cares about other people, I feel obligated to speak up and say that no truer words have been written about climate change and its overarching importance than those in Larry’s column. World-famous scientists who understand climate change, including many at Harvard, shake their heads in sad disbelief at the huge gap between their fact-based concern for our future and the widespread nonchalance of the general public—not to mention the outright denial among some.
Larry’s column provides a welcome and overdue brightening of the glimmers of climate-change light that now emanate from various Harvard schools, including HBS. For that I am grateful. Now it’s time for Harvard, the university that educates leaders who make a difference in the world, to show others the way forward by establishing a University Climate Initiative to put Harvard at the cutting edge of this critical existential issue.
Roger Shamel, M.B.A. ’74
The global warming alarms that sounded late in the last century initially were very troubling. But time was not kind to the alarmists, who have since been discredited: none of their dire forecasts has come to pass. We’ve had no temperature increase at all over the past 20 years, even as atmospheric CO2 concentration continues to rise steadily.
Agreement seems to be emerging among numerous credible scientists that:
- CO2 probably is not a significant factor in global warming. There certainly is no “consensus” to the contrary, and studies claiming to have found one have been refuted.
- Warming and cooling cycles occur through natural forces which we can’t control, with solar activity likely being one of the most important.
- CO2 is a good thing, not a bad thing, and so are fossil fuels. Increased atmospheric CO2 produces many beneficial effects on natural plant and animal environments.
Thus, I was very disappointed to read Harvard president Larry Bacow’s “View From Mass Hall: Climate Change.” He merely parrots the popular media narrative: “…we must face up to the stark reality of climate change. The scientific consensus is by now clear: the threat is real, the potential consequences are grave, and the time to focus on solutions is now.”
Well, no, not really. That is to view climate change from the alarmist extreme of the debate.
Many respected scientists now know better; they offer a more balanced view of things. Future generations may well look back upon the climate change panic as the worst case of mass hysteria since the Church of Rome convulsed over Galileo. Too bad that Harvard’s leadership is following politics, not science, doing little to calm the hysteria or expose the decarbonization mania for the folly that it is.
Robert E. Price, M.B.A. ’71
Jacob Sweet’s baseball profile, “All Instincts” (May-June, page 32), states that a batter cannot steal first base. But a batter may attempt to steal first on a wild pitch when there are no on-base runners.
Jacob Sweet clarifies: This is true in the independent Atlantic League as of July, but not in college baseball or MLB as of press time.
About That Vole
Although I greatly appreciated the article about me (“A New Way of Being in the World,” September-October, page 67), there’s something I would like to clarify. The article ends with a vole who is cornered on my porch by two of my cats. She knows she can’t escape, she believes the end has come, and she covers her eyes with her hands. That part’s okay, but I’ve had some criticism from readers for letting this happen, and the truth (which didn’t appear in the article) is that I didn’t let it happen. I ran toward the cats, shouting at them, they turned to look at me, the vole saw she had a moment to escape, and she dashed away to safety. That’s in the book, and I’d appreciate your publishing this letter so readers won’t think too badly of me.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas ’54
Thank you and Nell Porter Brown for the “Explorations and Curiosities” series (Harvard Squared). It’s drawn our attention to all kinds of experiences we would have missed otherwise—just last week we spent a wonderful afternoon at the fascinating Public Health Museum in Tewksbury, which I wouldn’t have known about without Porter Brown’s article in the magazine.
Tara Kelly ’91
I enjoyed All in a Day about Worcester (“Purgatory—and Beyond,” Harvard Squared, September-October, page 16N). But I was sorry it did not mention the great Korean restaurant Simjang. The food is outstanding, the staff welcoming; they even hosted a poetry reading where I had a chance to share some of my own dishes of poems about Korea. I hope others discover Simjang, too.
Korea Foundation professor of
Korean literature emeritus
Nell Porter Brown’s feature on “Purgatory—and Beyond” brought me to full attention.
I haven’t thought of Purgatory in Sutton, Massachusetts, for decades. It was a destination for a few summer outings for us kids coming from the heat of the nearby city of Worcester. Although it lacked a swimming hole, the rocks provided entertainment sufficient for an afternoon. Thanks for the photo and for the text which stirred some very good memories, and which in turn inspired the poem I attach.
