The Colgate Scene
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|The Colgate Scene invites responsible letters, addressed to the editor, regarding any subject that may be considered of interest to the Colgate community. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.||
. . . I thank Walt Shepperd for the story on my book Branches: The Human Spirit in Search of the American Dream. I have some concern that readers of the story might think that my views on slavery and racial segregation coincide with those of "white racial supremacists," or even with someone like Representative J.C. Watts, an apologist for various "conservative" political positions.
Not only do I think that racial supremacy is stupid but I also believe that the entire way we as a nation too often think about race is stupid. I view slavery as a terror-filled affliction and racial segregation as an ugly ordeal that impoverished both blacks and whites in uniquely different ways.
However, one of the conclusions of the Spiritual Intelligence research we are doing at Rutgers University is:
Ironically, the North Atlantic slave trade brought from African cultures to the center of Western Civilization people whose being manifested ancient and lofty concepts of the spiritual nature of reality. Ironically racial segregation kept these concepts alive while America was coming to be the center of Western scientific materialism.
These aspects are manifest in ways far more numerous and important than in sports and music, where they are acknowledged. These ways are absolutely inseparable from America's collective way of seeing the world and being in the world.
The clarification is extremely important because in very apparent ways Branches, filled though the novel is with black characters, is not about race at all, or racial conflict, social progress or political struggle. It dramatizes characters in the midst of turbulence seeking to hold on to what is divine is all of us.
And the term "spiritualism" ridicules the "ancient and lofty concepts of the spiritual nature of reality." A much more accurate phrase would be the "gift of spirit," as W. E. B. Dubois delineates it in The Souls of Black Folk.
More clarity on Spiritual Intelligence and the nature of Branches is available at www.americangriot.com. In the "Speak Your Word" section of the site one reader said:
"I'm just a plain-spoken Virginia redneck but race fell out of the picture as I was reading Branches. Reading about that character, Tyrone, who grew up in rural Louisiana, was like going back home. There were six kids in his family and six kids in my family. If the 'taters didn't get picked there was nothing to eat. When we butchered a hog we had the same good time.
GEORGE DAVIS '61
Friend and good writer
Then, in 1955, he came to the Englewood School for Boys, where he teamed up with Fred Hutchins and, later, Malcolm Duffy to form the outstanding English department that first taught me and later welcomed me into its midst.
"Rich, beautiful prose!" Bob would scribble in the margin of my papers, and even as a tenth grader I knew he was being cautionary rather than complimentary. It was back in 1958 that he began reining in the excesses of my then literally sophomoric writing, and he doggedly pursued that enterprise for the better part of four decades. While I was still in college, we became friends and, immediately afterward, colleagues. When I began writing travel pieces, it was in his footsteps and with his encouragement and guidance. Many of my books and stories have felt the beneficial sting of his sharp editorial pen.
So did my English compositions, along with those of my classmates. Bob was a tough critic; his marginal comments may have been modeled on the pointed (and often amusing) queries Harold Ross, the famous New Yorker editor, penned on his writers' manuscripts. Bob had high expectations of his students, and he prodded us to meet them. He loved good writing and helped his students to love it, too. His painstaking exegesis of Hamlet was perhaps the highlight of my scholarly life.
Bob left ESB in 1967 to join the English faculty at Montclair State College, where he remained until 1991. Shortly after his retirement, he moved to Hamilton for the cultural life of Colgate. For decades he had been a savvy collector of art, primarily prints, which he has donated to the university's Picker Art Gallery.
All the while, he wrote: fiction, articles and poems, for magazines and newspapers in this country and overseas. He also wrote travel articles for the New York Times. His monograph, John Butler Yeats and John Sloan: Records of a Friendship, was published in Dublin. To the Wall Street Journal, he contributed countless nuggets of light verse -- witty, economical and enlivened by his love of language.
As E. B. White wrote as a valedictory to Charlotte, "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer." Bob was both.
