Tell Us What You Think

We welcome letter submissions that respond to our magazine articles. Letters should be 300 words or fewer. Please send them to magazine@amherst.edu or Box 5000, Amherst, MA, 01002.


Biden’s Speechwriter

The cover of the spring 2021 Amherst Magazine showing a man against a dark background The Spring 2021 Amherst scored on many counts with its variety of tales of how the College reaches us. Not least is the account of speechwriter Dan Cluchey ’08 (cover story). Even the intro—“Here’s how he does what he does, but not exactly”—restates what many of us tried to understand from English 1–2 in the ’50s. Any language views experience from without; experience is really inexpressible, because language dismantles it and is objective. Words are only labels. And Cluchey’s choices for the two other commencement speeches, with their personal and metaphorical examples of zooming in and zooming out on their experiences, enlighten his approach to speechwriting.

Keep it up, editors!

Andrew L. Taylor ’59
Grantham, N.H.

 

While voicing great admiration and appreciation for Dan Cluchey ’08’s speechwriting talent, one must nonetheless note how speeches are not credible if they are disconnected from policy realities. 

Approximately half the voters disagreed with President Biden in the recent election. At his inauguration, he spoke of unity, of bringing America together, of overcoming challenges. On a range of issues, he has positioned himself a stern 180 degrees from the opposition. That is not a formula for reaching the lofty objectives voiced in January.

Furthermore, a leader who makes statements contrary to objective truth risks rebuke from the voters. And, in such circumstances, artful wordsmithing could be interpreted not as inspirational prose, but as propaganda.

J.E. Frenett P’18

Spencerport, N.Y.


Empty Landscape

Re. “The Most Life-Affirming Movie of 2020” (Amherst Creates, Spring 2021): Nomadland is beautiful, Fern is a compelling character and Jessica Bruder ’00 is a great journalist. But let’s step back from the movie’s plot and reflect on Robyn Bahr ’10’s suggestion that the film’s protagonist “bears the grit and stoicism of a 19th-century pioneer shielded only by a covered wagon.” Shielded from whom? For centuries, the “infinite mauve skies” captured by Chloé Zhao’s camera looked down on a Native homeland where communities of people moved with the Great Basin’s seasonal changes, harvested its resources and celebrated its beauty.

Zhao (Mount Holyoke ’05) transforms that American Indian landscape into emptiness, a vacant set where unhappy white people wander about comforting each other. Her film addresses one group’s suffering by erasing another’s. The message in the film feels exclusive; either we tell one group’s story or another’s.

One hopes that in the 21st century, “affirming” art would be more inclusive and might use frameworks that unite us. Sadly, in Nomadland Indigenous America is gone with the wind.

Frederick Hoxie ’69
Evanston, Ill.

The writer is professor emeritus of history, American Indian studies and law at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.


The Story Behind the Photo

I remember this moment well: the Glee Club singing at Fenway Park (Spring 2021, page 77). I think it was in fall 1995 that we were invited (or wangled our way) into performing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” thanks to a connection with Red Sox management. Going through the locker room that Ted Williams and other legends used, walking onto the field, taking our position facing home plate: amazing. But our “performance” in fact amounted to lip-syncing a recording we had made (Milli Vanilli-style, to use a reference that my generation will know but that may be lost on others) a few days before in Buckley; I suppose the Red Sox knew better than to trust us live. But their limited trust was not misplaced, for we did the best imitation of ourselves, thanks entirely to the wonderful Mallorie Chernin, our meta-conductor. The applause echoed (in my ears at least) for days.

David Bloch ’97
Washington, D.C.

A black and white photo of a group of singers singing on the field of Fenway Park

Photo by Frank Ward

I was delighted to see the picture of the Glee Club in Amherst magazine. I am in the front row, standing just to the right of the microphone, above choral director Mallorie Chernin’s left shoulder.

If memory serves, it was September 1995, and as I recall it was a nice fall day. I think I was the only one (it is hard to tell in the picture) not wearing an official Glee Club necktie, as I had technically graduated the previous May. “The Star Spangled Banner” was a song we’d practiced hundreds of times, so the performance would not have been a problem. However, we pre-recorded the anthem so as to avoid any real-time technical snafus. Our on-field singing was drowned out by the pre-recorded version coming out over the PA system. Afterward, we were given tickets to watch the game, capping a memorable day.

Thank you for publishing the photo. It brought me back to a time and an event I had almost completely forgotten about.

Benjamin Chung ’95
Los Altos, Calif.


The Real El Sereno

It was a little jarring to read, in the 2001 alumni notes (Spring 2021), the description of El Sereno as “a neighborhood of Los Angeles that no one in Los Angeles has heard of.” El Sereno is a working-class Mexican American neighborhood undergoing gentrification. Many people—though probably few with connections to Amherst—live in El Sereno and the surrounding working-class Latino communities.

I moved to L.A. two years ago and first went to El Sereno the weekend that everything began to shut down for the pandemic. Decades earlier, the California Department of Transportation had acquired hundreds of homes through purchase and eminent domain in order to extend the 710 Freeway, following the general pattern of building highways by razing neighborhoods in communities of color. That extension never happened, and the homes remained vacant for many years—in a city where roughly 50,000 people are homeless.

In mid-March 2020, a group called Reclaiming Our Homes supported several unhoused and housing-insecure families in breaking into and occupying the homes. (A group of homeless single mothers, known as Moms 4 Housing, had done something similar in Oakland, Calif., a few months before.) The Los Angeles Tenants Union, of which I’m a member, and other groups fighting for the human right to housing were called to support the action by gathering outside for several days and sleeping in tents overnight in order to prevent the police and the California Highway Patrol from removing the families.

Because of the political pressure we exerted through direct action, the state agreed to lease the homes to the housing authority, which permitted some of the Reclaimers to stay as part of a transitional housing program.

Just one of many things to know about El Sereno.

Rose Lenehan ’11
Los Angeles

The writer is an incoming fellow at Amherst’s Center for Humanistic Inquiry.


The Nobel Club

The Contest in Spring 2021 asks: “In what field has an Amherst alum not won a Nobel Prize?”

The question I ask is why there hasn’t been a laureate since the class of ’67.

Our five laureates are from ’50, ’55, ’61, ’64 and ’67. Well before the coed era. Is that clustering simply weird, or has the product been diluted?

By the way, Richard Gardiner ’61 was invited to go to Oslo when Physicians for Social Responsibility shared the Peace Prize. And Doug Lowy ’64 may be in the running for his work on HPV vaccines.

Howard Junker ’61
San Francisco