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What’s in a Name?
I was dismayed by your Summer 2007 cover story, “Life in the Barrio.” Although you specify in the subtitle that the article is about the South Side of Chicago, “barrio”—an urban area where Latinos reside—actually carries a larger contextual meaning. It has come to be associated with any residential area where Latinos or Hispanics are concentrated. When you boldly announce that the article is about life in the barrio, the subtext is that this is how most Latinos live.
Furthermore, “barrio” has largely negative connotations. Similarly, the word “ghetto” does not elicit warm, dulcet images of urban life. I doubt Reed magazine would have run a contemporary story called “Life in the Ghetto.” At best, I would argue the word “barrio” inspires visions of Hollywood-induced nostalgia for West Side Story. Even in this light it would still be unacceptable for an institution of Reed’s caliber to be so unenlightened.
But it’s not just about names. The larger decision to run this story as the centerpiece speaks volumes about Reed’s lack of cultural fluency with Latinos. I do not intend to be the spokesperson for all Latinos, but being of Hispanic origin, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of vulgar stereotyping. It is egregious that this is how Reed magazine has chosen to premiere a theme about Latinos. Would the magazine do the same for articles about other ethnic groups? Would it run a cover story about Asians, for example, along with a photo of Asians in a rice field? I think not.
At a time when the Latino presence in this country is being examined more closely than ever, poverty, violence, and other urban ills seem to dominate the national dialogue about the Latino experience. It does not help to educate readers by presenting these issues through a romanticized lens of noblesse oblige and anthropological curiosity.
My professional life plays a larger role in my frustration with this story and its placement in the magazine, not just my ethnic background. As someone who has worked in education reform for the last 14 years, it is appalling to see a “celebration” of the very conditions that afflict Latino communities and keep them from being full participants in society, with few opportunities to succeed. Having seen no improvement in educational outcomes for Latinos in 30 years, with teenage pregnancy in the Latino community at an all-time high, and with Latino students having abysmal dropout rates of more than 60 percent, I believe it is distressingly divorced from reality to do a front-page feature romanticizing squalor, gang violence, and the urban blight that many Latinos confront.
I am a proud Reed alumna, but I expected more from Reed magazine.
—Giselle Lundy-Ponce ’93
What’s in a Slogan?
Congratulations on your wonderful summer issue. I found it all unusually interesting. The account of founding president Foster was mainly new to me, and the exploration of communism, atheism, and free love was fascinating. The excerpts from oral histories did appropriately modify the essentially correct—but too simplistic—account given by John Sheehy of how these labels expressed Reedies’ reaction to Portland harassment. But as a non-graduate of the ’30s, I participated in an era when all three of those labels had a different life. Coming from conventional Corvallis, I joined the Young Communist League (with the romantic pseudonym Stephen Daedalus on my membership card). In fall 1936, during the Roosevelt-Landon presidential campaign, I sat with six or seven others at the Communist table in commons, rising with our fists on high to shout: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States for America, and to the capitalist system for which it stands: two classes, irreconcilable, with liberty and justice for those who can pay for it.” In lifetime retrospect, it was the right thing for me to do then, and I am grateful to Reed for providing the setting for my errant adolescent enthusiasm.
Atheism didn’t get institutional support from Reed. In my freshman year, I had a fine seminar with former president Coleman, who introduced us to the Bible as literature. But I arrived at atheism in bull sessions with my roommate.
I was more interested in free love than able to find it, but I remember a frequent song to the tune of Sidewalks of New York:
Eastport, Westport, all around the school.
Inter-visitation is against the college rule.
Boys and girls together,
Engaged in indoor sport;
You’ll find them fornicating
Underneath the Sallyport.
While I am remembering songs, I should pass on the chant that was supposedly given to the Reed community by a distinguished professor. Dexter Keezer, the new president, was trying to combat communism, atheism, and free love as best he could, and was generally disliked by faculty and
students. The chant was:
Caesar, Keezer, Kaiser, Czar,
Who the hell d’you think you are?
Sitting on your horse so high
Like a Nazi riding by.
I learned that Reed could survive a bad president essentially unscathed. Ever since, I have wondered if it could survive good presidents. I am now fully relieved on that score.
I transferred out of Reed after flunking half my courses in my junior year. But, I have been continually grateful to Reed, not only for my fine earlier educational experience, but especially for the setting it provided in which to deal with identity problems that substantially shaped my life.