The State Troopers reported to us: "Relax. No one is hurt. They're all fine. The girls are in a summer hotel, the boys are in the local jail!" Jail!? "The kids don't have any money. That was the lowest-cost place they could spend the night and thaw out!"
Dutifully, I called good old Dean Kalgren back in Hamilton to fill him in before the news hounds got to him. What to do about it? Thankful that everyone was safe, he agreed to call the caretaker for the Colgate Camp to let us have the keys. The weary old hearse, with a half-dozen students helping, was back on the road faithfully delivering students and gear to camp.
Ah, what an opportunity! "We'll spread out among the cabins and the Farnsworth family can sleep on the floor before the fireplace in the lodge." Then the thermometer started tumbling! Not too long before the couples retreated to the lodge. We all slept cozily huddled under a great white bearskin rug before the fireplace (well stoked with wood). Cold? While we were getting breakfast in the kitchen the radio announced Saranac Lake as the coldest place in the nation: 38 below zero! Well, all the Farnsworths, the students and their dates made it back safely to Hamilton. End of saga -- well, not quite. There were weddings et. al. over the years -- not to mention reunions.
The purpose in spinning this yarn of "the good old days" is to locate any of those stalwarts who may "remember when." As the old Navy hymn reminds us: "Time like a neverending stream -- bears all its sons away." Where did that stream carry all that great little group? It was "cold forged" in the land of the Storm King that weekend. I still love it up here in the frozen north. (Maybe they did it to me.)
FRANK A. FARNSWORTH '39
The summer of '40
I was most fortunate to spend the summer of 1948 on campus. Several students, including Tom Dockrell, Walt Piebes, Bob Hyatt, Greg Batt, Dick Offenhammer and myself, played baseball alongside "townies": manager Paul Young, Bob Hahnle and others, for the Hamilton Pioneers.
Besides the closeness developed with teammates, perhaps the most lasting friendships developed with town followers like the Carl Baums, Dr. John Rathbones, Fran Wolcott, the Young and Hahnle, Dave and Lamb families. Today, only the "Unsinkable Molly Brown," Lee Hahnle, survives.
My dear friend of 50-plus years, Vans Dove (former owner of the Hamilton Steam Laundry) passed away last November at the age of 96. His welcoming smile, his Irish coffee and his parting words -- "Haste Ye Back" -- will sorely be missed.
PHIL SANFORD '49
A scholar remembers
My academic beginnings trace back to Colgate as a pre-med student, meeting science course requirements and, yet, having the option to take non-science courses as well. The small seminars held in zoology were good preparation for a career in medicine where one is judged in part by the ability to present material in a logical manner, analyze problems, suggest solutions and embark upon treatment. Without the scholarship, my career would have taken a much, much different direction. Fortunately, I was able to attend the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and subsequently embark upon a career in academic medicine; first, as an orthopedic surgeon, a departmental chair and then as senior vice president for health affairs and dean of the college of medicine, and chief executive officer of Penn State's Academic Health Center.
Without question, such a career was made possible by the War Memorial Scholars program. It is quite likely that my experience was not an exception, but rather the norm.
C. MCCOLLISTER EVARTS, MD '53
A Flourishing still
As it does today for many of the high school students who come to campus each week, the Colgate Seminar program gave me my first intoxicating experience of the intellectual life -- an experience both humbling and immensely liberating. Back in the late '60s, the seminars resembled a traveling road show. Instead of our coming to Hamilton, Hamilton came to us. Professors like Jerry Balmuth, Hunt Terrell and R.V. Smith in philosophy and religion; Jim Reynolds in psychology; and Charles Blackton and Doug Reading in history made the trek to Rome, NY week after week to teach us in our own classrooms in the early evenings. In doing so, they paid us the deep compliment of treating us as adults, and challenged us to engage in the kind of critical thinking that would dramatically upset our naïve presuppositions about how the world was supposed to work. This generous mentoring changed my life. In fact, it was during these seminars that my intellectual and emotional life really began.
