The pitfalls of Grand Strategy
Rethinking course evaluations
Newtown PORTRAIT OF A COMMUNITY
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table of contents
Three Concerts NIKITA LALWANI
The Lucky Ones ELEANOR MARSHALL
A Pitch for Peace THERESA STEINMEYER
Abandoning Africa JANE DARBY MENTON
Time to Evaluate?
THE KIDS IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUITS Feature by Joy Shan
The New Humanist ALEC JOYNER
Small Talk by Caroline Sydney
crit DAN STERN
Ten Thousand Trees
MAGAZINE Executive Editor Daniel Bethencourt Managing Editors Madeline Buxton Sarah Maslin Senior Editors Edmund Downie Amelia Urry Design Editors Ryan Healey Michelle Korte Rebecca Sylvers
Design Staff Allison Durkin Jennifer Lu Annie Schweikert Photography Editor Sarah Eckinger Copy Editor Stephanie Heung
Feature by Eric Boodman
Editor in Chief Tapley Stephenson Publisher Gabriel Botelho
Cover photo by Brianne Bowen Cover photo illustration by Sarah Eckinger
Cover story by Matthew Lloyd-Thomas yaledailynews.com/magazine | Yale Daily News Magazine | 3
THREE CONCERTS The Story Behind the Battell Chapel Organ
BY NIKITA LALWANI PHOTOS BY KATIE CRANDALL
NOV. 11, 1951 Holtkamp sat in the pews, its pipes, of the 9-foot wooden ones. On an unseasonably warm evening arrayed in the chapel’s apse and north Noss was playing the final in the late fall, Battell Chapel filled transept, looked like small silver movement of Couperin’s “Organ Mass.” with people waiting to hear the skyscrapers that glinted in the soft The notes, low and plaintive, spilled new Holtkamp organ. Its inaugural light. They were organized by length one into the next like an ocean whose concert promised perennial favorites: — larger, then smaller, then larger waves overlap as they hit the shore. a meditative chorale by Bach, some again. In theory, organs are simple: a There was a crescendo into a higher lively church sonatas by Mozart, an collection of cylinders through which register, and the melody resonated eerie melody by Couperin. As Yale’s air is pushed to make sound. But you across the chapel, blanketing the space. organist, Luther Noss, struck the need hundreds of them to play all A few blocks away, across the street first chord, the notes originated from the notes in written music; in Battell, and past Cross Campus, another organ nowhere and everywhere, rolled that’s 3,691 pipes on an organ weighing sat in the basement of Woolsey Hall. down the nave and rose to the coffered more than four and half tons. From Built in 1928, the Newberry Memorial ceiling. the same instrument spring the shrill Organ was once believed to be the best The organ was, in a word, birdlike whistle of the half-inch metal organ in the world, with 12,617 pipes magnificent. From where Walter pipe and the throaty muted harmonies crafted from knot-free sugar pine and 4 | Vol. XL, No. 3 | January 2013
small talk tin-and-lead alloy. But this evening, no one was there; dust gathered on its keys. In the past decade or so, it had all but been forgotten.
staircase, untouched except by the Taylor Swift was too much for occasional Sunday visitor. Woolsey the instrument to bear. When is back in favor, and newer the hymn ended, the thumpinstruments in Dwight Chapel and thump, thump-thump of the party the Divinity School are considered remained. SEPT. 2, 2012 more authentically baroque. Such One organ is built as another is the way of things with organs. NOV. 11, 2051 recedes from view. So it was On one recent Sunday morning, Ask a Holtkamp loyalist, and with the Holtkamp organ, about 20 people straggled into he’ll tell you to be patient. In a few commissioned when the great Battell Chapel for morning service. decades, musicians and historians Newberry fell out of favor. The organ looked the same as it will once again flock to the chapel, By 1939, musicians no longer had 60 years ago, though it had just as they did to Woolsey and just sought the Newberry’s lush changed too, almost imperceptibly. as they will to the countless other romantic tones or its aesthetic By late 1983, leaks from the roof had organs that have been worshipped grandeur. They yearned for the damaged the leather membranes and then forgotten. neobaroque, for the brighter that opened the valves beneath the This is the strong belief of and simpler instruments of Bach pipes. The organ was taken apart, Joseph Dzeda, one of two organ and his contemporaries. There scrubbed, refitted, refinished. curators who visit the instrument was even talk of remodeling the Now Andrew Schaeffer, the Battell regularly, checking that it is in tune Woolsey organ, though there were University Church organist, was and that all the pipes are in working never enough funds to follow playing a solemn prelude as the order. Dzeda is one of a curious through. It was the perfect time churchgoers found their seats and and dying breed, the type of man for Holtkamp, a relatively obscure greeted one another. The piece who revels in old history books, designer, to take center stage. His was multilayered, as though a collects antique grandfather clocks ideas were novel: let the pipes whole symphony orchestra were and doesn’t like to throw things stand free and in the open, he said, hidden beneath the grey labyrinth away. He refuses to acknowledge and let us celebrate asymmetry in of pipes: the elegiac bassoon, the the cruel paradox of history: that it organ design. Above all, his motto: ethereal flute, the rumbling horn. preserves some things and discards “Let nothing impede the music.” There was, simultaneously, a others. Things always come back, For a time, the Holtkamp model party beginning on Old Campus, he says. enjoyed the same popularity the blasting dance music that And so they shall. I would like Newberry once had. In 1985, when sometimes overpowered the to believe that the Holtkamp organ a Harvard musicologist uncovered organ. When it was time for the will once again draw a crowd large 33 previously unknown Bach congregation to sing, the pastor enough to fill the chapel. The chorales in Yale’s libraries, it was requested that everyone turn day will be warm and clear, the Battell and not Woolsey that was inward and project their voices sky a brilliant blue and the sun selected to host the premiere. But as far as they could. The organ an exuberant gold. People will the Holtkamp’s fame was short- accompanied them, but the music crowd into the pews. As light lived. Now the instrument sits felt strained, as though fighting streams through the stained glass, mostly alone at the top of a rickety for dominance with Ke$ha and the University organist might warm up by playing the notes of a scale — ascending, descending, then ascending again. Then he will begin for real, music swelling through the chapel before a chorus of voices joins in, singing a hymn from that Sunday service in 2012: “Behold, behold, I make all things new, beginning with you and starting from today.”
The Newberry Memorial Organ was once believed to be the best organ in the world. But this evening, no one was there; dust gathered on its keys. In the past decade or so, it had all but been forgotten.
yaledailynews.com/magazine | Yale Daily News Magazine | 5
THE LUCKY ONES Refugee resettlement in New Haven
BY ELEANOR MARSHALL ILLUSTRATION BY KAREN TIAN
hen the Hassoon family left Baghdad for New Haven in late August, they carried little from a house that Fatima Al Yasari, Amer Hassoon’s wife, described as “big” and “new” in tentative English. The other adjectives that might adorn the description are locked in Arabic characters and fading memories. She spoke with an unreadable smile, wistful and shy, from the worn armchair in the single story apartment on Fountain Street where she and Amer now live as refugees with their five children. I first arrived in the Hassoon’s sparsely furnished living room about a month after they did, equipped with just a few Arabic phrases from an intro class at Yale. Fellow volunteer Justin Schuster and I were paired with them through the Yale Refugee Project, an organization that connects refugee families to student volunteers who can help them practice English and navigate life in New Haven. The whole family had filed into the living room, as they would every week. Fatima and Mohammed, a threemonth-old born just two weeks after their arrival, were quiet that day as Amer showed us certificates and letters of recommendation from his service in the U.S. Army in Iraq that praised his competence and dependability in terms he clearly understood, even if he couldn’t read them. The situation was ostensibly tragic, but Saturday visits were fun: Amer joking about past presidents from Yale — Clinton he liked, Bush he didn’t — and later, when I tried (and failed) to fix the TV, pretending to be shocked by a cable. Before Halloween, Lana, a kindergartener, carved a pumpkin with a grin as wide as hers. Omar, a seventh grader, got excited about Spain’s
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chances in the World Cup and raced Noor, a fifth grader with wide eyes and quick movements, to guess English vocabulary. We communicated often in a sort of charades. I quickly grew attached to the Hassoons, though the language barrier and the fear of asking anything too painful kept us a peculiar sort of strangers, and it was weeks before I heard any more about their home in
Iraq. There was no other work in Baghdad when the U.S. Army hired Amer in 2006. Working as a sort of handyman, he made friends with the American officers he met and acquired the English he needed to do his duties. The job turned out to both support the Hassoons and uproot them — it ended in an anti-American terrorist threat that forced them to apply to the United
small talk Nations for refugee status. After visiting a friend in the army in Portland, Oregon a few years ago, Amer had his sights set on moving to the Northwest, but refugees can’t choose their resettlement site, not even the country, unless they can demonstrate a tie to family or close friends. It was availability and chance that assigned the Hassoons to a rundown neighborhood in New Haven, a city that Amer is eager to leave. Their apartment was the best that New Haven’s refugee resettlement agency, Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), could provide with resources spread among 200 relocated families each year, explained Deputy Director Kelly Hebrank. IRIS is notified two weeks, sometimes less, before each refugee is scheduled to arrive, and has just enough time to find housing and basic provisions for the refugee and his or her family. They meet them with an interpreter at the train station, and give them a tour and a hot home-cooked meal. The next day, without ceremony, the long process of resettlement begins: orientations on everything from the American legal system to domestic violence workshops, appointments for physical and mental health exams, enrollment in school, and English classes for four hours a day. After just a few weeks, refugees are referred to employment services and are expected to start work — often battling not only language barriers but also physical and mental handicaps and little job training, which proves especially limiting for women who have never worked outside the home. IRIS commits to covering basic needs like food, clothing and transport for about six months, until funding dries up. “It’s a small amount of money for a short period of time. It’s a race against the clock for them to become selfsufficient,” Hebrank said. This is how it goes for the lucky ones. Less than 1% of all refugees are resettled each year and the U.S.
accepts more applicants than all other countries combined, with an everincreasing influx each year from the Middle East. The Hassoons are just seven of the 2.3 million Iraqi refugees who have settled in the U.S., second only to Afghanis, who make up almost a third of American resettlements.
in English. We act out fewer and fewer words from their homework. Fatima and Amer are learning too, but their first priority is helping their children understand enough to access an education that would have been impossible back home. There is new growth here where there were ruins
Refugee resettlement is not a part of the story of American imperialism, and it is not the fairytale of the American dream. “The American public has this image of Africans walking across the desert with belongings on their heads, but more and more are made up of urban refugees because they’re unsafe. Not all of them are coming from camps,” Hebrank said. In fact, many Iraqis come from big, new homes like the Hassoons, leaving careers in the U.S. Army, or jobs as teachers or engineers, in exchange for safety. According to Hebrank, the influx was only amplified by misinformation that started around 2008 that led many Iraqis to expect equally comfortable accommodations after resettlement. “If they need a root canal [in Iraq], they can walk into an office and get one without an appointment and for a relatively low cost. They don’t get why they have to wait four months here and it costs a thousand dollars,” Hebrank said. Every week Amer asks us to stay longer and come back sooner. He is frustrated, almost to tears sometimes, at the slowness with which the English words come to him, and the difficulty of finding the kind of intensive help he and his family need. To me, they are learning impossibly quickly. When Omar greets me with a fist bump and a “What’s up,” his accent fades a little more each week. He and Noor race a little faster to answer our questions
in Baghdad, a place Amer once told me was “empty” and full of people who were “just tired.” It is not generalizable, but Fatima tells me she thinks America is “a country that helps people when they need it.” At the end of the day, refugee resettlement is not a part of the story of American imperialism, and, in turn, it is not the fairytale of the American dream. Refugee resettlement is 10.5 million big, new houses that are lost to war and it is 10.5 million tiny apartments that are temporary homes — one for each resettled family. It is taking on jobs that lead to death threats. It is a free and fair education taught in an alphabet with different letters. Refugee resettlement is separated families and new friendships, and it is a few people in vast and uncontrollable nations who help each other when they can — even though it is not enough. It is the way Fatima learns to bake pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and it is the first batch of hummus she makes in her new kitchen. It is the way Omar’s whole face lights upß as he spots us through the living room curtains and the friends Amer is off visiting in New York. It is the life Mohammed will live.