—Brewster Smith ’39
Santa Cruz, California
A collection of oral history quotes from alumni of the late ’30s and early ’40s in the Summer 2007 issue of Reed suggests that there was some justification for characterization of Reed College as a place of communism, atheism, and free love. Not so, in my undergraduate experience (1938–42). I was a daydodger, as most Reed students of that era were. We lived at home with our parents and commuted to the college. Our parents were mostly middle class folk and they impressed their Reed offspring with middle class values, including the need to watch expenditures very carefully as the Great Depression lingered. In my case, on Saturdays and in summers I worked in the family business, Bunnett Venetian Blinds. However, in my junior and senior years I worked as assistant manager and then manager of the chemistry department storeroom. Apart from my studies, the storeroom work, and hearing talks by distinguished visiting speakers, my main Reed activities were hikes with the Outing Club and dances every other Friday evening sponsored by the student-run Central Dance Committee. After a dance, an informal group of us would go to an ice cream bar/coffee shop for a sundae, milkshake, or similar treat. In our social set there was NO use of marijuana, cocaine, or the like, and NO drinking of alcohol. All that may seem rather innocent. It was, but it had its values. My favored date for the dances was Sara Telfer [’42], whom I married just after we graduated in 1942. Our marriage was broken after 64 years by Sara’s death last October.
—Joseph F. Bunnett ’42
Santa Cruz, California
Atheism, Capitalism, and Marriage?
made the T-shirt [top right] partly for laughs—a parody of a parody.
A complete parody would have replaced “atheism” with “faith,” but
I’ll leave that for someone who has some.
It’s also a dig at foolish youth, teasing those who spoke and behaved one way as students but now have different beliefs (even if some would never admit it) and live their lives more admirably. The shirt’s called “Reed A.G.” That is, “Reed after Graduation.”
And, finally, it’s a swipe at anyone who continues to hold offensively romantic views on communism. In the summer issue of Reed magazine, for example, John P. Sheehy ’82 writes, without irony, that in his student days the phrase “communism, atheism, free love” was “playfully subversive” and signified “a community that clearly cherished its right to personal freedom and radical dissent.” Well, somehow the words “playful,” “right[s],” “freedom,” and “dissent” just don’t come to mind when considering an intrinsically totalitarian and murderous political philosophy (except in sentences like, say, “All dissent was crushed.”). “Communism” should make the original shirt as revolting as a swastika would, but Sheehy, nostalgic maybe, still seems to think it suggests “nonconformity and freedom of expression.”
Time for a change. What better indicator of “nonconformity and freedom of expression” (at least on campus) than “capitalism” and “marriage.”
—Mark Paglin ’82
Thanks for letting us know that Reed’s celebrated first president, William T. Foster, was forced to resign after being denounced as a “traitor” and “no better than the I.W.W.” by Portland’s “know nothing” war promoters for his temporary opposition to U.S. intervention in World War I. But even more revealing was the news that even after Foster gave in and endorsed intervention, the Reed trustees dedicated themselves to a “decades-long” campaign to purge the college of Foster’s “uncompromising ideals of academic freedom.”
That helps us understand why their successor trustees unanimously and ignominiously capitulated to McCarthyism when they fired Professor Stanley Moore and humiliated Professor Lloyd Reynolds in 1954. It seems Reed’s historic claim to champion academic freedom was a mere recruiting slogan from the outset—to be quickly violated on demand from local reactionaries.
Incidentally, Foster’s accused fellow “traitor,” Grace de Graff, was Portland’s Kenton School principal and the only Western U.S. delegate to the 1915 founding meeting of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in The Hague. You can look her up on page 63 of my Portland Red Guide (Reediana, Spring 2007). And as Armand Schwartz ’60 observes (“Ripped from the Archives”), the local “patriots” also tried to confuse President Foster with William Z. Foster (who in fact made Portland his home from 1901 to 1907 before becoming a leader of the Communist Party). Even today, the urban myth persists that Reed was named for another local revolutionary, John Reed.
Finally, an important correction, also in “Ripped from the Archives”: The late Professor Dick Jones was plain wrong when he told an oral history interviewer that “all the people who were called before [HUAC in 1954] were associated with Reed College—with one exception.” In fact, of the 17 people who testified at the 1954 hearings in Portland, only nine (including HUAC’s “star witnesses,” Bob Cannon and Homer Owen) were Reedies and thus almost half (including the other star witness, Barbara Hartle) were “exceptions.” You can look it up in my Oregon Historical Quarterly piece (Fall 1997), which was still in the Reed bookstore last time I looked.
—Mike Munk ’56
Despite John Sheehy’s refreshing and extensive piece on William T. Foster, there really are subcultures and traditions at Reed that are not quite explained by pinning it all on good ole W.T.F. of blessed memory.