Of course, given the experience of these seminars, it was no surprise that a lot of RFA seniors applied to Colgate. (The admissions people were savvy enough to recognize an effective recruiting tool when they saw one.) I was accepted as a War Memorial Scholar, one of only 13 at the time. I graduated four years later with no college debts, a Danforth Fellowship to Yale and an enduring commitment to living the examined life. For this, I am forever in Colgate's debt.
Times have changed, of course. Both the economists and the politics of college admissions have dramatically altered, not always to the good. Nonetheless, I am pleased to learn that the number of Memorial Scholars has been expanded, that the awards continue to be need-based, and that additional opportunities are now available for summer scholarships and travel abroad. As much as Colgate has changed since those tumultuous Vietnam-era years, the core values of a Colgate education at its best -- intellectual curiosity, critical thinking and the nurturing of social conscience -- have both endured and deepened. To this liberating tradition the testimony of this current batch of scholars in the Scene pays eloquent tribute. Congratulations to all.
THE REV. ROGER FERLO '73
Remembering Bill Robinson '69
Bob Seaberg reminded us at reunion that Robinson said that he came to Colgate to get an education, not to provide educational enrichment for white students. That notwithstanding, of all the many things I learned in Hamilton, from many people and in many ways, few encounters taught me more than those I was fortunate enough to have had with Bill.
Over the past thirty years, whenever my mind would travel back to the Chenango Valley and the events of the late Sixties, I'd think of him. We were freshmen together in East Hall. I remember him as a rather quiet, gentle, shy, and dignified fellow. I can no longer remember what brought us together. He lived in a single, and wasn't on my floor. I used to visit his room and we'd do the freshman bull session thing. I hasten to confess, he was the first Black person I'd met as a social peer. No doubt that fact gave the friendship an added frisson for me. But in 1965, race wasn't the topic of our discussions. Although I tried to seem gregarious, I always felt like a loner. Bill acted like one, (he lived in a single! a real statement those days at the 'Gate) and I was drawn to him. Somehow, I imagined, our insides resembled each other's more than our outsides.
I always called him Billy. Someone at reunion corrected me, saying no one called him that. I guiltily questioned myself. Had I gone so Hollywood that I was name-dropping former Colgate freshmen? Was I so eager to impress with my familiarity that I was getting my "Billy Robinsons" and "Candy Bergens" mixed up? Month's after reunion I was still worrying this question, but the other night, when I heard the news of his death and sat down to write this, it came to me clearly that whatever anyone else called him, to him I was "Barney" and to me he was "Billy." Last winter, when I overcame three decades of inertia and good intentions, and finally tracked him down on the phone, I shyly called him "Robin" out of respect for a new name and new life I knew nothing about. I suspect that I was out of step again, and everyone actually called him "Azi". I was thrilled when he seemed glad to hear from me. During that phone call he told me he was "challenged" with his second bout cancer.
When the events of 1968 occurred and Bill emerged as the leader of the newly formed Association of Black Collegians, nothing could have surprised me more. He seemed the least "radicalized" of young men. He was soft spoken; he hadn't joined TKE -- the fraternity I had pledged -- which attracted many of the Black students, as well as more than its share of the "troublemakers" on campus. The Bill I knew certainly was not against the "system". In fact I think I identified with him because I imagined that he, like I, had come to this alien place because we believed in the American system. We knew we had been born second-class citizens in a first-class society. We saw Colgate as our ticket to a fuller participation in the American Dream.
I wasn't in the room when he became chairman of the A.B.C., so I am left to conjecture how he came to the role. Was it thrust upon him? I can't picture him competing for it -- speaking louder or more eloquently than Woody Berry or Godfrey Jacobs. He wasn't the best casting for the role: he didn't look as imposing or formidable as Morice Haskins or the late Bob Boney. Was the elevation of this thoughtful, gentle man a clever political calculation? Or, perhaps, did his demeanor prompt the same response, and engender the same respect in his Black brothers as it came to among white students and faculty?