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WINTER GROWING BY CAROLINE SYDNEY ILLUSTRATION BY ANNELISA LEINBACH TABLE OF CONTENTS ILLUSTRATION BY KATE MCMILLAN
he pizza oven is closed for the season, and the workday planned for this wintry afternoon has garnered a dismal turnout — four volunteers, myself included, made it up the hill to the Yale Farm. After spending what felt like an hour, but couldn’t have been more than 20 minutes yanking at weeds with mittened hands, the student managers huddled around the stove in the supply shed, preparing tea to warm us up. But though the plots we overlook are brown and sad-looking, and clouds of frozen breath hover in the air between Yale Sustainable Food Project Lazarus Program Coordinator Zan Romanoff ’09 and I, inside the hoop houses the winter crop is quietly thriving. Romanoff is a California native 8 | Vol. XL, No. 3 | January 2013
who speaks at an accelerating pace as she packs in more and more facts and figures related to the farm. Despite the fact that her job requires a significant amount of time spent digging in the dirt, Romanoff has impressively manicured fingers (she later tells me that she did them that morning). People complain about winter-growing in Connecticut, Romanoff says, but she insists, “It’s actually A., possible and B., in some ways less arduous, less difficult.” In the summer months, the farm runs at full throttle, with constant planting and harvesting — one crop or another is always either going in or coming out of the beds. The combination of shorter growing periods and higher yields puts a lot of pressure on the farm. On top of the extra work, there is more at
risk if the weather doesn’t cooperate or if pests cannot be controlled. Tomato blight could wipe out the whole lucrative summer crop of tomatoes, while a drought could threaten the entire harvest.
inter-growing moves more slowly, producing smaller yields and allowing for more control. After the majority of the farm’s beds are “put to sleep” for the winter — either covered in mulch or a cover crop that won’t be harvested, but which serves to hold the soil in place and replenish its nitrogen supply — the farm’s three hoop houses continue to yield a surprising bounty. Hoop houses are permanent metal arch-shaped structures left open most of the year, but
small talk covered in plastic in the winter months. Each layer of plastic covering a crop “moves” the climate 500 miles south. So, the first layer of plastic enclosing the hoop house in addition to the remay cloth overlay directly on the beds keeps the coldest temperature at around 20 degrees Fahrenheit — the equivalent of winter in northern Florida — without requiring any energy input aside from natural sunlight, while the considerably lower temperature outside takes care of most pests. Because of these protective measures, the problems the farm faces are not necessarily the ones you would expect, considering the season. “Our enemy is not the cold, it’s moisture,” says Yale Farm Coordinator Jeremy Oldfield, the man in charge of the science of the whole operation. To keep mildew and mold at bay, farm workers start off the morning by rolling up the sides of hoop houses to “vent” them, releasing any moisture accumulated overnight. They then roll them back down to trap and store enough heat to keep the crops warm through the next night. “What you’re really looking at is this moment around 3 a.m. where everything out here is frozen and nothing in those high tunnels is frozen,” says Oldfield, gesturing at the exposed fields below and moving his hand towards the hoop houses. He continues, personifying the nascent veggies, “That’s allowing those guys to grow at night, and a lot of the growth that they put on is actually at night.” Winter on the farm means salad greens and root vegetables. The hoop houses support what Oldfield describes as “a bouquet of really beautiful Asian greens and mustards.” A few of the outdoor beds are planted with beets, carrots, leeks and onions that grow infinitesimally each day and are harvested at intervals throughout the season in order to ensure that the farm remains consistently productive, even if not prolific. The cold slows the growth, but rather than weakening the crop, it actually allows the produce to
develop more complexity, producing sweeter, fuller flavors that also contain more nutrients. In the case of salad greens, the color of the leaf indicates the increased level of nutrients. A vegetable grown year-round is “its full self,” says Oldfield. “The red mustard we’re selling is not just dusted with red, it’s ruby leaf.” For the first time, the farm is experimenting with artificially heated greenhouses as well. They have rented beds to grow microgreens in Greeley Greenhouse, located across from the farm owned by the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and primarily used as a space for students to conduct research in different climate conditions. Here, they are experimenting with new crops, like basil and radishes, that are rarely grown in northern winters. CitySeed’s winter market is held just twice a month, in contrast to its popular weekly farmers market held during the rest of the year. The Yale Farm only opens their booth for one market a month. In busier seasons, every table is awash with piles of produce fresh from Connecticut farms. Since this isn’t always the case in the winter months, the Yale Farm has a little bit of an edge. “Because they’re nice, tender, local salad greens, we can get a very good price on them,” says Romanoff of the Farm’s winter produce, compared to the rootveggie leaning offerings of the other vendors. Throughout the season, the Yale Farm continues to produce a regular but modest output of produce and revenue. These smaller winter harvests lend themselves to partnerships with local restaurants. As the farm’s presence in New Haven has grown, so has its network of potential buyers for the winter harvests. Miya’s Sushi will often buy whatever is available, and then work it into their menu. Last year, Blue State Coffee purchased most of the farm’s salad greens throughout the winter for salads and sandwiches sold in their coffee shops. Produce also stays on campus. A genetics lab has purchased two pounds
of spinach, fodder for spinachy genome analysis, every week throughout the year and will continue to do so through the winter as it pursues its research. Northern Greening, the fledgling catering company founded last April by Emma Schmidt ’15 and Hallie Meyer ’15, has partnered with the farm on a Public Health Coalition lunch this year, and will continue to do so on other events through the winter. “We both wanted to be involved in the farm in a way that was more creating our own thing,” says Meyer. They saw a catering venture as the natural next step. Before preparing the lunch, they stopped by the farm to pick up chard, squash, carrots, garlic, leeks, beets and baby lettuces. Hours later, the girls were serving up their first meal of warm gingered carrot soup, roasted beets, baby lettuce salad and crostini with chard and white cheddar. Watching Schmidt and Meyer leave the farm with ungainly armfuls of veggies, Oldfield suggested that they develop a system for a more efficient partnership. The girls met with Oldfield late in the fall. Together, they discussed the plans for the season, allowing Schmidt and Meyer to put in requests and plan their menus around what would be available. Unlike a restaurant with a set menu, a catering company like Northern Greening has the flexibility to determine menus based on what’s available, making them a natural partner for the farm. Just as winter is a time for slow growth for the crops on the farm, it is also a time for gradual growth of the farm itself, through partnerships that explore the flexibility of the quieter season. The respite gives the Farm caretakers a bit of time to contemplate long-term projects — for example, Romanoff hopes to build more hoop house to expand the available beds for future harvests. But as with all winter developments on the farm, these plans are moving slowly.
yaledailynews.com/magazine | Yale Daily News Magazine | 9
A PITCH FOR PEACE BY THERESA STEINMEYER ILLUSTRATION BY KAREN TIAN
t all times, you should be listening.” This is Micah Hendler’s ’12 advice to his teenage choristers as they warm up their vocal cords with the English vowel sounds: “ah,” “ay,” “ee,” “oh” and “oo.” The advice is meant to improve cohesion between voices and could be given to any choir, but, to the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, it means so much more. Conflict around Jerusalem, an ancient metropolis that Christians, Jews and Muslims consider a holy city and a home, has existed for centuries. Religious tensions and disputes over land ownership continue to plague the region. The latest fighting on the Gaza Strip, during eight days in November 2012, claimed six Israeli and 169 Palestinian lives. Despite the ongoing conflict, 30 Israeli and Palestinian teenagers meet at the Jerusalem YMCA each Monday for choir rehearsal, followed by political dialogue sessions conducted in Hebrew and Arabic. The Jerusalem Youth Chorus, founded and directed by Hendler, is in its inaugural season. These 30 students are its first members. Today, they are singing a four-part a cappella arrangement of the Ysaye M. Barnwell song “Wanting Memories.” Hendler gets them started with a pitch from his pipe and gives the beat by snapping his fingers. He asks them to practice the opening several times until they can sing it in unison.
endler was raised in Maryland, where he attended a Jewish school through sixth grade and studied Hebrew. In high school, he spent summers at the Seeds of Peace International Camp for Coexistence, a three-week program in Maine that drew most of its students from the Middle East, but also included a small American delegation.
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The campers sang together and discussed their perspectives on pressing political conflicts. As a “Seed,” Hendler became more open-minded about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was struck by the power of music as a means of building common ground. “Singing is the way that I am happiest, the way that I find friends, the way that I find community,” he says. Inspired by his experience at Seeds of Peace, Hendler began to dream of starting a youth choir in the Middle East. Singing would serve as a common ground upon which Israeli and Palestinian students could bond. Upon this musical platform, they could partake in political dialogue in order to better understand each other’s perspectives and promote peacemaking.
hen Hendler came to Yale, he found guidance and support for his idea from Dr. Sarah Weiss of the Yale Music Department, who would become his academic adviser. “He was going to attempt this project against giant political odds,” says Weiss, who says she considered Hendler a “pragmatic idealist.” Still, Weiss admired Hendler’s commitment to music and the thoughtful way he was going about the project. She encouraged him to study Arabic and
helped him to plan his coursework. “Even though I was worried about his idealism, I am not at all surprised that this is working out,” she says. Hendler also sang with the Duke’s Men and the Whiffenpoofs, helped coordinate the International Choral Festival at Yale, and led the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life’s “Shabbat Unplugged” service. Dr. Jeffrey Douma, director of the Yale Glee Club, helped Hendler hone his conducting skills. “This is probably his destiny,” said Rabbi James Ponet, who worked with Hendler at the Slifka Center. “He loves music.” Hendler wrote his senior thesis
“I need to make sure that the kids love the program enough to defend it, even if they are taking criticism from the community for being part of it.”
small talk — for a double major in music and international studies — analyzing several groups’ efforts to use music for conflict resolution. The thesis helped him develop his own plan to found the Jerusalem Youth Chorus. In the spring of his senior year, he began an extensive networking process and sought much-needed funding. From his work in coordinating the Middle East portion of the Whiffenpoofs’ world tour the previous year, Hendler understood that founding a choir in Jerusalem would involve significant groundwork, so he moved to Jerusalem in July 2012 to give himself ample time to continue his planning and networking. “I learned that I needed to expect the unexpected,” he said. September was dedicated to auditions, and Hendler visited over a dozen schools to spread the word about his choir. Although he did not hide the choir’s peacemaking mission, Hendler encouraged students to audition with additional incentives. Participation in the choir would give students the opportunities to learn to sing and speak English, he explained. The students would be able to express themselves through concert music and music videos. Hendler also mentioned the possibility of an international tour in the summer. Hendler was thrilled when 80 students tried out for his choir. During auditions, he evaluated students’ voice qualities and interviewed them, seeking members who would contribute positive energy to the group. Hendler also tried to gauge students’ perspectives on “the other side” to determine whether they would be open-minded about collaborating with students from the opposing political group. Prior singing experience was not required: of the 30 students selected to join the choir, only three knew how to read music.
of the choir’s ability to succeed, but they have not said they are against it. Some Palestinians expressed concern to Hendler that the choir promotes “normalization” and ignores the inequality between the two societies that they believe lies at the heart of the conflict. Still, some are supportive. “I found more support than I expected from both sides,” Hendler said. Hendler is aware that his students may receive criticism in the future as they continue performing and drawing attention from the public. “I need to make sure that the kids love the program enough to defend it, even if they are taking criticism from the community for being part of it,” he says. And they do love it. In rehearsal, the students applaud themselves after everything they sing. Hendler hopes that the choir will be able to tour internationally next summer. Some day, he hopes to take them to Yale.
he Jerusalem Youth Chorus sang its debut concert on Dec. 22 at the Jerusalem YMCA. On Dec. 24, the high schoolers performed again for an audience of 600. Dressed in black pants and shirts of various colors, the students stood in a close semicircle. Their eyes were focused on Hendler, who raised his arms to guide the singers through the words: “I know a ‘please,’ a ‘thank you’ and a smile will take me far. I know that I am you and you are me and we are one. I know that who I am is numbered in each grain of sand. I know that I’ve been blessed again, and over again.” Their confidence was unmistakable. As the last chord faded away, the audience answered the Jerusalem Youth Chorus’ pitch for peace with loud and earnest applause.
o far, the choir has received little opposition. Only a handful of Israelis on the far political right who Hendler consulted are skeptical yaledailynews.com/magazine | Yale Daily News Magazine | 11
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swings open into a quiet hallway, and students in black business attire file out with purpose. They hold clipboards, laptops and leather-bound notebooks. They can speak with authority, command a wide array of knowledge and, even at this precocious stage, conduct politics with art. For the annual “Grand Strategy” crisis simulations in December, these students, faces familiar from libraries and dining halls, assume roles of power — journalists, Cabinet officials and the president of the United States. The simulations mark the end of the year-long course, before a new GS class convenes in January. The latest crop of students, in particular, arrives at a time of transition in the program’s faculty. Last year witnessed not only the departure of Assistant Program Director Minh Luong after the spring semester, but also speculations about the upcoming retirement of Paul Kennedy, one of GS’s founders. Both names are absent from the 2013 instructor list. The latest turnover introduces two younger instructors, a move to recruit professors who can take over the program once the founders all retire. But, given the number of students turned away each year, GS seems to encounter little trouble keeping its image vital. Its vision has, in fact, spread to other schools — perhaps the slow origins of a new movement in higher education. It may be time, then, to assess what this vision means. Despite the change in faculty, the newest students of GS enter an established tradition: they begin by studying the narratives of great leaders to understand the thought processes behind battles fought and governments crafted. During the summer and fall terms, they’re charged with applying such comprehensive modes of thinking to a real-world topic. Somewhere in this time, students may experience a fleeting understanding of what “grand strategy” is. But most GS students, by the time they graduate college, have little understanding of what the class set out to teach. Should this surprise us? At the last session of GS in 2012, one student confessed before his professors and classmates that he’d completed barely any of the reading. Nobody was too surprised, new instructor Scott Boorman LAW ’78 remembers. It’s a reality of almost any class at Yale — a reason many people believe that classroom knowledge fails to transfer to life after graduation. But GS touches upon the fundamentals of what and how we learn, and the explanation for why it falls short of its lofty goal year after year may have deeper roots.