First, let’s get the record straight for historical accuracy and for a hint of continued tradition! The famed “CAFL” sweatshirt was done for the bookstore in 1962–63 with a less in-your-face logo, because during the clean up, after the Great Columbus Day Typhoon of 1962, a Rush-Limbaugh-before-his-time talk show host described our efforts, way ahead of the city’s, as showing that those Communist, Atheist, Free Lovers could actually work! Thus, being the proprietor of the bookstore, the Reed College Student Body, Inc., voted in council to embrace this sartorial initiative.
Reed was a place, then, of relative, if endangered, political and social freedom. Many in my class were children of Nixon-McCarthy victims. One of the nation’s first draft board sit-ins took place with a 100 percent Reed contingent in 1964–65(?). It was polite, but the federal prosecutor and the FBI were so flummoxed
that they arrested us, walked us from the building, and then said, “Bye.
Later, the student body organized memorable debates: Levich leveling Bill Buckley and Wayne Morse destroying Proxmire in front of big audiences at the municipal auditorium.
We took the present and future seriously, passionately. Many of us still do.
—Tom Forstenzer ’65
I read with pleasure your article on William Trufant Foster. It explained very well some of the unique qualities of the college that I noticed when I attended during the 1969–70 academic year.
I would take exception, though, to the judgment expressed that Foster was naive and unwise, or that he overreached in his activities. He was clearly part of a great movement that gave us public health, Social Security, women’s rights, the minimum wage, health insurance, labor union rights, and a host of other indispensable social advances that we take for granted today. He campaigned to disseminate the science of Darwin, and supported the cause of workers on starvation wages. (On the last, I suspect that the fierce opposition of Portland business to Wobbly organizers owed more to their checkbooks than their global philosophy.)
Together with the best minds of his generation in every country, Foster tried to avert the outbreak and expansion of the monstrous human catastrophe that was World War I.
He “paid the price,” as did millions of other steadfast supporters of social progress at the time. He and other courageous people chose to stake career, fortune, and liberty on their fight for progress. Had they shrunk from the struggle, our society and our lives would be poorer, sicker, more ignorant, and brutal. Naive? I don’t think so.
—David Friedlander ’73
New York, New York
I enjoyed John Sheehy’s piece in the summer issue of Reed along with the miscellaneous quotations. There is one incident that no one seems to bring up that is relevant. In 1976, when Jimmy Carter was running for president, several students (I don’t know who) erected a large banner atop Eliot Hall proclaiming “Communists for Carter.” The local Portland TV stations dutifully showed up and ran short pieces that evening on Carter’s newfound support.
—Paul Shaw ’76
New York, New York
Reading the Sheehy article made me proud of the college for hiring the iconoclast in the first place, and also for being smart (or lucky) enough to retain Foster’s best ideas while abandoning his loony ones. Finally, it also occurs that Foster, for better or worse, not only implanted the Reed DNA but also established the prototype for what we now call Reedies: brilliant, stubborn, verbal, free-thinking rebels.
—Steven Falk ’83
I read alumni board president Konrad Alt’s letter (“Reed’s Two Endowments,” Summer 2007) with great interest. As an alumnus and an active member of Portland City Club, I have always marveled at the mutual incomprehension that seems to characterize Reed’s relationship to its home city.
Like most Reedies, I thought I was acquainted with the usual reasons given for this state of affairs, past and present; a general disregard for the mores of “conventional” society; a brush with political persecution during the McCarthy era; resistance to the Vietnam War, etc. Imagine, then, my surprise to learn this rift predates not only the Vietnam War but in fact finds its origins in a much earlier, and oft-forgotten, conflict. Moreover, not only was the McCarthy era merely the second Red Scare to be endured by the college’s faculty and students, but it transpires that the ironical motto “communism, atheism, free love”
has a far older provenance than I
had ever realized.
Alt’s plea to remember Reed’s “other” endowment, i.e. its intellectual one, seems to me to point to an historic opportunity to redress an old wrong, namely, the misunderstanding of William Foster’s vision for Reed and its place in this community. Would it not be a fitting tribute to Reed’s centenary, and, by extension, to Dr. Foster’s “radical” progressive agenda, to attempt to heal this rift in symbolic as well as concrete ways? And precisely now, at a time when, in the midst of another war, we as a nation face yet another concerted challenge to what most would consider core (and indispensable) American political values?
—Morgan O’Toole-Smith ’94
What We Wrote
Remarkable. An image and memory of the 1952 Gorgon exists (“Literary Magazines: A Brief History,” Summer 2007). That a mimeographed volume could endure for 55 years, I should not have thought.
The student council withdrew support for the Gargoyle. A group of us—perhaps 10—decided to proceed without official sanction. We agreed to each put up a buck a month to prepay publication expenses. Doesn’t sound like much—several of us didn’t have much—but one of our number placed his mimeograph machine at our disposal and could supply paper at an advantageous price.