Bill had frightened eyes; eyes that saw the dangers in the course he was taking. They weren't the eyes of an opportunist, a self-promoter or reckless adventurer. The look in his eyes said that he was afraid of what he was doing yet, knew it must be done. Bill came to college with the close-cropped hair of a polite, church-going, good boy. Perhaps he might have cashed in the chip of a Colgate education for the chance to be the only Negro in the executive ranks at J. Walter Thompson, or Citibank. The Black students knew they were tokens at Colgate, but that was their ticket to be tokens elsewhere. In 1965, that didn't seem like a bad deal. For that opportunity they put up with isolation and exploitation (as athletes and avatars of diversity), and, occasionally, humiliation. I'll never forget a walk I took on the Willow Path with Godfrey Jacobs. We passed a Dean, who shall remain nameless, but whose job it was to know students. The Dean made no attempt to guess who I was, but was quick to address Godfrey. "Great game, Hap!" he said, assuming Godfrey was Happy Clarke who had just helped the Red Raiders to another win. Those were the quaint commonplaces of 1965 and 1966. I remember the mixers where there would be one or two Black girls and the one or two Black freshmen knew that, like each other or not, these strangers would be dates for the evening. At reunion someone recalled the drives to Syracuse that had to be endured to get a haircut -- the Hamilton barbers being unable to cut Negro hair. Black students knew which fraternities would welcome them and under what conditions. These were the unspoken terms of the deal Billy and his brothers understood, and went along with, until the night of April 7, 1968.
On that night, in the wee hours, two Black students, Nacio Giles and Bob Boney were returning from the Hill to the Teke house when shots were fired at them from the roof of Sigma Nu. Frightened, and then incensed, they called together the A.B.C., who decided to stage a take-over of that fraternity. When University authorities intervened, the A.B.C. demanded that Sigma Nu be disbanded.
Several weeks earlier there had been another insult to minority stature at Colgate.
A Jewish student who had been encouraged to pledge the "all-white" Phi Delt house was blackballed. At first, Jews on campus saw this as a non-event. "So what else is new?", we might have asked. Jews understood that we were tolerated under some of the same terms that applied to Blacks. Phi Delta Theta was a house at which we knew we weren't welcome. But Phi Delt was also, proudly, the home to many of the Colgate 13. And recently some Phi Delt brothers had come to rankle under the notion that they couldn't share fraternal brotherhood with certain "13" friends who happened to be Jewish. Hence the encouragement of this particular pledge, and the disappointment of the inevitable blackball. Eleven Phi Delt pledges and three brothers courageously resigned in protest, and took the matter to the Student Senate. On March 14th the Senate voted to suspend Phi Delt, but no action was taken by the University. No action was taken despite the fact that the University had a non-discriminatory policy in place since 1954. Activist white faculty and students had to be content to grumble in committees, debate in parliamentary forums, and decry in The Maroon. The A.B.C., however, took up the cause in dramatic fashion. They demanded immediate revocation of the Phi Delt charter, and the closing of the Phi Delt house. When they were ignored, they called for a sit-in.
Those of us of the Class of '69 have a picture of Billy in our heads. It's the one in our yearbook of him standing in front of the Union, exhorting 700 white students and faculty members to act. We were 3000 miles and light years to the political Right of Berkeley. Few of the men who assembled spontaneously, many out of curiosity and the novelty of such a scene at placid Colgate, knew that they were about to follow Bill up the path and into the Ad building. Moments later 350 students and 50 faculty members did, and their lives and that of the University were changed forever. Billy and his cohorts had pursuaded us that the time had come to force Colgate to end its institutional hypocrisy, and act in a manner consistent with its stated ideals. Immediately after the sit-in that ensued one student was quoted in The Maroon as saying, "Many white students and professors felt that they had committed themselves to staying until Bill Robinson gave the word to leave. The challenge was to show 35 Black Americans that the white race was not living a lie." In the middle of those 100 hours in the building Billy said. "We've been singing `Black and white together' here for two days now. For the first time I really believe it."
