Diversity on the Playing Field

Submitted on Thursday, 11/21/2019, at 4:30 PM

Amherst College was recently the subject of an in-depth piece in the New York Times sports section, detailing groundbreaking efforts at increasing diversity in athletics.

Since getting a mandate from President Biddy Martin about three years ago, Amherst coaches “have since looked beyond the most popular, suburban-based youth sports tournaments and frequently taken the less-traveled path to far-flung locales, small urban gyms and foreign countries,” Bill Pennington wrote for the Times. Youth sports in America “radically skews college athletic opportunities toward high-income families,” resulting in teams that are, in the majority, white. The piece told the story of how Amherst has worked to have teams as diverse as the student body.

“You have to turn over every stone to uncover players in places where other people are not looking,” Justin Serpone, the Amherst men’s soccer coach, told the Times. “There are thousands of kids on nobody’s radar who are good enough to play college soccer … If diversity matters to you, you’ll find kids and take a chance.”

Serpone added, “The most important step is having the college’s leadership tell its coaches point blank that being diverse is an overwhelming priority.”

“And that is something that can be done anywhere.”

When We Talk About Money: Chloe McKenzie '14

Submitted on Thursday, 11/21/2019, at 4:29 PM

“A lot of people in [the financial industry] continue to think that wealth is just something that you put on a balance sheet, but there is [a] much deeper, more humanistic meaning,” Chloe McKenzie '14 said in a recent profile by Ozy about her financial consulting work and BlackFem, the nonprofit she founded to teach financial literacy to disadvantaged students.

“I want people to think critically about the narratives we tell ourselves about money,” she said, “because who is the person making those rules?”

“BlackFem offers a multifaceted curriculum for pre-K to sixth grade: In the classroom, lessons about wealth are taught five days a week, using games, discussion and simulation as teaching tools. A summer academy helps BlackFem-affiliated teachers become certified wealth educators, better trained to integrate financial literacy curricula into their classrooms. And parent-focused workshops map what’s being taught to students, which allows the learning to continue at home,” Ozy reported.

“Her message to the students she meets is blunt: ‘Listen, because you come from a certain area or because you look the way that you look, you’re going to be exploited. Here’s how — and here’s how you can respond. Now go practice.’”

Structure and Light at the Science Center

Submitted on Friday, 11/15/2019, at 1:02 PM

Structure Magazine, the magazine “exclusively published for the practicing structural engineer,” recently published a piece on Amherst College’s new Science Center, in which the project’s architects and engineers got down to nuts-and-bolts detail on how glass and steel came together.

“Faced with an aging science center unable to accommodate today’s technologies, equipment, and pedagogies, Amherst sought a new, forward-looking building that would create an open learning environment for the entire campus community for the next 100 years,” wrote  Adam P. Blanchard, principal at LeMessurier, and Jeffrey Abramson, senior associate at Payette.

The Value of Herman Melville

Submitted on Thursday, 11/7/2019, at 9:45 PM

“With more than 100 scholarly and popular tomes on Melville now available, what new—and what more—is there to say about him and Moby-Dick?” Daniel Ross Goodman asked recently in The National Review.

As an answer, he discusses English Professor Geoffrey Sanborn's "eminently insightful" The Value of Herman Melville (2018, Cambridge University Press).

“Sanborn reads Moby-Dick through the lenses of philosophy, literary criticism, and psychoanalytic theory, and brings the author and his work alive in ways that few have done before,” Goodman wrote.

Goodman continued, “With the generosity of a patient teacher and the enthusiasm of a wise and knowledgeable tour guide eager to show travelers the hidden wonders of a quaint old city he knows well, Sanborn allows us, and invites us, to read Melville’s great novel in ways that illuminate its meaning for us in our lives today, giving us the tools to approach Moby-Dick not only as a monumental, occasionally intimidating work of art but as a text which is invaluable in the life-wisdom it contains and in its ability, if we read it carefully, to help us better cope with the existential dilemmas of our existence.”

On the Purity of Amateur Sports: Guttman

Submitted on Thursday, 11/7/2019, at 9:42 PM

In a recent editorial supporting Illinois legislation that would allow intercollegiate competitors to hire agents and make money off the commercial use of their own names, images or likenesses, The Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn cited The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games, by Allen Guttman, Amherst’s Emily C. Jordan Folger Professor of English and American Studies, Emeritus.

In his 1992 work, Guttman noted that the idea of purely amateur sports “was an invention of the Victorian upper and middle classes … its freely acknowledged purpose was to exclude the ‘lower orders’ from the play of the leisure class … the avocation-vocation distinction seemed madly irrational to almost everyone except those whose power and privilege enabled them to define reality.”