Station Yourself on the Rock
Purgatory Chasm in Sutton, Mass.—
a geological anomaly—meant
more than that to you and me
(no scientists we at five and seven)
who had come with parents
to picnic a lifetime ago.
Pictures emerge in my mind
of sharp outcroppings of towering rock
intimidating in their seeming leaning
at a cautionary angle that said, Take care,
and we did, climbing that rocky place
named by Puritans as Purgatory
where the soul is cleansed by fire
before coming into the presence of God
enabled to bear the beatific vision
which otherwise it could not, recalling
Moses, hidden in rock and waiting to see
the glory of God pass by, but only
allowed the hindmost parts, as no one
could look on the face of God and live.
As smoke rose up from our charcoal grill—
hot dogs, chips and tonic ready—
we sat at a picnic table and shared
the family meal before God.
Judith Robbins, M.T.S. ’96
Regarding the New York Times Magazine’s cover story on litigation before Judge Burroughs (9/1/19):
While the author sets out to analyze the litigation from the viewpoint of second-generation Asian immigrants, the point I draw from it is quite different. The Harvard admissions process is about diversity for the benefit of the student body, not for the purpose of righting old injustices; it has nothing to do with affirmative action. Harvard may quite properly have a purpose not focused on addressing the harms of historic, institutional racism. One can quite properly argue whether this is the “right” purpose for a private institution or not, but it’s not a federally justiciable issue.
William Malone ’58, J.D. ’62
New Canaan, Conn.
Not White, not Black; Asian. Hispanic.
My son’s high school writes to ask me about his race. There are very few choices and so, I reply, none of them describe the diversity he represents.
I hesitate to tell the information officer that my son is African American. Yet that’s exactly what he is: his father was born under a tree in the Sahara. His first language was not Arabic dialect but the tribal language of the Saharawi.
In New Orleans, I think, my son isn’t black. But I’m wrong. He isn’t white. And what else is there? In this town, where people have been mixing for 400 years, the reality of Code Noir and Jim Crow has left lasting divisions. My son came home from day care, at age three, and confided in us that he was glad that his father was not a slave because, as his caregivers had told him, this had been the fate of black people in Louisiana.
So why do I get it wrong, on the form, and say—because there is no category for my son—white? It is the same box that his young, African-American, English teacher puts him in, ignoring the experience he brings to their reading of African and Asian, Muslim, literatures. But the following year, another English teacher, white and on the verge of retirement, puts him in that other box, the one in which people, no matter how smart they might be, are not seen as competent in English. People with my son’s strange name and curly dark hair.
Harvard students representing diversity have recently testified about their experience. I applaud them. I did not know what it was like to be “taken for” something, to be projected onto, until I watched my son.
I worried about my son applying to Harvard with less than perfect scores, less than perfect grades. But he understands something better than I do. He understands that, wherever he is admitted, he will bring needed diversity: intelligence and experience, but also that fact that some people might not have seen him the way I do and also for that reason might not have given him the grade he deserves. And this, too, makes him who he is: “white” or African American, beur or Arab; in the UK, Asian, Muslim; and in Spain, Spanish, like his uncle, and other members of the tribe born before the Sahara was de-colonized.
He checks all the boxes. Why ask me? He knows who he is.
Felicia McCarren ’82
The fourth paragraph of the Vita on suffragist Adella Hunt Logan (September-October, page 54) contained inaccuracies in dating and other details involving Hunt Logan’s interactions with Susan B. Anthony, which were pointed out by Anthony biographer Lynn Sherr. Details appear at harvardmag.com/vita-logan-19. We regret the errors.
The profile of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (“A New Way of Being in the World,” September-October, page 67) reported that she had “three dogs and three cats”—but one of those dogs is her son’s.
The report on a collection obtained by Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library (“Revisiting Angela Davis,” September-October, page 44) indicated that Professor Elizabeth Hinton and two graduate students sorted and organized the materials for an exhibition. In fact, their selections for the exhibition were preceded by processing of the materials by Schlesinger staff archivists Jenny Gotwals, Amber Moore, and Jehan Sinclair.
As published, the letter from Robert H. Goldstein (September-October, page 6) omitted a significant word, rendering “my humorously intended comments incomprehensible,” he notes. The letter should have read: “Among certain ethnic groups, the theological question of when life begins is reputed to be answered, ‘On graduation from law school,’” with the italicized word here restored.