Bill was a believer. His beliefs changed, evolved, developed, but he was always willing to believe in people and the possibility of a better life. When I spoke to him last winter Bill reminded me that I had cast him as Apollo/Athena in a production of The Eumenides that I staged in the Colgate rock quarry. I remember Bill standing in white robes surrounded by torch-wielding representations of Aeschylus' Furies. It interests me that I cast him not as a revenge-seeking Fury, but as the reasoning god who pacified the angry Furies and turned them into The Eumenide, which translates as "the kindly ones." I saw him then, as I see him now, as a bringer of peace and a new civility to Colgate, not as a vengeful destroyer of an old order.
I don't know much about Bill's life after Colgate. He was a Watson Fellow, and spent a year in Africa making a photographic record of African cultures. He was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, and pursued theology at the University of Chicago for a year. He went West to Berkeley and dabbled in acting and modeling. He was married several times, and had children. When I "found" him in 1999 he was actively engaged in the practice of Buddhism. He sent me a manuscript for an inspirational book he had written, specifically directed to young Black men. It was a series of essays and anecdotes drawn from his life experience. It was written in a sophisticated, but simple and direct style, which I found very moving. What follows is a poem he wrote.
At last we were alone, he in the final hour.
The road through life is hard and long,
And then he said, "Always remember,
Before you search the world for love,
And you must treasure others too.
At times it will seem that no one cares
As long as you remember,
And when you greet your final hour,
As I do now to you, my son.
Take the way that's true for you
Forever more I understand:
Above the storm the sun still shines,
As you must treasures others too.
Copyright 1999 Robin Asi
I originally called Bill last winter on the pretext of encouraging him to come to our 30th reunion. It wasn't really a pretext -- I wanted to see him. For years I had a notion that I wanted to write about those days at Colgate. I took unsuccessful stabs at the subject from time to time. A few stabs back, I had decided that I wasn't the "central character" of the narrative I imagined writing. When I thought about who I wanted the central character to be, I arrived at Billy. It was his life at Colgate that was filled with danger, and mystery, adventure and sacrifice, all the high stakes necessary for a good yarn. I had some information, and some insight, but mostly imaginings of what his life was actually like. I wanted to know more -- from him. He had seemed exemplary to me; an example of courage and commitment to right action in the face of fear and uncertain outcome. I wanted to write about him, but I never imagined this would be the form my writing would take.
I admired Billy and was excited when I got him on the phone. His voice was still soft and kind. As he told me about his illness I tried to conjure up his image. In my mind he (like I) still looked 20. Through the phone line, I looked in his eyes. Though he was speaking about cancer, I saw no fear. We spoke several times after that. Bill always answered the phone when I called. I don't believe there were many people around him when he died. The picture my mind makes has him living alone -- back in his "single". When I called in late December to wish him a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, the recorded voice of the telephone company said the line had been disconnected.
This is the only message I can leave: "Thank you, and God bless you, William, Billy, Bill, Robin, Azi".
BARNET KELLMAN '69
My protest is based on a 1999 report by the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL is working with Oberammergau officials and the Catholic Church to try and ameliorate the derogatory and inflammatory references and presentations of Jews and Judaism in the Passion Play, which has been staged nearly every 10 years in Oberammergau, Austria, since 1633.
I understand that the Passion of Christ is central to Christian faith, commitment and exercise. Judaism is not critical of the Passion itself. The Passion is an understanding of the mystery of belief and commitment of another's faith. My concern, however, is that the Passion Play is used to deny and hurt Judaism and to accuse the Jewish people of deicide.
Through the centuries, the text of the Passion was used as a pretext to back the deicide accusation against the Jewish people. Popular representations of passion plays were followed at times by pogroms that destroyed entire Jewish communities in Europe. The very word "Passion" brings back much pain to Jewish memory. The passion plays are shown with neither academic explanations of the Christian Bible nor historical background.