Holy Picture Deal, Batman! Jeffrey Wright '87 Cast in Reboot

Submitted on Friday, 11/1/2019, at 11:54 AM

Fire up the Bat Signal! Following up a “talks are under way” story in The Hollywood Reporter, director Matt Reeves has confirmed that Jeffrey Wright '87 has been cast as Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon for Reeves’ upcoming film The Batman. Previous incarnations of the character have been played by Gary Oldman, J.K. Simmons, Pat Hingle and Neil Hamilton. The movie is currently slated for a 2021 release.

Reeves subsequently took to Twitter to confirm the report.

“Wright, an Emmy and Golden Globe winner, will be a key asset to what is already an intriguing cast that includes Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman/Selina Kyle and Robert Pattinson as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Wright is quite the acclaimed actor, most recently for his work in Westworld,” writes The Root.

Telling Stories with Paul Steinle '61

Submitted on Friday, 11/1/2019, at 11:51 AM

“When you step inside the firebases, the stereotypes dissolve and the young men who face death everyday become real people. Some handsome, some jovial, some deeply morose, some totally unable to cope with what they are facing,” a young Paul Steinle '61 reported from Vietnam during the Christmas of 1969.

“I was free to rove and do enterprise reporting at all the firebases,” Steinle said in a recent interview with the Medford, Oregon Mail Tribune. “There was danger, to a degree, not like the grunts faced.”

“Steinle in 1962 graduated from Amherst College in biology-chemistry, hoping to start medical school, but it was while viewing a TV documentary on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that he realized broadcast journalism was what called to him,” the Mail Tribune wrote. “Steinle freelanced for ABC, CBC, NPR and Newsweek in Singapore in the ’70s, worked at TV stations in Boston and Syracuse, New York, and taught journalism at the University of Miami and Quinnipiac University. He still teaches online at Quinnipiac. His earned his MBA from Harvard and went on to many posts in academia.”

He subsequently wrote Practicing Journalism: The Power and the Purpose of the Fourth Estate, about a two-year road trip he and his wife Sara Brown took visiting American newspapers.

“There’s always been tension between politicians and the journalism community. Some politicians may not like it, but most come to realize the power of the First Amendment and how fortunate we are to have people through whose eyes and ears we’re able to know about very important realms that influence our lives,” he said, speaking about the idea of “fake news” currently in vogue. “Only a very small minority of journalists are mean-spirited and would attempt disinformation, which is an intentional effort to deceive and harm you. ... It’s sad to see a leader who is supposed to represent the best values of America who is incapable of understanding the role of journalism.”

Kellie Jones '81 on Trends in Art and Art History

Submitted on Friday, 11/1/2019, at 11:43 AM

Kellie Jones ’81, professor in Art History and Archaeology and the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University, recently spoke with the College Art Association of America’s newsletter about art and art history. Jones will be the Distinguished Scholar for the CAA’s annual conference in Chicago this coming February 12-15.

Speaking about emerging trends in art history, she remarked, “Gender studies. Queer studies in art history. Trans studies. All those things really change how we understand the object, how we understand history, the histories that we look for.”

“There’s a similarity to the discoveries that I made when I was a student in college about how art history at that time did not represent even the histories of African Americans who were in New York, for instance,” she said. “I think students and academics—particularly a new generation—don’t want traditional art history as we have known it. They want a more interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, global understanding of art in the world. Art history is not just Europe, and it’s not just the United States. And the art of the United States meaning not just New York!”

Richard Lefrak '68 Among the Top 20

Submitted on Thursday, 10/24/2019, at 12:15 PM

In a recent article posted by Money Inc., Richard Lefrak '68 was ranked as one of the twenty real estate investors in the world with the most financial worth.

“As well as being responsible for the construction of Newport, an exclusive 600-acre neighborhood in New Jersey, Lefrak can claim several high-end properties in Beverley Hills and Miami to his name, including a 12-story office building on Hollywood Boulevard,” Money Inc. wrote. “Considered one of the US’s most influential real estate investors, Lefrak is currently estimated to be worth $4.2 Billion.”

Taking in a Tour of the Mead

Submitted on Thursday, 10/17/2019, at 3:12 PM

Asking the question, “What exactly defines contemporary art?”, The Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Steve Pfarrer recently accompanied a tour of the Mead Art Museum led by David Little, the Mead’s director and chief curator, viewing the exhibit sampling the recent gift of more than 170 works of contemporary art.

Pfarrer notes the works exhibit “a dark sense of humor — as well as some more serious commentary on current social and political issues such as climate change and immigration.”

Little told Pfarrer and his other guests that contemporary artists often “don’t necessarily think that art must be sacred … There’s the idea of the artist being a scavenger [for materials] and testing and blurring boundaries between mediums.”

For instance, there’s the example of “Good With Houseplants,” by Amherst sculptor and installation artist Sarah Braman: a piece made from pieces of Plexiglass, acrylic paint and tape.