We formulated our own rules. Agreement to supply a buck a month until publication entitled a person to a seat on our council of deciders, a decidedly mixed bag from a number of departments. Submissions went around the table for comment, with a simple majority prevailing on a subsequent show of hands. No veto, faculty, or boss. Commonly, a word in support of a submission won decisive sympathy. This did not sit well with those who insisted that esthetic standards play a greater role. The submission I most clearly remember was a chapter from a novel being written by an instructor. I found it tedious, but the author had a student on our council who felt its publication might favorably influence his grade. A compelling argument. We printed it. The Gorgon sold well enough to recoup our expenses—why not? Those who weren’t published had friends who were. Some was dross, some very good, but which was which? We decided to let the reader decide.
Please forward my salute to other surviving co-editors of the Gorgon.
—Lloyd Gordon ’53
Reed a Hostile Place
In his 2006 commencement address, President Colin Diver used the word “sheltered” to describe the Reed environment. At 16 years of age I was suddenly dropped into Reed College among some of the most intransigent and unimaginable people I have ever met. I had to work at least 10 hours a day. I could never finish a reading assignment no matter how hard I tried. I constantly felt guilty, both for my work inabilities and for having left my parents. My friends taught me how to procrastinate, how to be very depressed, how to imagine that people despised me, how to despise others, how to live in filth, how to use a five-syllable word when a one-syllable one would do, how to laugh in a superior manner, how to admire intravenous drug users, and a lot of other things.
Indeed, one grows up in a strange and unusual world wherever one is, but I don’t see that Reed is particularly better. Does the price of intelligence have to be the unbelievable coldness and tundra-like, taiga-like landscape with only the occasional wolf to relieve it? I am speaking particularly about the Reed of 1968–71, but I visited it again just after Thanksgiving 2006, and it was exactly the same. You don’t get that feeling at Reunions. Reunions are nice: they seem to have all your best memories packed into two days. How this works, I do not know.
I love the Progressives, I love the Wobblies, I love William Trufant Foster and his wonderful Craftsman house, etc., etc., but I don’t have the strength to live up to their ideals, if those are what Reed is purveying. Maybe the Reed ideals have shifted a bit from their progressive beginnings. They push intellectual independence to such extremes that it seems they are trying to outfit a new Shackleton Expedition. You end up trying to learn to meditate to regain a sense of ordinary life, instead of just having an ordinary life to begin with.
—Lisa Davidson ’71
Sierra Madre, California
Biology without Dissection
Although I think that encouraging elementary science programs is wonderful, I was saddened by the use in the class of “a large, dead bullfrog” (“Teaching About the Birds and the Bees,” Summer 2007). There are many educational alternatives that do not require the sacrifice of so many frogs. There are freeze-dried frog dissections that show the frog’s organs and can be reused year after year (these have been available for over 20 years). In addition, some organizations produce cloth frogs with velcroed-in organs to demonstrate dissection. This latter option would be even more appropriate for such young kids. I hope that Reed will consider these alternatives.
—Erin Perlow ’87
Walnut Creek, California
Financial Aid Made Better
Financial aid was a huge issue on campus during my time at Reed, and it’s about much more than the cost of tuition (though obviously that’s an essential component). I was part of a group of students who spent a considerable amount of time awakening the institution to the fact that the financial aid policies were out of integrity—and were in fact detrimental to student success at Reed. While I am not in the loop today to know where things stand, I can say that by my last year at Reed in 2002 a lot had changed.
One of the key issues we found was a major discrepancy between the estimated cost of indirect expenses and actual experience. Reed’s support of those students who were there on scholarship looked great on paper, yet what students were finding out is that they needed jobs to cover the gap between estimates and actuals. This impacted their academic success, and also snowballed into less financial support for the next year due to an increased contribution expectation based on the income they had earned to cover the gap. It didn’t pay to work, and we weren’t finding that out until it was too late. By that time there was nothing we could do the next year except not work and borrow money from where ever we could so that in our third year we could increase the available funds.
It was an insidious system, and students had to be truly passionate about their education experience in order to persevere. We worked a campaign, and actually wrote our own financial aid policy manual called the FACT Book, which we distributed to other students. We also set about changing the atmosphere of secrecy around discussing the fact that you were receiving aid—as we found that it was extremely difficult for students who truly needed the aid to speak out.
The hiring of Leslie Limper as the financial aid director during our time on campus was an important step by the school. She changed the system and made a huge difference in the program, and in the lives of students. She actually published a manual with the financial aid policies and opened the system. I checked today, it’s still posted on the website.
My hope is that we succeeded in changing the culture of Reed so that the effect the system has on the lives of students is continually monitored.
—Patty Williams ’02
Lee’s Summit, Missouri