n a 2001 Atlantic Monthly cover story entitled “The Organization Kid,” journalist David Brooks — newly added to this year’s GS faculty — describes the typical student of an elite university as having “never known anything but incredible prosperity: low unemployment and low inflation are the normal condition; crime rates are always falling; the stock market rises.” That was Yale when GS was first conceived in the late ’90s. Molly Worthen ’03 PhD ’11, who wrote the biography of GS professor Charles Hill, recalls in those years a country that was “inward-looking, with
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feature only a half-conscious knowledge of something coming down the road.” In September 2001, five months after the article was published, this consciousness was rendered a relic of history. “9/11 was a wake-up call for people who were too young to remember the days before the Cold War,” Worthen says. Classmates joined the military. Interest in joining the CIA surged, according to a 2001 News article. A few years earlier, Hill, Kennedy and Gaddis had begun to craft the seminar after noticing that no American civilian university taught grand strategy. What “grand strategy” is, precisely, remains elusive (a former student warns, “It’s not worth going down that rabbit hole”). Each professor’s background colors his or her interpretation, but the common denominator is this: a term, originally used in war, to describe the connection of all ascertainable means to achieve a long-term, usually largescale, goal. Following 9/11, “Studies in Grand Strategy,” with only a modest turnout in its inaugural year of 2000, began to grow into the dignity of its name as student interest took off. “Students were extremely interested in understanding a world historical event and its challenge to the world order,” says Hill. From the beginning, then, GS’s place on campus has been closely linked to the student psyche — but the demand ignited by the altered campus mentality created new problems. As the seminar’s profile rose, Worthen recalls, “More students began to apply because they thought it’d be this amazing pedagogical experience that’d launch them into the stratosphere” — provided that they get in. What followed is “Grand Strategy” as it has been known in recent years, the “campus juggernaut” (as deemed by a 2012 article in The Nation) that, one year, compelled the father of an applicant to dangle a “substantial donation” before the committee if they’d admit his child, according to a 2009 Herald post. Luong, the former program director, told The 14 | Vol. XL, No. 3 | January 2013
Herald that another student sent a box of chocolates to “make the selection process more pleasant.” But GS’s purest educational intent wasn’t to assist those students purely seeking prestige. Ted Bromund GRD ’99, a former associate director of the program overseeing GS, remembers that many students would listen to the professors in class and depend on their “inherent brilliance” to give plausible and, if they were lucky, clever responses. And yet, “It was blatantly obvious that they weren’t doing the reading,” he says. The program, Bromund says, wasn’t crafted so students could practice this “skill they already have.” These incidents signaled the larger obstacle — that the class was being embraced as an end unto itself, a “box to check” in a rubric of accomplishments. But if GS was intended not as an end point for ambitious students, how is its curriculum meant to be applied? When he faced the question of “What are you going to do?” his senior year, Conor Crawford ’12 found himself talking with Hill about his love for pedigrees and horses. Upon graduation last year, Crawford, a former YPU president, entered a fellowship created by a sheik in Dubai that will immerse him in the world of horse breeding. His ultimate goal is to alter the regulations
surrounding horse breeding in America, and choosing to embark on a transnational training fellowship is how he interprets a core aspiration of GS: to push students to see beyond set conventions of action. The professors intend for the applications to be open-ended, but what results is unavoidably vague — after all, how does one teach what Gaddis calls in The Cold War: a New History the ability to see “beyond complexity to simplicity”? To Hill, the difficulty of tecaching grand strategy emerged most clearly one autumn, during the Marshall policy brief presentations. This section of the syllabus acts as a practicum of sorts: students are assigned broad issues, and they must research and present solutions to these problems in a seamless narrative. According to Hill, the professors once assigned religion as a topic for a briefing team. When the students stood up to present, “It just froze them,” Hill remembers. “They couldn’t speak because, to them, religion was something you shouldn’t get into.” Religion was removed from the topics assigned.
uman learning is complicated,” says Boorman, the new instructor. “You can learn something, but it might sink in at some
feature unprecedented point.” The majority of “Grand Strategy” is confined to a classroom — and, as Tully McLoughlin ’10 says, learning limited to a seminar table may render historical epics into a black box. “You can study people from over 2,000 years ago, how one decision was put up to one large goal,” he says. But at the time, it’s hard to say if the leader in question even knew he or she was employing grand strategy. Some professors believe that the yearlong class isn’t enough, that most undergraduates lack the life experience needed to understand grand strategy. One particular group of students, however, enters GS with experience
that suits the war-heavy syllabus. Ryan Shaw GRD ’10, for instance, was a cavalry officer and troop commander before serving in Iraq. When the class discussed the uncertainty experienced in military operations, he could recount firsthand stories from his time in service. Chris Howell, a former Special Operations member in the Australian Army, explains that the world of the military equipped him with an awareness of tactics and operations. “But on the ground, we often don’t understand what the higher [strategic] intent is,” he says. For students with backgrounds like Howell’s and Shaw’s, the lessons of GS
seem to cohere in a clear, applicable way, suggesting that experience may indeed be the missing element. But it may also hint that there are aspects unique to a school like Yale that are fundamentally ill-suited to something like “Grand Strategy.” In its transition to an elite university, the program found itself in a particular culture — what Brooks in 2001 called “the achievement ethos and the calm acceptance of established order that prevails among elite students today.” Only a few decades ago, a leadership program like GS would have stirred protest simply by its mission statement. But the student climate that once regarded authority with suspicion has, since that fabled age of unrest, “swung back the other way” in its attitude towards power, says Bromund. It has resulted in a generation perhaps “a little too respectful” of authority. The one formal protest GS has ever witnessed occurred in 2009, when the first Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte ’60 joined the program faculty. Fernanda Lopez ’10 organized a sit-in to protest the absence of debate about the controversy of his career: unconfirmed allegations of war crimes. During the class, the five protesters walked in holding banners decrying the “elephant in the room.” Lopez says the questions students asked her were “largely innocent, like, ‘What are you protesting?’” Many were indifferent, dismissing the allegations as things that happened too long ago to matter. A male student in the seminar approached them and demanded to know who had paid for the posters, and what organization was subsidizing or financing them. When he saw the protesters, a News article quotes lecturer Paul Solman as saying, “This is what we used to be like in college in the ’60s.” The shift in our generation’s view of authority also became apparent to Worthen during a seminar she once led at another school. When the class discussed the radical social activism of
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feature Dorothy Day, she asked the students what causes would move them to ardent protest. “They just looked at me blankly,” Worthen recalls. The broad impression was that students still wanted to change the world — only after receiving a degree and securing a job. The pragmatism and easy acceptance of authority of our age makes two aspects of GS’s core philosophy difficult to reconcile. One year, a student applied to intern at a government bureau overseeing national security. He was sent a list of offices within the organization and instructed to choose a few that interested him. The student, Hill says, wanted a comprehensive understanding of the threats to national security — so he requested, instead, a job in the director’s office. The professors push students to seek vantage points like this — to assess problems from “above-the-treeline.” But this approach of “Grand Strategy” can blur the relationship between making change and holding a position of power. In today’s cultural landscape, Bromund says, advancing to these high positions is increasingly a matter of being politically correct in speech and action. But when students are too polite to talk about sensitive topics — even those as ubiquitous as religion — it hinders the ability to discuss grand strategy in a genuine way.
The colleague joked that the Lucretia legend is placed on the syllabus so it might later serve as conversational filler during, say, a future ambassadors’ meeting.
joked that the legend is knowledge a The exercise is out-of-character rolecultured person should have, placed playing, and the students assume their on the syllabus so it might later serve roles of authority with ease. I watch as as conversational filler during, say, a someone in the “Cabinet Room” tapes future ambassadors’ meeting. notebook paper over the classroom’s The quip contained some truth. window to ensure privacy. Another At dinners with special guests, each Cabinet member, who’d been getting student gives a brief introduction torpedoed by the mock press, ends up of themselves and their summer at my side. accomplishments. A Q-and-A session “You’re not using names in this, are follows. “They learn to comport you?” he says. “‘Cause I’m getting themselves,” Boorman notes. Students fucked.” grow conversant in an array of topics, Every announcement bears the with an emphasis on current events disclaimer: “This document has been and strategy. He reminds me that the prepared for the use in the 2012 Yale same basic idea is true of Yale: that, at Grand Strategy crisis simulation the very least, our liberal education will exercise. It is meant for educational enable us to hold liberate conversations purposes only.” on subjects familiar to an educated Much of the ideological controversy person. surrounding GS hinges upon the two But this ability, though a nice words “educational purpose.” Jim benefit, is not the main thrust of a Sleeper ’69, a Yale political science Yale education. Similarly, lessons in lecturer outspoken in his views on GS, glibness and improvising answers worries that GS’s philosophy conscripts aren’t the true aim of a class designed the humanities to promote American to teach students how to forge large power overseas, a “velvet glove on an narratives. This is why, even if each iron fist.” Instead, he says, schools like n years past, the syllabus has featured student exhausted every last resource Yale must constantly engage with the the story of Lucretia. In the tale, a to understand grand strategy, the question of what purpose the liberal Roman woman is raped by an enemy design of the course wouldn’t meet arts should serve. and commits suicide, becoming a them halfway. The class, in trying to But right now, it seems that GS’s martyr. “The point was to demonstrate push its students beyond focusing on problem is not in its core pedagogical why national character is important,” small corners of problems, ends up intent. GS, I’m told over and over, is says Katie Miller ’12. The class, she teaching too early the rules of being fundamentally connected to the Yale remembers, talked about cultural a leader, which may later hinder true experience, and a concentration of its pride but drifted nowhere near other grand strategic thought. strengths and defects. Finding a way to relevant topics: the role of women, or overcome these shortcomings would the way national pride can alienate he morning of the simulation’s mean overcoming something in the certain people. first round, a tabloid blog goes air Yale students breathe. Whether the “Many students have wondered public. One headline, attached solution to this lies in Thucydides or audibly about the story of Lucretia,” to a photo of the press secretary, The Art of War remains to be seen. says Boorman. When he mentioned declares, “Breaking: All Statements this to a colleague, the colleague True if Repeated a Trillion Times.”
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ABANDONING AFRICA The fate of African Studies BY JANE DARBY MENTON PHOTO BY JACOB GEIGER
hen the Yale Divinity School cuts and faculty attrition have recently introduced African language thrown the department into a state of courses into Yale’s curriculum uncertainty. Despite growing student in the late 18th century, becoming one demand, those who came to Yale with of the first American universities to cast the intention of studying Africa have its eye towards the continent, scholars been left echoing Clarke’s question and could not have anticipated how two wondering when and if the University centuries of globalization would knit the will listen. globe more closely together. Technology transformed trans-oceanic travel from or over 25 years, the Council of a lengthy, grueling, and dangerous African Studies netted significant Studies — all of whom took positions process into a brief plane ride. Social external funding, particularly from at other universities. Though Council media opened lines of communication the federal Title VI program, which was members say these departures reflect that 18th-century academics could never originally authorized in the National the natural ebb and flow of academic have imagined possible. The rapidly Defense of Education Act of 1958. But opportunities, the simultaneous globalizing world has generated a new in May 2011, the federal government departure of three prominent Africanists emphasis on a global education. Yet slashed funding for the Title VI and struck a blow to Yale’s African Studies last November, Africanists assembled Fulbright Hays programs — which program and sharply reduced the in Luce Hall with questions about Yale’s offer students and universities financial number of Africa-based courses. commitment to the study of Africa support for foreign language education Faculty members in the Council throughout the University. Standing — by nearly $50 million. The loss in of African Studies characterized the before faculty and students, Kamari federal funding came on the heels of an University’s interest in the African Clarke, the chair of Yale’s Council of internal announcement by University Studies program as tepid; prior to African Studies, demanded, “What President Richard Levin and Provost 2011’s federal budget cuts, the Council would it take to put African Studies back Peter Salovey, requesting that academic struggled with administrators and on the map?” and nonacademic units in the University faculty to accrue additional University As one of the first American trim spending to reduce the $68 million funding and encourage the hiring universities to include Africa in its budget gap remaining from Yale’s of Africanists across departments. mainstream curriculum, Yale has a financial struggles in the 2008 recession, Since it is a council, rather than a rich legacy in the field. Since 1985, the further limiting African Studies’ budget. department, African Studies lacks its Council of African Studies, a subsidiary In the 2012-13 school year, own faculty positions and, in turn, a body of the MacMillan Center for new problems emerged with the formal appointment process, making International and Area Studies, has unanticipated departure of three faculty replacement more complex. To coordinated the study of Africa at the prominent faculty members and compensate for the departure of three undergraduate and graduate levels. The Africanists: Ato Onoma, Christopher Africanists, the council must lobby Council has traditionally been a small Blattman, and Mike McGovern — the search and recruiting committees across but robust part of Yale, but budget Council’s former director of Graduate departments to recruit Africanists to fill
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feature positions. In 2011’s town hall meeting, Council member and history professor Bob Harms said, “Our cooperation with the University always came from us raking in money with Title VI.” Frustrated by the intransigence, longtime Council chair Kamari Clarke decided to step down at the end of 2012. Though she will continue to be involved with the Council, as she has been for the past 14 years, Clarke said she felt the program had been “neglected” by the University. “There are very few places on campus that have Africa as its focus,” Clarke said. “I have done an incredible amount of work and I didn’t think that the administration was really playing their role in living out promises to help to rebuild and it’s a lot of work.”