In 1998, an inter-religious discussion between Catholic and Jewish scholars and theologians, plus representatives of Oberammergau, succeeded in making major changes to the Passion Play to reflect a less hostile view of Jews and Judaism. Unfortunately, many other aspects still refer to Judaism as void of meaning and spiritually decadent. Jewish characters are also presented as stereotyped villains, both in manner and dress.
There should be no more of this spirit of contempt for Judaism and the Jewish people. As recently as 1988, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in The Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion that "the Church and the Jewish people are linked together at the very level of their identity." The Bishops continued that an accurate, sensitive and positive appreciation of Jews and Judaism "should not occupy an occasional or marginal place to Christian teaching, but be considered essential to Christian proclamation." The Passion Play in Oberammergau in its current form insults such statements of friendship and reconciliation.
It is my request that Colgate withdraw its endorsement of the Passion Play and be more thoughtful when choosing travel excursions to offer alumni.
Not only is it wrong for Colgate, a non-sectarian university, to sponsor and endorse a travel holiday to "celebrate the 2000th Anniversary of Christ's birth," but I take offense that you have chosen the promotion of the Passion Play as the method of this observance.
DANIEL WISEMAN '85
Sharing a secret
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic is the nation's library of texts recorded in accessible formats for print-disabled students and professionals. For 50 years RFB&D has been serving those with visual impairments, and more recently those with learning disabilities, under the guiding philosophy of its founder Anne MacDonald that "education is a right, not a privilege."
RFB&D is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization, with headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey and regional production units throughout the United States. I'm one of nearly 500 volunteers who serve through the New Jersey Unit. At a recording studio in Princeton, I assist in the task of translating published texts into accessible formats. Applied Fluid Mechanics, Macroeconomics and Medical Surgical Nursing are just some of the nearly 80,000 titles available to our visually, perceptually and physically impaired members; texts ranging from kindergarten level to postgraduate specialties. Our member borrowers pay a nominal annual fee to access the wealth of this unique library.
RFB&D relies on the talents of people with specialized education and training, to unlock the written word. Each year RFB&D must turn down requests from members because of a lack of volunteers available to help produce recorded texts in specialty areas. Currently, the greatest need is for volunteers with backgrounds in the sciences, medicine and economics.
If you know of someone who could use RFB&D's services, a simple call to the Member Services Line, 800-221-4792, could help him or her achieve academic success. And if you can spare even two hours a week in a local studio you could be giving a gift with lifetime benefits to an untold number of students. Call the Volunteer Hot-line, 800-803-7201, to locate a studio near you. Or visit the RFB&D website at www.rfbd.org.
You can help me make RFB&D a secret no longer.
STAN INGALLS '49
Colgate is indelibly marked by these two giants, now both bent with their more than 90 years -- Everett Case, president for 20 years, serving longer than all of his successors and inspiring Colgate's majestic Case Library, and Ken Morgan, one of the handful of Colgate manipulators who nudged the Case Library into existence and who also brought Chapel House to Colgate.
It is well for the Colgate community to know that the 50th Reunion Yearbook of the Class of 1949 was dedicated to Kenneth Morgan. A reading of the dedication makes clear that Everett Case was equally in the minds of the class. It said: "How do you account for Prexy choosing Kenneth Morgan, a Quaker who was not ordained, a student of Asian religions and an organizer of conscientious objectors in the war just ended, to be Colgate's first chaplain? . . . As the Class of 1949 celebrates its 50th reunion, Kenneth Morgan celebrates his 90th year. We wish him many more, all good."
How fortunate Charles Karelis is to have the work of Everett Case and Kenneth Morgan to inspire him as he breaks his own new path.
DAVID DAVIES '49
Values and principles
Please choose future Scene articles that feature people who are following both the values and principles that our education has taught.
ANNE MOORE '93
The astrologer responds
KAREN CHRISTINO `81
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