Amherst magazine’s Summer 2020 issue was the most comforting anthology of texts addressing the current crisis that landed on my kitchen table last spring. I thank the staff for an issue that addresses the many ways we are all trying to confront some of modernity’s toxic legacies. It was moving to discover both the work of Alexandre White ’10 (“His Greatest Fear Is We’ll Go Back to Normal,” cover story) and his holistic path. I was pleased to see chronicled the thoughtfulness that led him from making a sculpture of mosquitoes and majoring in Black studies to studying patterns of health issues as they are embedded in various racial and socioeconomic intersections.
Rose Réjouis ’94
The last issue of Amherst magazine was not only the best issue of Amherst magazine I have ever read, it was the best issue of any magazine I have read since the crises of this spring and summer. I was overwhelmed by how many of my fellow alumni were engaged in the vital work of understanding and ameliorating the catastrophes that we face.
Val Vinokur ’94
The Summer 2020 issue featured sociologist Alexandre White ’10 on the cover.
I was deeply moved by your COVID special edition. I am a cardiovascular and thoracic anesthesiologist at a large university hospital in Madison, Wis. I offer this perspective:
Anesthesiologists place endotracheal tubes as part of the everyday task of facilitating surgery. When COVID required large numbers of patients to be intubated (to have a breathing tube placed) we were front and center, assigned to 24-hour-shift airway teams. As a 71-year-old with asthma, I was exempt—the risk of exposure was considered excessive—until late one Friday afternoon, when no one else was available for a stroke case.
This patient emergently required general anesthesia and was listed “COVID UNKNOWN” on the chart. In such cases, all precautions must be taken as though the patient has tested positive.
The pictures everyone has seen of health care workers in face shields, gowns, gloves and booties do not
reflect how it feels to wear the regalia necessary to intubate such a patient. The stroke was coming rapidly—every minute counted—so we had to don our own gear, while wearing lead jackets and aprons for an X-ray procedure. Once in the gear you can’t hear, your vision is obscured and the double gloves make placing the airway and vascular catheters challenging. You sweat profusely inside your cocoon.
Eventually we were able to adequately anesthetize the patient. I felt a strange sense of accomplishment—old dog, new tricks. Just as the radiologist finished the case the test result came back: it was negative.
The smartest people in the world—some of whom are Amherst grads—are working around the clock to attack this unprecedented health disaster. I am pessimistic about solutions as I watch crowds of cavorting partygoers and individual-rights advocates refuse to put a piece of cloth on their faces to save themselves and their fellow human beings.
Jonathan Kay ’71
Thank you for the special issue on COVID-19 and all the moving stories. One missing element was a discussion of the positive and negative effects of the pandemic on cities and transportation. On the one hand, there is a decline in public transportation ridership and the resulting financial impact. A just and equitable society requires a robust public transportation system. Our country will have failed if it does not provide the necessary financial support to revive our systems nationwide.
On the other hand, there is the “open streets” movement in response to the pandemic, i.e., closing streets to most cars. This transformational change has innumerable public health and environmental benefits. The best example of this in New York City is 34th Avenue in Queens, a 1-mile-long open street that provides additional open space to local residents to get outside and breathe cleaner air. There are great examples in other cities too, and they should stay post-pandemic. They will make a huge difference going forward in helping cities reclaim their streets from the automobile to the benefit of those who live on those streets.
Alexandre White ’10 rightly calls for a more equitable and fair society. Transportation policy is an
essential part of that society.
Rich Miller ’80
Miller is on the board of the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives.
In 1976, Marguerite Waller (In Memory, Summer 2020) was my faculty adviser. I vividly remember the inflection of her voice, her mannerisms in the classroom, her serious demeanor. To me, she was a larger-than-life scholar. What I didn’t realize then was that she was only 29 years old, a newbie professor who, like me, had dived into the waters of early coeducation at a college that was steeped in all-male tradition.
Those of us among Amherst’s first women graduates think of ourselves as the pioneers. But in 2012, I attended a symposium called “Half a Century of Women Teaching at Amherst: Gender Matters,” and I finally understood that the inequities and indignities that women professors experienced at that time give them far greater claim as trailblazers. While there continues to be work to do, Amherst today is a more diverse and inclusive institution as a direct result of early female professors like Professor Waller.
I’m grateful I had the opportunity to thank her in person at the 2012
symposium, and am writing now, in her memory, to extend those thanks to her colleagues of that era who made today’s Amherst possible.
Wendy Gardner ’79
I am so happy to hear that WAMH is alive and well (“Active Listening,” Winter 2020). Podcasts are great but can’t replace live radio, which made for some of my favorite Amherst memories.
I was trained by Rob Kwak ’92, whom I succeeded as WAMH’s chief announcer. One day he and his co-host, Matt Gold ’91, had a pair of tickets to a show at the Iron Horse in Northampton to give away.
“Christine,” Kwak said on-air, “what number caller should we give these to?”
“Thirtieth!” I replied enthusiastically, having come from New York City.
Kwak gave me a look before turning back to the microphone. “OK, third caller!” he said. We finally got the third call about six minutes later.
When I had my own morning show, I took very seriously my responsibility to play listener requests: whether to help my classmates get out of bed and to class; or, in the case of one regular caller, to start his day as an inmate at a local jail (usually with a song by The Smiths).
During a show my senior year, I picked up the phone to field a request for “Misty” by Johnny Mathis—from my father. “Can you hear me?!” I asked, confused, since last I’d checked, WAMH’s broadcast signal didn’t reach Manhattan. But he had picked up the phone number from the cassette tapes I had mailed him of my shows (542-2218, permanently etched in my brain). I did manage to find a dusty Mathis LP to play for him.
I hope and trust that years of Amherst students will enjoy the same real-time connection with members of the community, on campus and beyond, that only live radio can provide.
Christine Bader ’93
In a letter in the Spring 2019 issue, Doug Reilly ’64 wrote about Fayerweather Hall, “The attic had a wealth of fascinating stuff! There was a high-wheel bicycle that several of us took outside and rode around.” Let me tell you something about that Ordinary Bicycle, which had a 54-inch front wheel and an 18-inch rear wheel: I discovered it in Fayerweather attic in 1957 and got permission to take it home to Staten Island and refurbish it. I made a new leather seat and arranged to have new, solid rubber tires made for it. That summer I met a student nurse on Fire Island and showed it to her. She took a picture of me riding it at the age of 19.
Six days after graduation we were married. Many years later the picture appeared on the front cover of The Physics Teacher journal to illustrate my article on “bicycling physics.” To this day I wish that I had never returned the machine to the College. These days, after three back surgeries, I get about on a recumbent trike!
Tom Greenslade ’59
The Spring 2020 Short Takes referenced a book whose arguments have been widely condemned as racist. The book is Burdens of Freedom, by Lawrence Mead '66. (Nov. 18, 2020 update: For clarity and transparency, this retraction has been changed from the original to state the name of the author and the title of the book.) Given the volume of books authored by Amherst alumni, faculty and staff, Short Takes has always been a mere listing of books, not an endorsement. We understand that there is limited value and can be significant problems with a section that simply lists everything published by Amherst authors. Going forward, Short Takes will instead focus more substantively on a smaller selection of titles. We regret that we listed the aforementioned book in our magazine and apologize for any pain and harm its inclusion caused our readers. We have now retracted the reference and removed it from the magazine’s website. Our deepest gratitude to Luis de Pablo ’22 for bringing our attention to this matter. Change was overdue.