he task of leading the Council and minimizing the gap made by his colleague’s departure now lies with newly minted chair Christopher Udry, an Economics professor who has studied African microeconomic development. His office reflects the focus of his research — colorful posters and cloths decorate his walls, including a vibrant scene from Burkina Faso that Udry purchased when a coup stranded him in Ouagadougou and a large kente cloth from Ghana, where Udry conducts much of his research. In a frame behind his desk is a small collection of bulky iron rings, an old form of currency in Benin and a gift from a former graduate student who studied West Africa’s economic history. Udry, who was soccer teammates with one of the professors who left, lamented the “idiosyncratic” departure of his three
colleagues, though he said that turnover in their second year of the two-year and movement of prominent academics graduate program and eight in their from one university to another is natural first year. Though all are Africanists, and even healthy for a major research students’ interests vary in subject and institution. Udry acknowledged that the region — from dance to human rights, replacement process has proven difficult, South Africa to Egypt, and everything in but he cited rapidly expanding fields between. such as global health, human rights For first-year students like Helinna law and philosophy, and his own field, Ayalew GRD ’14, Yale’s appeal has economics, as areas of the University not been tarnished by recent changes. that are placing a renewed emphasis on Ayalew, who is studying violent conflict Africa. in the horn of Africa, expressed mostly His predecessor faced similar positive sentiments about the program’s difficulties. Prior to the economic small size, open curriculum, and downturn, Clarke said she sought University resources. But she said the donors to endow faculty positions struggles facing the program have been in African Studies, but the economic unnerving. The loss of faculty affected state of the University complicated the the courses that first-years could take, process. In light of larger budgetary as many core African Studies courses, issues, she said, “African Studies just fell including Ato Onoma’s “Identities,” were to the wayside.” no longer available. “It was kind of an unpleasant surprise; we all got accepted, hen students affiliated with then a bunch of people for various the Council blue-booked this reasons decided to leave,” Ayalew said. year, they found their course Still, Ayalew sees a positive side to options limited, compelling them to seek the challenges. These limitations have more innovative approaches to African also compelled her to take advantage Studies. Clarke said that many students of other parts of the University such have designed independent projects as the Political Science department and to enhance their study where the law school. “We can really learn from University does not have a designated each other, bounce ideas off each other,” class. Still, Clarke expressed frustration she said. “I engage with perspectives I that the University has placed the onus wouldn’t think of at all.” of its internationalizing efforts on countries such as India, Singapore, and et while first-year students came China, while only passively emphasizing into an already altered program, African studies. “The larger problem the changes had a different effect was a political one … political will and on the smaller class of second-year priority,” she said. “If we are going to say students, many of whom took classes we are truly an international university, from the departed faculty members. our curriculum needs to reflect that.” Klara Wojtkowska GRD ’13 is a violinist There are currently three students by training who grew up in both the United States and Poland. Wojtkowska spent a year traveling the world on a Watson Fellowship after graduation from music school, and her travels brought her to South Africa, where she found a large population of Polish people. Though she began researching the Polish diaspora, she soon found herself drawn to South African theater performances and ultimately chose to pursue a graduate degree in African
“The larger problem was a political one … political will and priority. If we are going to say we are truly an international university, our curriculum needs to reflect that.” 18 | Vol. XL, No. 3 | January 2013
feature Theater. Similar to Ayalew, Wojtkowska was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of Yale’s program, particularly the opportunity to take theater classes. All of the second-year students, including Wojtkowska, received full funding for their studies at Yale, which Wojtkowska cited as a factor that helped her overcome doubts about attending graduate school in a field so different from her prior education. Like many of her peers who lack a clear-cut path of study within the existing African Studies courses, Wojtkowska has pieced together her concentration on Zimbabwean theater from across the University, drawing on Yale’s Theater Studies department and courses taught by council members, such as those on African language. One of Wojtkowska’s favorite courses at Yale was Ato Onoma’s “Identities.” As someone raised in different countries, the course, which examined the way that people self-organize, helped her grapple with difficult parts of her own identity. Onoma helped guide her thesis research, putting her into contact with other people in the field. Of the recent changes to the Council, Onoma’s departure was the biggest blow to Wojtkowska’s education. Though Wojtkowska has had a largely positive experience in the Council, she noted that it has become more difficult for students in the program to find people whose interests align with their own, and financial constraints might hamper students’ ability for hands-on research abroad. The class below her, though significantly larger, had fewer resources, both financial and personal, to help them in their own academic path. Justin Scott GRD ’13, another secondyear student who took Onoma’s course, expressed concern about the direction of the program. Scott, who, like Wojtkowska, received full funding for his years at Yale, is conducting research on how social media networking tools are used in Africa. Some of his work examines the phenomenon of “couch surfing,” a topic he chose after a summer
“I don’t understand how a university with $16 billion can’t find the money to fund projects which, I think, are quite important.” doing research in Nigeria. Scott, who came to the Council intending to focus on development economics, described his time in Nigeria as transformative. Through Yale’s program, he studied two African languages, including Yoruba, which allowed him to connect with the people and culture on a deeper level. Of course, it was not always smooth. “One time I was accidently referring to my penis when I was trying to refer to a car,” he laughingly confessed. “But the Yoruba I did know broke down barriers right away … I think people respected the fact that I took the time to learn their language, that I wasn’t asking them questions without taking the time to learn about their culture and who they were.” Earlier this semester budgetary constraints forced the Council to eliminate Igbo, one of the languages spoken in Nigeria. Though the Council has strategized alternative ways to offer the language, including Skype courses with other universities, Scott said he felt losing another language would be a huge blow to the program. He remained positive about his personal experiences with the Council, but raised concerns about Yale’s lack of focus on a field of study that is becoming increasingly relevant. “The marginalization of Africa writ large in terms of how we talk about the world is kind of echoed here,” Scott said. “I don’t understand how a university with $16 billion can’t find the money to fund projects which, I think, are quite important.”
rior to the financial crisis, former chair Kamari Clarke said the Council was preparing to expand
and meet the growing demand for more courses on Africa. However, financial considerations sidelined these plans, and the Council has yet to recover. Council chair Christopher Udry remains optimistic. “One of the biggest changes that has happened since I’ve been here is that there are a lot more people in aggregate interested in topics having to do with Africa,” Udry said. Research conducted by Council members remains at the top of its field — Rod McIntosh from Yale’s Peabody Museum was a principal excavator of Jenne-Jeno, the oldest city in subSaharan Africa; History professor Daniel Magaziner wrote the definitive work on the intellectual history of South Africa; Kamari Clarke recently received a $260,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study human rights and justice in countries formerly ruled by warlords. But despite these successes, the future of Yale’s Council on African Studies remains uncertain. For those involved with the Council, the study of Africa is fundamentally intertwined with Yale’s mission to internationalize its curriculum, and Council members and students have sought innovative ways to continue the caliber of its program and support student interest in the face of difficulties. “The continent is relevant and as we progress into what I assume will be a very difficult century … the entire landscape of how people live, where they live, is all going to be shifting,” Scott said. “To exclude Africa academically in any way is, I think, shooting yourself in the foot.”
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TIME TO EVALUATE
BY DAN STERN ILLUSTRATION BY ELISE WILCOX
meeting of each class, a professor would distribute paper surveys — “Yale College Course Improvement Forms,” they were called — asking students for their opinions of the course. ur current system is an Invariably, though, the majority of the embarrassment and must be students’ responses would be hurried improved.” and haphazard — scribbles and snap These were the words of Charles judgments made by college kids eager Bailyn, the then-chairman of Yale to finish their semester. It was all so College’s Teaching and Learning bad, Bailyn said, that an “otherwise Committee, as they were written in a routine” accreditation visit had ended November 2002 Yale Daily News column. in “pointed” criticism of the student The embarrassing “system” to which course evaluation program. Bailyn referred was Yale College’s In the face of the evaluations’ student course evaluation program, criticism and ineffectiveness, in the and the News column was his position 1997–’98 school year Bailyn’s committee paper in support of reform. launched a search for alternatives. And In 2002 and prior, on the last by 2002, they had found a solution:
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an online course evaluation program that would ask students to review their class experiences before they could access their semester grade. The system would give students more time to reflect and assess. Response rate to the evaluations would increase, testing showed, as would the quality of the written comments. As an added bonus, with easier distribution, students would be able to review course evaluations from prior years before finalizing their schedules. At a faculty meeting in November 2002, the online course evaluation plan passed with unanimous approval by a faculty optimistic and confident about its returns. Evaluation response rates reached 86 percent in the first semester,
crit and Bailyn was back in the News, lauding its early success: “I’m very pleased that students took this as seriously as they did,” he said.
e’re now over 10 years removed from that faculty meeting, and though we are still using that same online course evaluation system, professors are no longer optimistic nor confident about the returns. Given that students are still required to face the forms before viewing their grades, the response rate remains as high as anyone could have promised — 95 percent, this past fall — but professors have found that students are actually writing less online than they did on the old forms. “Frankly, I wish that students took a little more time with the written comments,” history professor John Gaddis said. “It seems like part of the focus of these online evaluations is numerical — having students rate the courses as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very Good’ — but I don’t really have any use for those numbers. In the older system, if you wanted to make a comment, there was really no option but to write out your thoughts or suggestions; now, when you read the written comments, it just says, ‘Best course ever!’ or ‘Awesome!’” Professor Holly Rushmeier, chair of the Department of Computer Science, goes so far as to say that, in her experience, “the quantitative elements actually distract from the comments.” And just how brief are these student comments? Of nine students interviewed for this article, just one reported taking more than 10 minutes to complete the eight-question surveys. Five students reported taking as little time as two minutes or less on each. A random sampling of 250 student evaluations suggests most Yalies share a similar approach. Eight of the nine interviewed students reported spending the most time on the question, “How would you summarize [course name] for a fellow student? Would you recommend [course name] to another student? Why or why not?”
But of the sampling of 250 responses to that question, less than one-third contained more than 50 words, and just 19 responses contained more than 100 words. It’s no surprise, then, that many professors no longer agree with Bailyn’s 2003 pleasure in “how seriously” the students took the change. As English professor Lawrence Manley said, “Students just don’t put enough time into the forms for them to be helpful.”
t may be that the course suppliers — the professors — aren’t finding the online evaluations informative, but, as it turns out, the consumers — Yale students — are. All nine students interviewed characterized the evaluations as at least somewhat helpful to them, and all reported consulting evaluations when making decisions during shopping period. But does student satisfaction with the course evaluations mean that they’re working? In other words, if students are happily using the ratings and comments to craft ideal schedules — a feature that wasn’t even possible when paper evals were submitted to professors in manila envelopes — is the new online system doing its job, after all?
might be a very different perspective on the evaluations than a faculty member has, or a very different perspective than a department has.” And maybe it is this difference, he suggests, that lies behind some of the problems with the current evaluation system. Dean of Yale College Mary Miller, for one, acknowledges this idea, but holds strong that a primary service of course evaluations is still to teachers, and to the placement of teaching at the center of the undergraduate experience. “The idea of the course evaluations as they were [10 years ago] was to have students give their feedback on what we could do to improve the courses — what the best parts were, what the worst parts were, other ideas,” Miller said. “It’s become less explicit with the online evaluations … [but] the deans and departments are all activists for the importance of our undergraduate teaching, and for everyone being a part of that.” Bailyn expressed something similar in an interview with the News in 2006, stating that the most important role of evaluations was to give students a way to communicate directly with their instructors. But has this basic goal of course
“Does anyone else — other than students — read the course evals? Seriously, I don’t even know.” According to Gabriel Olszewski, the University registrar, to answer that question means to clarify the intended audience of the evaluations. The Registrar’s Office, Olszewski says, administers the system and distributes the evaluations, but doesn’t tell students who’s reading them. “The students that I’ve talked to,” Olszewski said, “have their own interests at heart — to give information that would help other students make better decisions about courses. That
evaluations — so obviously the purpose of the old paper forms — been forgotten by the students? Professor Murray Biggs, who has been critical of the system since its introduction, thinks so: “The course evaluations are now really for the benefit — or not — of the students, and it’s the students who should comment on their value.” Maybe the words of one such student, Tess McCann ’15, best capture the disconnect: “Does anyone else —
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crit other than the students — read the course evals? Seriously — I don’t even know.”
of a course can be tracked by its change in average score over successive years. This is an unscientific process, but it can give a rough idea of whether or not or teachers and departments, a particular course is, in the students’ the course evaluation system is eyes, getting better each time it’s offered. supposed to be used in service Evidence suggests that most courses of improving students’ experiences in are not. Of a random sampling of 30 courses. One way to gauge the success courses, none had average student of the system, then, is to look at whether ratings improve by more than 3 percent or not courses based on students’ between the 2009 and 2011 offerings evaluations are actually improving from of the course. This isn’t conclusive of year to year. anything, but it does suggest that student Course evaluations ask students opinions of classes aren’t improving to report their overall assessment of with repeated offerings of the course — a course on a five-point scale (where at least not on a university-wide scale. 1=poor, 2=below average, 3=good, These 30 courses are just a sampling, 4=very good, and 5=excellent). With a but work done by brothers Harry Yu large enough sample size, improvement ’14 and Peter Xu ’14 can give us a better
THE LEMON TREE Why do I come here, at night, when the shadows are darkest? The shade of the lemon tree is as black as water, but I can see moonlight shining on the rock wall and the apple orchard, and on the yard and field imprinted by my hands, which sweated, and tossed lupine seeds into the chopped earth. Shrugging away dirt, flowers sprout in the yard, and, in the field, vegetables. Both are translucent, but the vegetables are taller. The well beyond the rock wall is black, narrow and deep. Inside, the darkness of compressed matter. When I drop the rope, the bucket falls: in the spring, a short distance, in August, forever. I will stay here until morning doves begin rooting for half-rotten apples, the sky in the east is gray — until each tomato plant is visible in its row, unrolling fresh tendrils, tied to a stick with white string. — Nikola Champlin
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macro-picture. Yu and Xu, developers of a new statistics-based “blue-booking” site called YalePlus Bluebook, have analyzed the totality of the available evaluations. Their data shows that the average assessment rating of Yale courses has shown no trend over the past three years — increasing and decreasing only in negligible amounts. Not only are repeat courses not improving from year to year; the quality of the curriculum, as a whole, isn’t either. One partial explanation would seem to come from a 2007 letter from Bailyn to the News. He argued that many introductory courses would “receive bad evaluations despite outstanding teaching performances.” But in fact, evaluations reveal that the same content can be met with wildly different reactions when taught by two different professors. If a teacher gets better, a course can, with the same content, get higher student marks. But, with students providing limited specific feedback and few suggestions on their evaluations, courses aren’t measurably improving.