“It’s not bronze, it’s not marble, it’s not made of any of the typical materials we associate with sculpture,” Little said. “The kind of haphazard way it’s put together goes against the traditional type of sculpture. But here you could take it apart, make it smaller, put it back together in a different way, and it would still work … I think it speaks to where a lot of [contemporary] art is going.”

Martin Lowy '61: Capitalism For Democrats

Submitted on Thursday, 10/17/2019, at 3:10 PM

Grady Harp, writing in the San Francisco Review of Books, recently praised the Capitalism for Democrats: Why The Country Needs It Now, the latest book by Martin Lowy ’61 as “one of the finest explanations of capitalism available.”

“By combining insights with anecdotes and historical references, Martin opens an exploration of not only the economic definitions and variations of capitalism, but also an overview of the difficulties and defects of capitalism, a fine discussion of that often misunderstood term of socialism – its impact on governance, mindsets, ethics, and social issues – and a survey of ‘European democratic socialism’ that deserves close attention,” he wrote.

“It is true that the Great Recession and Great Financial Crisis of 2007-09 revealed defects in capitalism that have persuaded many Democrats—and particularly young Democrats—to reject capitalism as the proper foundation for America’s economic system,” Lowy writes in his preface. “Those reactions are understandable. And if the choice is between a Trumpian crony capitalism or a ‘free market’ capitalism on the one hand, and some other, apparently fairer, economic system, maybe called socialism, on the other hand, maybe it would be right to reject capitalism. Fortunately, those are not the only choices.”

Justice Ginsburg: This Era is an "Aberration"

Submitted on Friday, 10/11/2019, at 3:30 PM

A simple question put to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and her simple reply to Joseph Flueckiger, director of dining services at Amherst, became the takeaway quote in much of the press coverage of Justice Ginsburg’s recent visit to our campus.

Many news outlets —including CNN, The Boston Globe, New England Public Radio, and The Washington Times, as well as outlets in the Amherst region— covered the recent historic visit to campus by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and reported her comments made in “A Conversation with President Biddy Martin.”

While the coverage dipped into much of the discussion, including Justice Ginsburg’s love for opera, her friendship with the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and her role as a trailblazer for equal rights for women, many stories chose to lead with her simple response to Flueckiger’s query, "How do you think people will characterize this period in American history?"

To considerable applause, Justice Ginsberg replied, "As an aberration.”

Recognizing Patterns in Latin American Politics

Submitted on Friday, 10/11/2019, at 3:21 PM

Recent political turmoil in Ecuador and Peru brought journalists calling on Javier Corrales, Dwight W. Morrow 1895 professor of Political Science, for insights into the dynamics behind the machinations.

Reporting on Ecuador, where President Lenín Moreno recently moved his government out of the capital in the face of a growing protest movement against austerity measures, The Washington Post quoted Corrales on how the Ecuador situation, where Moreno has withdrawn a fuel subsidy and increased taxes on large businesses, mirrors a pattern seen in other countries in Latin America.

“States pursue expansionary policies that are unsustainable but which consumers like,” he said. “And eventually they’re followed by restrictive policies that are inevitable but which consumers dislike.”

Meanwhile, in Peru, President Martin Vizcarra recently dissolved Congress and called for fresh elections. Bloomberg News reported that Peru’s Congress responded by dissolving Vizcarra’s presidency and making a failed attempt to install a new president: “Now one of Latin America’s most prosperous nations has a legislature in limbo, its leader behind guarded palace doors, and Peruvians in the streets celebrating a revolt with no endgame.”

Corrales spoke about how this seems to be a variation on a familiar scenario, usually involving a rogue executive branch trying to pack the courts.

“We know it’s a red flag when a president tries to control the judiciary,” he said. “But now we have a case of a legislature misbehaving. It would be nice if we could say that too is undemocratic. We’re not used to calling for holding Congress in check.”

Examining "Unbelievable" with Susannah Grant '84

Submitted on Wednesday, 10/2/2019, at 3:50 PM

The Boston Globe recently spoke with Susannah Grant ’84 about her new Netflix series Unbelievable, which the Globe described as “one of the most complexly nuanced studies of sexual assault and its aftermath ever made.”

About Marie, a survivor initially charged with lying about her rape before two female detectives uncover a string of eerily similar crimes, the series “dramatizes real events in order to mount a larger exploration of what exactly happens when a survivor goes to police,” the Globe wrote.

“A lot of people are familiar with the concept that the investigation often feels like a second assault,” said Grant, co-creator/showrunner of Unbelievable. “But if you haven’t been through it, it’s hard to know and feel exactly what that means; this was a great opportunity to make that [idea] real for people, to take that from an abstract concept to something tangible.”

“Grant, an Oscar nominee for writing Erin Brokovich, focuses the first hour of Unbelievable on this grueling process, which eventually undermines Marie’s faith in her own memory enough that she recants her story,” the Globe wrote. The series was adapted from the Pulitzer-winning ProPublica investigation “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.”