ooking to get the specific feedback that the online system isn’t giving them, some professors are turning to alternative forms of course evaluation. Physics professors Richard Casten and Sidney Cahn have developed one innovative approach. They don’t just rely on the scarce suggestions from the online evaluations: rather, they supplement them with conversational evaluations at the mid-term. “On the forms, lots of students write too little,” Casten said. “More helpful for us is what we do about halfway through the semester, when we ask for two or three students from each section of the lab to meet with us after class and give us their impressions of the course — of what’s good, what’s bad, what can be improved.” Casten says that he informs the students that their feedback should be candid, and that nothing they say will count against their grade in the course.
crit In fact, he tells them, they should SHOPPING LIST focus more on what’s gone wrong than what’s gone right. Students make “tons Jeans on the chair, phone unplugged, my little house to keep. of suggestions,” he says, such as “more demos, shorter labs and a better idea of what might be put on the exam.” And Coming home from that place he likes, he says, To the left a bit; leave your shirt on. after hearing their students’ suggestions, Through the window, the maple leaves the first time they had one of these slick and oily. The streetlights meetings, Casten and Cahn decided to flicker on. I watch him implement many of them. raise the camera, adjust things. The result? The numerical student assessments for their physics labs have Depth of field, rule of thirds: he sets me improved by almost 10 percent — more in the lower corner. Finds his leading line. than double the improvement of any of the evaluations sampled in the random I will not be the kind who thinks in bed. study. In the morning light enters — delicate thing — Paul Wasserman ’14, too, has to rest on his neck, that collarbone, or merely experience with classes that have had pass through him … alternative forms of student course evaluation. Wasserman recalls feeling in one class that the professor “wasn’t — Samuel Huber doing enough to draw upon the readings.” So when, in the middle of the course, that professor asked the students Olszewski says, was conceived of as a and Learning releases a bulletin what could be improved, Wasserman way to raise low response rates. And on offering advice for teachers looking made a concrete, implementable that metric, it’s done its job: response to implement teaching changes in suggestion. “For the rest of the semester, rates have stayed consistently high. response to their evaluations. the class drew more on the readings: it Is that wholly a good thing, though? Stanford’s system doesn’t necessitate was a change that really helped — made The concerns about response quality longer comments or more effort on the it feel like it was worthwhile to read have been detailed above; they bear out students’ end. Instead, it focuses on the books.” It’s unclear to Wasserman, the predictions of Biggs, whose 2002 setting out smart, numerically scored though, whether he would have made letter to the News noted that, with fewer metrics for evaluation more useful than that suggestion on a course evaluation returns, “the students who respond the reductive “overall assessment of the form: “I probably spend two minutes are those with something to say and course.” Yale’s questions, by comparison, — maybe three — on one of those wanting to say it.” seem vague and underdeveloped. evaluations,” he said. And, in some cases, the quantity of After 10 years, we can say that our But are there also ways that the responses can be counterproductive. current system isn’t “an embarrassment,” course evaluations could be improved “For the big lecture courses, there are as Charles Bailyn called the old one: even within the framework of our so many responses that it’s hard to read students are using the online course current online model? them all,” Gaddis said. evaluations to their own benefit, One proposal would be the Another idea might be to amend or aggregating reviews to help with course elimination of what Olszewski calls add to the questions that the current selection. But the written comments are “grade-shielding,” the policy of hiding forms are asking. At Stanford University, still hurried, still haphazard — the snap grades until students have either course evaluations ask students to rate judgments, once made by college kids completed or specifically “declined to their teachers from 1–5 by dozens of very eager to finish their semester, are now complete” the evaluations. specific criteria. Then, when teachers made by college kids eager to see their Grade-shielding has its disadvantages receive their evaluations, they can grades. If we want feedback that helps — namely that, as Manley notes, “most see just where they rank in categories teachers as much as students, then students are just eager to see their such as “setting clear objectives for the Yale’s course evaluation system may grades, and so don’t spend much time course” and “explaining clearly how need still to “be improved.” individualizing their responses or being students would be evaluated.” After specific.” But there are also ostensible all the data is mined and forwarded to benefits of grade-shielding: the policy, faculty, Stanford’s Center for Teaching
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WHY QUÉBÉCOIS STUDENTS TOOK TO THE STREETS
BY ERIC BOODMAN PHOTOS BY JÉRÉMIE DUBÉ-LAVIGNE
he night before her final physics exam, Amy Bernier-Desmarais was arrested for the third time. At eight o’clock on May 23, 2012, she had met up with 500 other protesters on the lawn in front of the Parliament Building in Québec City. They 24 | Vol. XL, No. 3 | January 2013
spent half an hour under those white stone walls, regrouping and talking about possible routes. Then they began to march through the cobbled streets of Old Québec, singing, chanting, banging on drums and waving signs. It was a friendly
feature protest — there were students who could not have been over 15, parents pushing toddlers in strollers. But at the corner of St-Vallier, the protesters at the back heard the sounds of engines and boots. They were being followed by the riot squad. To most of us, Old Québec is a tourist attraction, a network of cobbled streets for pleasant strolls and ice cream cones. But Amy and her friends had come to see it differently. To them, it was a battlefield, full of tricks and traps, a place you had to know how to escape. “We decided that the protest should finish in the Upper City, because it’s easier to get away than it is in the narrow streets of the Lower City,” she told me. The protesters quickened their pace. This too was a tactic: they wanted to make it harder for the riot police to encircle them. They were practically running now. The parents with young children had slipped away, not wanting their toddlers pelted with rubber bullets or tear-gassed. The rest of the protesters continued marching towards the Upper City, turning onto the commercial strip of Rue St-Jean. Afterwards, they would regret that decision. “It’s very closed off,” Amy said of the street. Very quickly, they found themselves trapped between two walls of riot shields blocking the street in both directions. Behind each shield was a member of the riot police, anonymous beneath a visor and layers of black padding, truncheon at the ready.
cocktails were thrown, bank windows were shattered with bricks, students were beaten up by the police. There were nude protests, feminist protests, protests in which everyone banged on pots and pans. Banks and office towers were blockaded, picket lines formed around schools. So many people donned the red-felt square — the symbol of the student movement — that there was a shortage of red felt. We are talking about protests of more than 250,000 people. We are talking about 3,000 protesters arrested in the span of a few months. And we are talking about over 300,000 postsecondary students on strike, out of 485,000. At the root of all this was a rise in the price of education. Since 2007, a tuition freeze had meant that universities couldn’t charge more than CA$2,168 a year (Canadian dollars and U.S. dollars are roughly equivalent). Now, the Québécois government wanted to raise that amount by almost 75 percent, a proposed hike that would take effect over the next five years, increasing tuition to CA$3,793 by 2017.
To those of us who are paying up to $50,000 a year to attend private American universities, an additional CA$1,600 may seem negligible. It is exactly this mentality that Québécois student activists want to avoid. They view every tuition hike as an attack on the Québécois ideal, born in the ’60s, of a European-style social democracy — and as a step towards the student debt crisis in the United States. As Amy put it, “The government announced that there would be a tuition hike, and we didn’t agree. Education is not a piece of merchandise. It shouldn’t have a price.
o most American college students, this situation sounds completely foreign. Yet for students in the Canadian province of Québec, Amy’s experience was a regular occurrence this past spring and summer. Hundreds of protests took over the streets of Montreal, Canada’s second-largest city, and smaller protests erupted on campuses throughout the province. Some were peaceful family-friendly affairs, like the marches Amy attended in Québec City, but there were also nightly protests that got violent: Molotov
Knowledge is something to be shared.”
my is the least threatening person I know. She’s five feet tall and can often be found with her Girl Scout troop watching birds and insects. Her ukulele is seldom far behind, tucked under one arm or strapped to her back in a ukulele case that is more duct tape than case. Like Woody Guthrie’s guitar, her instrument has political writing on it: “Pour La Gratuité Scolaire” (“For Free School”) along with the dates of each of her arrests in permanent marker. But it has none of Guthrie’s abrasiveness — Guthrie’s instrument threatened to “kill facists”; Amy’s just asks for free school. Her voice too is unthreatening: highpitched, with a tinkle of a laugh. But she can’t laugh away the fact that her arrests were traumatic. The police kept the protesters trapped in a small perimeter downtown for two hours, from 10:00 p.m. until midnight, as they arrested them one by one. Some of the protesters, prohibited from leaving “the mousetrap,” had to urinate squatting by a church wall. Once the protesters
By now, Amy had been arrested three times, incurred CA$1,482 in fines, failed a physics exam, and become a familiar face at the police station. were identified and handcuffed with plastic ties, they were loaded onto buses and driven out to the Colisée Pepsi, a stadium to the northwest of the Québec City center. To kill time, each bus driver went for a spin, exploring the outer reaches of Québec City with their vehicle full of handcuffed protesters. It was 3:00 a.m. before the protesters were finally charged with a fine of CA$494 each and dropped off on deserted suburban streets. By now, Amy had been arrested three times, incurred CA$1,482 in fines, failed a physics exam, and become a
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feature familiar face at the police station. She had developed a fear of the police (six months later, she still ducks out of sight whenever a cruiser appears). But on June 19, she was back at City Hall, protesting again.
my is just one among a group of my friends whose lives became inextricably linked to the student movement last year. I was a freshman at Yale, keeping intermittent contact with my friends back home in Montreal and in Québec City. When I heard whispers of a student strike, I didn’t think much of it — strikes of all kinds are a part of life in Québec. But I took notice when, in March 2012, a mild-mannered friend told me he had begun to support vandalism as a means of political expression. I had a wild image of my opera-going friend, his faced covered with a balaclava, heaving bricks through the glass walls of a bank. He assured me that he himself was breaking nothing, but I remained shocked that he supported those who were. “I didn’t support vandalism at the beginning,” he explained, the connection on my cellphone crackling as I paced in the Vanderbilt courtyard. “But given that nothing else has worked … At least now, the government is willing to negotiate.” He had been spending every day of the previous few weeks picketing in front of Université de Montréal. I had been spending every day running from class to class, too busy reading poetry to read the newspaper. I couldn’t help dwelling on this discrepancy. We had gone to the same high school, read the same books, had similar upbringings. Back then, we had both taken a polite interest in politics, but the nuts and bolts of political change didn’t bother us much. So how was it that he was now obsessed with student politics while I was immersed in Proust?
o the English-speaking, nonQuébécois reader, Québécois student politics can be a quagmire of comical acronyms and strange 26 | Vol. XL, No. 3 | January 2013
misnomers. It is good to know, for example, that the Liberal Party of Québec is not all that liberal — in fact, it can be quite conservative. Also good to know is that, although some households came to view the ASSÉ, the FEUQ and the FECQ as dirty words, they have nothing to do with your behind or what you do in bed. Rather, they are provincewide student associations; the ASSÉ is the most radical, preaching strikes and economic disruption, while the FEUQ and the FECQ prefer lobbying. Most postsecondary student unions in the province of Québec are member organizations of either the ASSÉ or the FEUQ/FECQ. I learned these distinctions from Jérémie Bédard-Wien, an old friend who is now a spokesman for the ASSÉ. He is a tall, handsome fellow who looks unmistakably like a European intellectual, with thick-rimmed glasses, wispy hair and an angular chin darkened with the hint of a beard. Although he grew up speaking French, his English is impeccable, which comes in handy because being an ASSÉ spokesman means being careful with words. In our interviews, he reminded me that he could only express ideas and opinions that the group has settled on as a whole. Jérémie met me on a typically dismal
day at the beginning of January in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the workingclass neighborhood of Montreal where the ASSÉ has its office on the third floor of an old textile factory. Down a hallway, past artists’ studios and unmarked doors, what looks like a flock of red butterflies (but is actually a mass of red-felt squares) hangs over the entrance to the ASSÉ’s headquarters. Inside, seated underneath a poster for a “dishonorary doctorate” awarded to Québec’s minister of education, I ask Jérémie how the student movement swept up Québec this past year. Part of the credit, Jérémie tells me, goes to the students of the ’60s. During that time, the province was reinventing itself, and reinventing its education system. In 1967, the government opened CEGEPs — postsecondary schools for either preuniversity or technical programs. “They were created with a clear goal in mind,” says Jérémie, “which was increasing accessibility to higher education.” But a year after the creation of CEGEPs, students faced a vacuum: there weren’t enough seats in university classrooms for all the students who would soon be pouring out of CEGEPs, and private university tuition was too expensive. So the students went on strike.
feature That first student strike in 1968 sparked the creation of a network of public universities across the province, and an improvement in the province’s scholarship system. Despite the power of this historical precedent, when the ASSÉ went on strike in 2007 to protest the hike that brought tuition to its current level, they failed. “The preparation wasn’t done, the demands were too ambitious,” Jérémie explained. Goaded by the memory of that failure, the ASSÉ vowed they would be ready for the next time. Fast forward to 2010. The not-soLiberal government announces that there will be another tuition hike. They don’t give any numbers, but they say it will begin in the fall of 2012. “So we had two years to react,” Jérémie said. “This was a gift from God.” Over the next two years, Jérémie spent less and less time thinking about his schoolwork, focusing instead on organizing a general strike. That meant crisscrossing the province to visit as many schools as possible. It meant standing at campus gates and pavilion doors, speaking with students before classes, after classes, at breaks and during lunch hours. “We had to talk to every student on every single campus,” Jérémie said. He handed out the ASSÉ’s newspaper — “Ultimatum” — to each student, using it as an excuse to strike up a conversation. He asked them what they thought about the tuition hike, and addressed their fears of going on strike. He talked about his own hopes and fears for the education system. He walked them through the ASSÉ’s strategy for the next few months. “We start with very small actions,” said Jérémie. “Calling up your member of parliament, signing petitions, sending letters. Over time, you build that up. You go on demonstrations, and they get progressively larger. You go on one-day strikes, which become three-day strikes. It’s building up towards our goal, in terms of tactics — the general strike.” The more conservative student federations were also working against
the tuition hike. At first the FEUQ and the FECQ were opposed to a general strike, but before long, they joined the ASSÉ in calling for one. On November 10, 2011, 30,000 members of the three organizations marched to the offices of Liberal Premier Jean Charest to demand that the proposed hike be canceled. “This is something that is lost in the current age of Internet politics — actually talking to people,” said Jérémie. He feels that this year’s general strike and protest movement, while building on Québec’s history of student politics, grew out of the thousands of one-on-one conversations he and other activists had on campuses from Abitibi to Matane. Once activists ignited the spark with their newspapers and conversations, a different force helped fan the flames: the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a mass movement. This is not to say that the protesters did not believe in the cause. Rather, trying to prevent the tuition hike made people band together who, under most circumstances, would not be caught dead in the same room. Young anarchists mingled with the old guard of Québécois sovereigntists; Liberal families marched beside ardent communists. The movement was unmistakably multifarious: some people thought tuition should stay frozen, while others opted to get rid of it altogether. Others viewed tuition as the tip of the iceberg, and were protesting against corruption in the provincial government. But they all agreed to oppose the tuition hike. By marching together, chanting slogans and banging drums, they created an electric feeling of community that ran through the city of Montreal.
could see this mix of history, campaigning and community euphoria at work one evening last June in northeastern Montreal. It was rainy out, but at 8 p.m., residents began to emerge from their apartments and congregate on the street corners. All of them held some kind of kitchenware — spoons, forks, bowls, pots, cymbal-like pan-tops,
and gong-like woks — and they were creating a neighborhood symphony of clangs and crashes. Music students were playing a complex Afro-Cuban beat on a mailbox. An old lady banged her teapot slowly, making it ring like a seaside bell. There was a toddler with a frying pan, and his father, slapping together two metal spatulas. This was one of the famous “potand-pan protests,” which emerged as a response to a law passed by the Liberal government to crack down on protests. The mood was undeniably festive. Between clangs, one woman told me that it brought her back to her student days in the ’60s. “It is so nice to see young people involved in politics,” she said in her heavy Québécois accent. I was banging away at my own saucepan, but I couldn’t help worrying that I shouldn’t be there at all. I had just spent freshman year at one of the most elitist universities around, reading Wordsworth and Flaubert, far from the militant missives of my friends and unsure what to think of them. I liked the idea of making university education accessible to everyone, but had my choice of school already spoken louder than whatever noise I could make with my spoon and pan? By the time the newly elected government canceled the tuition hike in September 2012 and the protests in Québec began to die down, Amy had failed two classes and been arrested four times. Other friends had risked their semesters to picket outside schools. Jérémie had come close to dropping out in his effort to mobilize the province’s students. That was not the kind of education I was getting during my first year at Yale. For a second, I wondered how high the price of a college education would soar in the U.S. before students refused to pay. What would it take for a mass protest movement to catch on? But then I looked up at the drummers and bangers and clangers around me, and lost myself in the noise.
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THE NEW HUMANIST BY ALEC JOYNER PHOTOGRAPHY BY NATALIE WOLFF
n a sunny weekday afternoon last October, Gary Tomlinson, the new director of Yale’s Whitney Humanities Center, was singing Verdi in Stoeckel Hall. This was not a performance, exactly; Tomlinson is an opera expert, not an opera singer, and he was sitting at an upright piano in a second-story classroom, squinting at sheet music over his glasses. The students in his “Opera” seminar took notes, and a young Violetta quavered, paused, on the projector screen. As Tomlinson played and sang, in a capable tenor that occasionally flipped upward into a surprisingly strong falsetto, he paused every few moments to translate “La Traviata”’s Italian or to ask
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Socratic questions: “Anyone remember when, precisely, we hear that melody again? And why does it come back?” A student answered the first question, but not the second. “It comes back” — Tomlinson jumped up from the piano — “to motivate the repetition of the cabaletta, remember that?” He crossed the room to stand right in front of the students, moving his tall, wiry frame with the spry energy of an Irish jigger, or a Monty Python-era John Cleese. “Its repetition is motivated by the hearing of ‘Alfredo!’ He interjects right in the middle of her double aria! Whether it’s heard in her imagination or otherwise. But it also comes back.” Smiling and gesticulating forcefully, he pressed on.
The students’ pens flew across their notebooks, hurrying to catch up. There were only five pens, though, and apart from me, only five students in the room that afternoon to witness Tomlinson’s pedagogical show. The enrollment number for “The History of Opera” was well below expectations, as many such numbers have been for traditional humanities courses, at Yale and elsewhere, over the past decade. Tomlinson knows this, but he is not in the least a traditional humanist, and as he steps into his new role at the Whitney, he is working to demonstrate that the humanities are not only more vital than ever: they are growing.
omlinson’s ideas about the humanities have emerged over the course of an unusually varied academic career. Nominally, he’s a musicologist — “unimpeachable,” in the words of Dudley Andrew, chair of Yale’s Department of Comparative Literature, “in Renaissance, and post-Renaissance, music.” In practice, though, he has become much more than a scholar of the Western musical canon. As his career has progressed, Tomlinson’s home turf has sprawled ever outward: his research, exploring topics such as Renaissance ideas about music and magic, or the role of music in encounters between European and indigenous American civilizations, has taken him well beyond the customary preoccupations and methods of musicology. This year, with his assumption of the directorship of the Whitney, he finds himself presiding over an institution whose mandate — facilitating interdisciplinary conversations and collaborations, and championing humanistic scholarship — corresponds closely to his penchant for broad intellectual investigation. I first met Tomlinson as a student in the class he taught last spring — a class very different from the one I visited in October. Called “Music and Human Evolution,” it was last year’s iteration of the Whitney’s Shulman Seminar in Science and the Humanities, and it asked a seemingly basic question: why and how have human beings developed the capacity to make music? The simplest questions, of course, are often the most complicated, and the hardest to resolve. Whereas “Opera” covered about 500 years, “Music and Human Evolution” covered about 500,000. And though Tomlinson knows the answers to countless little questions about the history of opera, he didn’t have an answer to the one big one about the evolution of music so much as he had a radical way of thinking about it: a tour across disciplines from archaeology to cognitive science, with only occasional references to harmonic music theory or
standard accounts of music history. In the online student evaluations of the class, the word “fascinating” appears several times, but so does “frustrating,” not to mention “speculative” and “(too) interdisciplinary.” Tomlinson himself, however, views the seminar’s trajectory as one of real achievement; for him, it was “tremendously fertile and exciting,” precisely the kind of compendious intellectual journey that humanities scholars can take when they put their notions of disciplinary boundaries — and their notions of what “interdisciplinary” even means — aside. “We’re in a period when whole new disciplines — whole new ways of thinking about whole ranges of knowledge — are emerging,” he told me. “What would it be like if Yale University had a ‘Department of Emergence Studies’? This would cut across so many areas, right? What would it be like for there to be a ‘Department of Scalar Studies’? These would be neodisciplines rather than just interdisciplines.” He stopped himself, and expressed his doubts about neodisciplines being embraced at Yale, especially within humanities departments. But then again, he said, “the Whitney Humanities Center might be the sort of place that can help.”
s an undergraduate in the early 1970s at Dartmouth College, Tomlinson was a biochemistry major. It was only in his third year, after finding himself “riveted” by a music history class, that he switched over to music. (He first tried to double-major, naturally.) From Dartmouth he went on to a doctoral program in music history at the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked just as closely with William Bouwsma, a historian, and Louise Clubb, a scholar of comparative literature, as he did with anyone you could call a musicologist. Over his many years at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was hired straight out of Berkeley and where he was eventually appointed Annenberg
Professor in the Humanities and chair of the Department of Music, he continued to push back against the narrow traditionalism of what he calls “internalist chronology” — “this composer did this, and this composer was influenced by the first one” — and against what he refers to as “the silo mentality” of academic departments: high walls hiding “hermetically sealed mysteries that you have to be initiates in order to understand.” His work led to a 1988 MacArthur “genius” grant, three more books and a role in the planning of the interdisciplinary Penn Humanities Forum in the late 1990s. In early 2010 — just as he was about to assume the directorship of the Penn Forum, in fact — Yale’s Humanities Program came calling. His credentials in musicology were plenty strong, but the fact that “he asks some of the biggest questions,” as Andrew, the Comparative Literature chair, put it, is what attracted Yale’s attention. He, in turn, was attracted to Yale by the Whitney: a silo for silohaters and an older, more established cousin to the Penn Forum. And at Penn, by 2010, he had reached a point where his life, as he put it, “needed a new cast of characters.” That fall, he arrived at Yale as a visiting professor. Before his first year was up, he was granted tenure, and one afternoon last spring, late in his second year, he found himself face to face with Richard Levin. “Rick saw me at a lecture and said, ‘Can I meet with you sometime soon?’ And I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to meet with you.’ And I went in curious as to what this is about, and he said, ‘Would you like to run the Whitney Humanities Center?’”
he Whitney Humanities Center was founded in February 1981, after the reallocation of a donation from John Hay Whitney ’26 that was originally intended for two new residential colleges; the money was used in part to finance Yale’s acquisition of the Trinity Parish Church House
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profile on Wall Street, which has remained the Whitney’s home to this day. Peter Brooks, the Whitney’s founding director and now a Sterling Professor Emeritus of comparative literature, said at a Whitney event last year that A. Bartlett Giamatti, University president from 1978 to 1986, felt a humanities center would address “concerns like departmentalization, the lack of an intellectual community and the University becoming increasingly atomized and privatized.” “My own thinking,” Brooks added, “was most influenced by a remark that Yale was an exceptional place for students, but did little for faculty.” Brooks served as director from 1981 to 1991, and again from 1996 to 2001, and under his leadership, the Whitney became a hub of interdepartmental interactions among the faculty members appointed to its two-year fellowships. Very few Whitney programs, though, made any attempt to engage undergraduates. It was only with the arrival in 2001 of María Rosa Menocal, a scholar of medieval literature and culture, that the Whitney committed to a true expansion of its offerings, targeting students as well as a much wider range of faculty members.
Over the later years of her tenure, Menocal also oversaw the creation of what has become the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities. The annual Shulman Seminar, which features an associated series of public guest lectures, was established first, in 2007. The new Franke Program, directed by biology and ornithology professor Richard Prum, has taken in the Shulman Seminar, and added “University Seminars” for the faculty and events for the public, such as a lecture last November by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. When Menocal, early last year, told the University administration that she would be stepping down, they made a rare decision to give an important administrative position to a newcomer to Yale. Tomlinson is still, as he put it to me, “in the midst of a steep learning curve.” Given his relatively limited knowledge of Yale’s academic and social culture at the faculty and the student level, and given all of Menocal’s radical expansions, his contribution as director will likely have less to do with attracting whole new populations to the Whitney, and more to do with changing the nature of the conversations the Whitney allows and encourages people at Yale to have. Prum
“My role is to marshal conversations ... about the humanities — the ways in which they’re shallow, and the truths that they bring to the table, too. We need to get down to those foundations, and we need to think about them, hard.” Menocal transformed the Whitney. She turned the fellows lounge into an art gallery, outfitted the auditorium for state-of-the-art 35 mm film projection, and, perhaps most importantly, made the Whitney the new home of Directed Studies and the humanities major. 30 | Vol. XL, No. 3 | January 2013
praised Tomlinson’s ability to make his colleagues consider “the philosophy and the history and the nature” of their disciplines, and Andrew said he thinks Tomlinson, as the Whitney’s director, “will bring in deeper debates about what the humanities are.”
“What I see as my role,” Tomlinson told me, “is to marshal conversations that can begin to uncover some of the unspoken premises about the humanities — the ways in which they’re wrong, the ways in which they’re shallow, and the truths that they bring to the table, too. We need to get down to those foundations, and we need to think about them, hard.”
t will be a challenge for Tomlinson, in his new role, to engage as much of the Yale community as possible in the kinds of reflective conversations that he finds so important, but it will be even harder to share and spread his own intellectual values and beliefs. He has risen to a position more influential than any he has previously held, but if he wants to “marshal” open dialogue, he will have to take care not to dominate every conversation. Tomlinson’s interviews with me gave him a rare chance to wax philosophical, and he spent a great deal of time explaining the “set of methods and experiences and approaches that are,” he believes, “distinctive of the humanities.” Among other ideas, he described “Verstehen,” or “understanding,” a concept associated with the German sociologist Max Weber: “a broad and deep and fuzzy kind of knowledge opposed to some more empirical kind.” Ideas like Verstehen tend to get Tomlinson excited, and when he got to “fuzzy knowledge,” his mouth seemed barely able to keep up with the rapid machinations of his mind. “Now there are many people who see the fuzziness as, of course, the disaster of the humanities. Humanists don’t see it as a disaster; they see it as an opportunity, an opportunity to dig more deeply into interpretive understanding. ... An interpretive, uh uh, fuzzy, um, uh ... ‘thick descriptive’ approach to interpreting the past is something different than most social sciences approaches would be. ‘Thick description’ is a famous, a famous phrase...” And on he went. In the same
profile conversation, though, he recognized that waxing philosophical isn’t in the Whitney director’s job description. “It’s not my role to talk and talk,” he said. “It’s my role to bring people together to talk in productive ways.” With the Whitney fellows, this is hardly a challenge; the main difficulty he faces at their meetings is treading an acceptable line between passive facilitator and active participant. At a lunch I attended, scholars as diverse as Tamar Gendler, chair of the Department of Philosophy; Fred Strebeigh, a senior lecturer in the Department of English; and Claudine Ang, an assistant professor in humanities at Yale-NUS College, listened to Joel Baden, assistant professor of Old Testament at the Divinity School, give a talk on the representation of human disability in the Bible. When Baden finished, they peppered him with questions: Gendler asked about infant mortality rates in the era of the Bible’s composition; Strebeigh asked about the utility of literary-critical techniques in biblical study. Tomlinson sat to one side; he looked pleased, but also a bit reticent. He looked, in short, like a newly promoted boss, content but uncertain as to how to act around his former peers. In time, that dilemma will likely fade. The larger problem Tomlinson faces is the matter of getting students, especially undergraduates, to consider the kinds of questions the fellows discuss every week, and the even larger problem is the matter of getting students to show up at the Whitney in the first place. Somewhat distressingly for him, it is not a matter of programming so much as one of simple geography: many undergraduates don’t care to make the walk to 53 Wall St., and many more don’t even know where the Whitney is. Menocal brought in Directed Studies, art exhibits, events with bigname guests, and movies in 35 mm most nights of the week. She built it; it’s now up to Tomlinson to get students to come.
his semester is one of great opportunity and great uncertainty for Tomlinson, coming as it does
on the heels of great upheaval. In midOctober, soon after the commencement of his directorial duties and soon before the announcement that Peter Salovey would be the next University President, María Rosa Menocal died of melanoma at the age of 59. Menocal had directed the Whitney for over a decade and taught at Yale for 16 years, and her passing, as Tomlinson put it, “cast a pall” over the Whitney staff and fellows; it leaves him without a valued colleague and adviser, and it leaves the Yale humanities community at large without one of its most experienced and engaged leaders. Tomlinson is teaching another seminar this semester. He is calling it “Science and Human Sciences”; if it seems like he is deliberately avoiding a title like “Science and Humanities,” or, alternatively, “Everything,” he can be forgiven — he wants very badly to attract a substantial and talented crop of students. “Music and Human Evolution” had an enrollment of only 11, and this course won’t have the benefit of the Shulman bells and whistles. It will be a test of sorts as to whether Tomlinson’s new, broad, science-friendly brand of humanities class — humanistic in approach more strictly than in subject — raises more excitement in the consciousness of our pragmatic generation than did the oldfangled likes
of “Opera.” “The humanities,” he said to me, “can be reduced to, oh, ‘understanding what it means to be human.’ But one has to remember that that is a grossly reductive statement about what the humanities are up to, and one also has to remember that if one takes seriously what it is to be human, it’s a lifelong project.” A humanities education, he believes, prepares students not only to be scholars, but to be “citizens in the world, who gauge the differences that they come up against in subtle and nuanced ways [and] act morally in the midst of the choices that they make.” He paused after saying this, and looked up. “What could be more important, finally?” he said. “What could be more pragmatic?” Putting your humanities center in the middle of your university’s campus might be more pragmatic, but, after all, though Tomlinson has moved many people with his mind and his tongue, he isn’t capable of moving buildings (or silos for that matter). His secular church is where it is, and he’s there to stay, waiting for a congregation that’s not afraid to get fuzzy.
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TEN THOUSAND TREES BY ABIGAIL CARNEY PHOTO BY KATHERINE ROMANS
SEPT. 22 thousands of dollars through storm- swelling purple bruise on the ball of I’ve always been a tree admirer, lover, water management. I’m a little nervous your hand and a few massive pieces of protector, kisser, crier. The first time I that despite only learning how to plant root you’ve removed to show for it. drank too much, I cried for hours about trees last week, I’ll now be teaching it. It It is so hot so that we all have layers the Earth and its need for trees. Yet goes well though. At the end of each tree of sweat between our hands and the despite this fervor, I had never studied we stand around it and chant, “Trees rubber of our gloves, and all of our four tree species alongside my geologist need people, people need trees!” Gina planting sites have webs of unbreakable brother, never helped my father plant on and I both realize that it’s sappy, but also roots. My supervisor and I are digging our 10-acre field in our corn farm town that it’s true. deliriously when a beautiful woman in that is so small it has no speed limit, white pants and yellow sandals waltzes never learned how to thin unnatural SEPT. 29 over from across the street balancing a new-growth forests like my masterWe finish a beautiful hole, our third jug of sweet iced tea and a tray of cups. gardener mother so they’d be healthy of the day, only to have a homeowner We, with faces and clothes coated in dirt, and not choked with too many trees that come out yelling that the American fall at her feet in gratitude. grew all at once. Somehow I didn’t plant linden is supposed to go in front of the The fourth tree is unplantable, and a tree until New Haven. I had never felt a right corner of the house, not under we have to load it onto the truck at the need to curate nature back home, where the left where its growth would clearly end of the day. But by the end — after a there was so much of it. be blocked by the beautiful tree in his freak thunderstorm hits, and we unload I am a new intern for the Urban front yard — he’d already had a tree these 300-pound trees as well as the Resources Initiative, a program that there that had died. We needed to fill buckets and buckets of rock and root as partners with the city to help plant the hole and dig a new one. It’s worth we get continually more dripping wet 10,000 trees in New Haven by 2015, the noting here that URI trees are a free and muddy — by the end, I walk into philosophy being that the planting of service for homeowners, paid for by the my suite smiling. trees strengthens the community when city, Yale and other donors. However, he members of the community plant them. becomes gracious and even tips us, once OCT. 13 This season, 10 of us, mostly School we, without so much as a complaint, dig I realize I like waking up early, the of Forestry & Environmental Studies an entirely new hole and plant the tree. solitary 30-minute walk to the URI students, will be working with a team of office all the way at the top of Science either high schoolers or ex-offenders. OCT. 6 Hill. I even decide to stop washing my Today I wake up at half past six. Once We learn how to pickax when a root work pants. I tell my suite mates that I reach the planting site, I meet the six mass is impassable. Roots can be wide, as this was some pact I’d made with one high schoolers I’ll be working with for wide as a big tree’s branches, and they’re of my coworkers, but really it seems the next two months. I also meet my also extremely strong, even once the a shame to wash the dirt off when the work partner, Gina Blankenship, an tree has been removed and the central very next week I’ll always be sitting in a FES student who in the past worked stump has been ground up by the city. freshly dug hole, legs wedged between a for a company called Lumberjack, lived This means that you can dig down a foot wall of dirt and a tree we are pulling and in South America, and hiked alone or so, and still hit a whole mess of roots. twisting into perfect uprightness. for months through the Minnesota We try to wait at least three years after a wilderness as a tree surveyor. Each week, tree has been taken out, so the roots can OCT. 20 we’ll be teaching the high schoolers begin decomposing, but the three years This day is admittedly particularly a lesson on urban forestry. Today we have not always passed. I would much difficult, with two of our team members focus on how urban trees reduce crime rather dig a hole through concrete or missing and a mess of roots several feet rates, improve personal happiness (and asphalt than a root system; you can take wide and hours of pickaxing strong. At mental health), strengthen relationships a sledgehammer or a pickax to those the end of it, one of the high schoolers with neighbors, better air quality and materials and they break up easily. You (we’ll call him Peter) says, “I hate trees.” I respiratory health, bolster property can take turns pickaxing a root system wonder if I am missing something. The values and save cities hundreds of for an hour and have nothing but a thing is, the whole point of the program 32 | Vol. XL, No. 3 | January 2013
is that he’s supposed to love trees now. It’s been a hard day, but a good day, too. We planted three trees even with two of our team missing. We planted the third tree so quickly and smoothly that I felt we might’ve been an Olympic team of synchronized swimmers. Gina and I laugh, and tell him, “No, you don’t hate trees.” I’m a little worried that I’ve been too idealistic about the all-importance of having nature everywhere. OCT. 27 In the previous weekly Wednesday team meeting, we were informed that a third member of a team won’t be making it today, and maybe not for the rest of the season due to disciplinary issues. Today we are blessed with the addition of a high school student from another team now that we are down to two from our original five. We finish our trees early and walk over to a nearby park where we look at and talk about trees, the one all crooked and bent backwards, the one tapped for a maple sugar line, the one almost hiding the crouching deer.
NOV. 3 We practice for next week, our last one, when the high schoolers will lead eighth-graders in tree planting, passing on the skills they’ve perfected to the New Haven community. Gina and I pretend to be clueless eighth-graders to practice. Remembering some of Peter’s complaints, Gina starts jokingly whining about how planting trees was hard and she didn’t want to do it anymore, and I cut in that I was bored and that I was hungry, and look at my nails! Peter smiles knowingly and tells us that you have to keep going even when you don’t want to, that you need to get the tree in the ground. I realize that he isn’t entirely humoring us. Despite the occasional tree-hating comment, he’d shown up every day and worked harder as the season went on, even though he was the youngest kid on the team and probably weighed about 80 pounds.
and so we all have to sit around it and pull and pull at the rope and burlap and wire basket, and tilt it, and shovel dirt in, and then the tree is too high, and still not straight, so we pull at it some more. It’s frustrating, but eventually there is a Cornelian dogwood in the ground. That afternoon we and the other high school crews go back to the office to reflect on the season and eat pizza. When the session leader asks Peter what he’s learned that season, he says, “Nothing.” I laugh. Maybe he really didn’t learn anything. But today he taught others how to plant, and then planted a tree on a street where most of the trees were dead or dying, a street where none of the houses had spigots or nice vegetable gardens. Maybe Peter is sometimes a tree hater, but that’s probably better than being a tree lover who doesn’t know what that means. He’s probably more impressive than someone who’s always taken trees for granted.
NOV. 10 Peter’s tree is somehow the one that doesn’t get dropped in the hole straight,
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BY MATTHEW LLOYD-THOMAS PHOTOS BY BRIANNE BOWEN
o get to Newtown, Connecticut, drive on Interstate 95 to Bridgeport and take Exit 27A onto Route 25, then go straight for 20 miles. The three-lane highway cuts through the deep New England woods before narrowing to two lanes. The speed limit goes from 55 to 40 and the road narrows to one lane, dipping and turning through the Connecticut hills as it squeezes its traffic past dark ponds, liquor stores and volunteer fire engines. After passing through Trumbull and Monroe, the road comes to a hill that rises steeply for a quarter mile. At the top, in the middle of the road between the Episcopal Church and a public library is a flagpole first raised in 1876 and rising at least 75 feet above the road. On the left, just past the flagpole, is the Newtown General Store, founded in 1847. The store provides the town with sandwiches, coffee, homemade jams and knickknacks. It is where teenagers go for lunch and where lifelong residents spot each other while buying their morning coffee. Inside the general store are two tables by the windows and two behind the counter, which is an enormous square covered in cookies and candies. At the back is a place to order sandwiches, some of which are named after places in town — the Queen Street, the Sandy Hook. Just to the right of the general store is Edmond Town Hall, constructed in the 1930s, made of brick with marble columns in the center. Across the street from the town hall is the Honan Funeral Home. At the flagpole, a left turn takes the road down a steep hill and past The Newtown Bee, the town paper owned by the same family since its founding in 1877. The road continues past two shopping centers and the St. Rose of Lima Church, rounds a corner and
passes a sign welcoming visitors to Sandy Hook, a neighborhood and commercial area. It rolls by the Sandy Hook Diner and the Toy Tree before intersecting Washington Avenue. Continuing straight, up over a slight rise, a small one-story firehouse stands across from a wooden sign welcoming visitors to Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“IT’S OVERWHELMING” On Dec. 14, the drive into Newtown changed. The flagpole by the public library was pulled down to halfmast. Two large electronic signs parked at the bottom of a hill, facing traffic in both directions, flashed, “Thanks to our heroes, God bless our angels,” 24 hours a day. Trumbull, Monroe and Newtown residents lit luminaries and placed them in their front yards, in town greens or just along the road. Sometimes they lit 26, sometimes 27, rarely 28. Parents and teachers asked each other and themselves how to talk to kids about the 20 six- and seven-year-olds laying slain by three, four, seven, 11 hollow-point bullets on the floor of a classroom in Fairfield County.
High School on that Sunday night, Tamara and Christopher Spalvieri recounted the previous two days. Media trucks parked on their front lawn and knocked on their door in search of an interview while their ninth-grade son was home alone. “It’s overwhelming,” Tamara said. They lived six blocks from the school, and their children, now in middle school and ninth grade, had attended Sandy Hook. They knew school psychologist Mary Sherlach, who died with principal Dawn Hochsprung while running toward the gunman, and Victoria Soto, who died shielding her students from the bullets. They remembered Sandy Hook as a community school that hosted Halloween parties and a harvest festival. Christopher told me he’d been trying to pray all day, but had been prevented by a bomb threat at their church, St. Rose of Lima, by someone taking advantage of the influx of mourners. The town was saturated with media, but their thoughts already ran to when the media would leave. It seemed that part of them wanted the media gone so they could grieve away from the cameras, but another part
At the back is a place to order sandwiches, some of which are named after places in town – the Queen Street, the Sandy Hook. A vigil at Newtown High School came two days after the shooting. The night before, President Obama announced he would attend, and any news channels yet to descend upon Newtown packed their bags and drove those 20 miles on Route 25. Waiting in line for the vigil in the cold mist outside of Newtown
worried that once the media left, Newtown would be forgotten. Tom Mahoney, a lifelong resident of Sandy Hook whose grandson previously attended the school and who volunteered there every Monday, stood next to the Spalvieris. He knew all of those killed. They seemed in a daze, tossed suddenly into at once a deeply
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cover personal tragedy and a national debate. All three, in suggesting a ban on semi-automatic weapons, were more certain about the right way forward for the nation than their community. As for the future of Newtown, they were unsure. “We’ll come though it,” Tom said. “But it’s not quite going to be the same anymore.” Few spoke in the general store that week. A sign on the old coffee machine informed residents that the coffee was free, donated each day by a different American — on Dec. 19 the donor was the Floor Supply and Equipment Co. from Gardena, Calif., while a large basket of candy next to the register was donated by a woman named Theresa from Newman, Ga. Teenagers from the high school and home from college sat at the tables and looked out the window, unable to stomach the Sandy Hook sandwich as they looked at the lines outside the Honan Funeral Home across the street. Customers took complimentary copies of The Newtown Bee, in which a front-page editorial suggested the town was already on its way to healing and would refuse to allow the tragedy to define it. The people of Newtown, narcotized by grief, walked through the store slowly. Beyond quiet words of reassurance and hugs, they seemed unsure of what to do with themselves. “This is the first time I’ve been out of the house,” one woman told a shopkeeper six days after the shooting. For a week, beyond attending funerals, there was little to be done. In the following days, the circle around Newtown in which the flags still hung limply at half-mast grew ever smaller. People, more people all the time, came to leave things at the memorials that sprung up throughout the town in the first week. On the Saturday eight days after the shooting, men and women from New York, New Jersey and the rest of Connecticut, off work and for the first time able to make the drive to that oft-forgotten corner of Fairfield County, left notes, candles, figurines of the Madonna, wooden crosses carved with their own hands and teddy bears. Thousands of teddy bears of every variety. Some had names. Some came in boxes. Some were pink and small, others white and large. 36 | Vol. XL, No. 3 | January 2013
A group of students from Red Lake, Minn., where in 2005 a student killed nine at his high school, came to provide support. Eight years ago, students from Columbine had come to them as well. A woman handed out slices of homemade apple pie in front of the town hall. Therapy dogs came, too. It rained incessantly, and the town hall struggled to shake the smell of wet golden retriever. At the memorial closest to the school six days after the shooting, at night and long after the out-of-towners had headed home, a mother and her five-year-old son wandered through the Christmas trees donated anonymously and now covered in notes and ornaments. The multicolored lights strung over the firehouse, lighted before Christmas became a time of mourning, provided a somber light. While the mother looked down at the names of the boys and girls her son had gone to school with, the boy, dressed in a firefighter outfit, swung around the poles of the tents that sheltered the memorial from a coming storm. After five minutes, the mother reached over to the boy, took his hand and began the walk up the hill. “So bad people go to hell, right?” he asked her. “And good people go to heaven?” “That’s right.” Ideas normally reserved for fifth-graders, or even adults, have been thrust upon those in first grade. Wind and rain slapped the half-masted flag at the top of the hill on the morning of Friday, Dec. 21, one week after the shooting. At 8 a.m. it seemed the sun was yet to rise. A media team of four from Boston ran into the general store, pants and hair drenched, to get coffee and breakfast while waiting for Governor Malloy to arrive for a moment of silence. The woman at the register said the coffee was still free. When the cameraman tried to pay and said uncomfortably, “But we’re not from here,” the woman replied almost in a whisper, “Don’t worry.” Neither looked the other in the eye. The cameraman brought the coffee and four egg and bacon sandwiches to a table by the window. The three male technicians, wearing jeans, flannel and waterproof jackets, and the female reporter, wearing a pantsuit under a red windbreaker, said
cover nothing to each other as they chewed on the sandwiches. They looked out across the street through the rain to the Honan Funeral Home, where in the days past boys who will not need to shave for 10 years lined up to say goodbye to their friends. An hour later the governor arrived and greeted families in the dimly lit lobby of the town hall. Some families cried openly, others stood stoic. By then, most had buried their dead. Then at 9:30 a.m., the governor, along with Newtown First Selectwoman Pat Llodra and the families. stepped outside and into the glare of cameras on the sidewalk. As the wind and rain battered the families, the bells of Trinity Episcopal Church rang 27 times, and the nation hurried to the task of forgetting.
“CAN WE STOP KILLING BABIES?” Later that morning, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s top lobbyist, told the nation, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But Shannon Doherty, a lifelong Newtown resident who attended Sandy Hook told me three days later, “He’s not talking to us. We’re not his audience.” As I spoke to Shannon just inside the door of his store – Wishing Well Gifts, which he owns with his wife Tamara — the sun was setting outside and the floodlights around the memorial were beginning to turn on. He looked out the window while speaking, subject to the same daze that still hovered over the town. He told me about why 26 were dead, most of their bodies destroyed by at least three bullets. The AR-15 Bushmaster, which Adam Lanza used that day to kill 26, is essentially the same gun as the M-16, which was designed in 1963 to kill as many humans as quickly as possible in the jungles of Vietnam. Shannon paused for a moment, stood back, looked at the ground and shook his head before speaking again. The rounds were hollow-point bullets, which are prohibited internationally from military use but are widely available for American civilians. When a hollow-point bullet hits the body, especially when fired from a Bushmaster at supersonic speeds, it mushrooms, tearing
everything in its path to shreds. When sixyear-old Noah Pozner was shot 11 times with hollow-point bullets, there was nothing left. “Enough of this bullshit,” Shannon said. Mental health care is an important discussion, he noted, but “in the meantime can we stop killing babies? Ban the fucking Bushmaster.” When Shannon said the word “babies,” I was reminded of everything I had learned about the slain children: Benjamin Wheeler’s love of lighthouses, Jack Pinto’s obsession with the Giants, the fact that Noah Pozner loved tacos so much he wanted to become a taco factory manager. Maybe it is this innocence that will prompt us to change, the notion that the dead led short lives free of hatred, free of despair; the size of the coffins at 20 premature funerals; the fact that those coffins held victims whose last days had been spent not worrying about paying the mortgage, but rather thinking about frogs, dance recitals and tacos. Tamara Doherty told me that the days following the shooting felt like Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray movie in which he relives the same day over and over. It feels like Groundhog Day not just for the people of Newtown, but for the people of this country who nevertheless refuse to be angry for longer than two weeks that the same scene has been replayed in Newtown as in Aurora, Colo.; Blacksburg, Va.; Littleton, Colo.; Tucson, Ariz. and hundreds of other towns across America. It feels like Groundhog Day because we keep killing each other and we keep forgetting.
“ALL OF A SUDDEN YOU START GETTING PANIC ATTACKS” One week after the shooting, on the evening of Friday, Dec. 21, 2,500 Newtown residents gathered on the fields of the abandoned campus of Fairfield Hills Hospital to light candles and remember. Unlike previous vigils, reporters were nowhere to be seen. After that morning’s moment of silence, the media vans parked at the town hall had headed back down Route 25. The people of Newtown welcomed the disappearance of media vans from their front yards and reporters from the Starbucks
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THE BEACHCOMBERS To Dennis Johnson The beachcombers take themselves like serious trains to Los Angeles Palo Alto Santa Monica’s legs worn down by the sand like the dense chunks of green bottle you lapped up on her shores, glass smoked as the windows of the damp building you locked yourself in for some odd number of years. You called it a supermarket And a search for creamed corn. The empty refrigerator depresses us, you complained to your underwear. You lounged with the produce. The women are not peaches but skin holds them together when they threaten to burst. The diamonds in their glasses scrape down our throats. We name your wife Mexico We name your hat Divorce. Our voices run hoarse and you leave for some better planet. I will call you my sweating astronaut I will call you, Goodbye! I will keep calling if you’ll keep the suit on. — Sophia Weissmann
38 | Vol. XL, No. 3 | January 2013
on Church Hill Road, but did so cautiously. “We want the media out,” Sarah Farris, a college student who organized the Friday night vigil, said. “But we don’t want to be forgotten. We don’t want to be alone.” Yet more than one month later, the embrace of a nation has lifted because of mere inattentiveness, while Newtown is still there. The way forward is uncertain. Newtown residents all stress the resilience of this community of 28,000. But according to Neil Rattan, a Connecticut clinical psychologist specializing in trauma, as a town attempts to re-establish order there is a quiescent period of “building feelings of desperation.” Withdrawal and isolation, as well as increased drug and alcohol use — symptoms of broader emotional chaos — begin to surface within family units in the weeks after a tragedy. Children close to the incident act out more and perform worse in school. For those closest to the tragedy — the ones most likely to develop posttraumatic stress disorder — symptoms are unlikely to appear for as long as two years after the traumatic event. But the onset of the symptoms is not slow at all — “It’s the kind of thing that can come on you pretty quickly,” Rattan says. “All of a sudden you’re having panic attacks. All of a sudden you have moderate to severe depression.” Anything can trigger the emergence of symptoms: a commercial, a classroom. The necessary counseling for Newtown is made all the more complicated by the ages of the survivors. Counseling is built upon the idea of meshing cognition and emotion, a capability 6-year olds lack. Therefore, Rattan says, parents and teachers should not push surviving children to talk about the tragedy, but should instead wait for them to open up, gradually providing more therapeutic opportunities and delving deeper into the horrors of December 14 as they grow older.
According to Rattan, the only way to make any dent in the trauma endured by teachers, janitors, first responders and students is to develop a highly organized counseling system that not only provides long-term counseling, but also trains teachers and parents how to effectively talk to the surviving children as they mature. The system needs to include mental health professionals willing to make a long-term commitment to the town. “This is not the job for newcomers,” Rattan says. The 10 minutes of gunfire and ensuing hours of uncertainty — as parents waited in that firehouse for their children and children waited for their friends — will replay perpetually and compulsively in the minds of the people of Sandy Hook for the better part of a century, ingraining December 14, 2012 into the fabric of Newtown’s identity. On a door of a house on Church Hill Road, right before the road bends into Sandy Hook, a sign in late December read “12/14, Never Forget,” not unlike the signs that hung on doors in this part of New England in the weeks after September 11. As the weeks wear on, Sandy Hook, Newtown and perhaps this nation will be faced with a question: Is December 14 Newtown’s September 11? September 11 changed the way we perceive our nation and ourselves. To Americans who lived through it, things were one way when we woke up on that clear Tuesday morning and fundamentally different when we woke up the next. And so the people of Newtown are faced with what is at heart the same question that this nation, 11 years ago, answered so unambiguously: Is the Newtown, Connecticut of December 15 the same place as the Newtown, Connecticut of December 13? When Pat Llodra told the 2,500 assembled in the cold at that Friday night vigil, “We will prevail,” what she meant to tell them was that the answer to this question was “Yes.”
cover The people of Newtown, the suburban mothers, fathers and children, have shown tremendous resilience — in their returns to work, to school and to the daily business of living — and will continue to do so. “This is a town of 28,000,” Audrey Petschek, a Newtown resident of 20 years, said at the memorial by the school one afternoon. “But it feels like a town of 4,000.” That part of Newtown will refuse to change. But while The Newtown Bee asserted that the shooting would not come to define this rural community, and while the people of Newtown, in these first weeks, have remained confident in the town’s ability to heal, the fact remains that to this town, Dec. 14 will become what Sept. 11 is to this nation: a demarcation, a moment after which nothing is the same as it was before.
he flowers, candles and teddy bears, for the most part, have been taken away and will be ground apart, and their fragments eventually poured into the foundation of a permanent memorial. The flags have been brought back up. The children of Newtown have gone back to school, although Sandy Hook Elementary now occupies what was once Chalk Hill School in Monroe. On the first day, their faces beamed through foggy bus windows as they pulled into the new school and, for the first time in weeks, a sense of normalcy. The general store is noisier now and the coffee is no longer free. Neighbors still offer words of reassurance but speak louder. Teenagers, eating Queen Street and Sandy Hook sandwiches,
no longer stare across the street to the funeral home. Instead they look at each other and, albeit with a slight hesitancy, allow themselves to laugh. But every now and then they look out the window across the street, and the Honan Funeral Home, with its white sideboards, green shutters and neatly trimmed lawn still stands there.
The flowers, candles and teddy bears, for the most part, have been taken away and will be ground apart, and their fragments eventually poured into the foundation of a permanent memorial.
Someday Newtown will look the same as it did before December 14, save for a memorial nestled beside that firehouse deep in the Connecticut woods. The last teddy bear will have disappeared from the town’s intersections. The children who settled into desks at Sandy Hook Elementary at 9:30 on that December morning will eventually look out from the tables at the Newtown General Store. That will be when the truest and most permanent memorial to those lives, untouched by malice save for 10 minutes, will be most acutely needed: change in our laws, change in our culture and change in ourselves.
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