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.


The Tamara Johnson Story 

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A magazine Spread of a story named "A Glorious Woman"
Thank you for the wonderful profile of Tamara Johnson ’73 (“A Glorious Woman,” Spring 2022), the earliest known trans person to transition in the College’s community. Her life was more than her transgender status, so I appreciate that the article presented the reporting challenges of tracking down and relating the story of someone who marked herself more in people’s hearts than in public records.

It was especially moving for me to hear about her story, as I am also a transgender alumna. I didn’t come out until over a quarter century after graduation. My Amherst experience had very little to do with either keeping myself closeted or accepting myself—my own internal safeguards, and the terrors of facing the tortuous, misogynistic protocols for transitioning trans women, until very recently, did the job well enough.

Amherst provided me with a very sweet experience in the tension-fraught time after coming out: Just as Tamara did, I wrote to the College asking that my records be changed to reflect my correct name and gender. Amherst (for a small fee) reissued a diploma, in my proper name, so that I could once again hang it in my office without sparking conversations each time someone new saw it. The College didn’t track down Peter Pouncey for the re-signature—Biddy Martin’s more than sufficed—but it was still a tender offering that made my own renewal even more meaningful.

The more we hear about our ancestors-by-affiliation, the richer all of our own transitions become, whether of orientation and identity, or philosophy and worldview. Thanks again for the article.

Joy Williams ’88
Bath, N.Y.

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I have been a resident of Amherst since 1983. Many years ago, I tried to reestablish contact with a high school friend who, I assumed, had graduated from Amherst. After contacting the alumni office, I received a call back from someone who shared a piece of information in a way that respected the boundary of professional ethics. I learned little about how this friend’s life had unfolded.

Thank you for writing about the life of that friend, Raffaela Tamara Johnson ’73. I appreciated how her intelligence, beauty, talent and zest for living was depicted in the article. As I read, I was reminded of how her razor-sharp wit, delivered in a nonchalant manner, could get to the heart of many sensitive issues. Our frank discussions about how race impacted our growing up are a part of my being.

Tamara Johnson helped to make this world a better place.

Rhonda Frankel-Fein
Amherst, Mass.

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Thank you for your profile of the late Tamara Johnson ’73, who was a classmate of mine. I regret not having gotten to know her during those years—we traveled in different circles, and I do not think we had any classes together. But I recall vividly an evening during freshman orientation when my appointment with our mutual adviser, Reginald French (which was held in a dining hall, of all places), followed hers. Given these logistics, I witnessed the last several minutes of her interaction with Professor French, who was visibly impressed by her energy, confidence and facility in his area of expertise, Romance languages. I was impressed as well, but, feeling at that stage of development a need to be “cool,” did not say anything to her.

I knew that Tamara had died some years ago, but was not aware until quite recently that she was trans. Your article showed well what courage and strength she displayed in pursuing and living as her true self, and how she was able to live with joy and integrity.

Thank you for shining a light. Terras Irradient!

Charles P. “Topper” Roth ’73
East Orleans, Mass.

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This devastating story of a brilliant light extinguished before its time will haunt me forever.

Jim Bender ’61
Klamath Falls, Ore.


A black and white photo of two students sitting on steps and two fashionable people from the 1960s
THE PEOPLE IN THE PHOTOS: Thank you to all the readers who identified (from left) Joyce Chow ’97 and Edward Chang ’97 as the “Step Sitters” in the Spring 2022 issue and Cynthia Horan (Mount Holyoke ’69) and Bill Hastie ’68 in the “In Fashion” photo.

One of the Best

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A magazine cover with a collage of a woman in green and red
Kudos to the staff of Amherst for the Spring 2022 issue—one of the best ever, in my opinion. Katharine Whittemore’s cover story on the remarkable life of Tamara Johnson ’73 was extraordinary. It taught me something important about the Amherst of the early 1970s that, as a clueless freshman in 1972–73, I was completely unaware of at the time.

I also enjoyed the engaging account by Tess Taylor ’99 of the course she took in the spring of 1998 on “The Grammar of English.” It reminded me of the lifelong impact of a similarly technical French department course I took my sophomore year: “Phonetics and Prosody,” taught by Mme. Watkins. Among other things, the course was an encounter with the biomechanics of French pronunciation. After four years of high school French and a couple of Amherst French literature courses, I was finally learning exactly how to form my mouth and place my tongue to achieve those elusive French sounds with confidence and precision (an incredibly empowering skill that served me well, a few years later, while living in Paris). And although it was the last French course I took at Amherst, to this day I still remember passages from the poem (“Barbara,” by Jacques Prévert) that I chose for the dramatic recitation from memory that was our final class project.

Robert Howard ’76
Newton, Mass.


Impressive Journalism

Usually when a new issue of Amherst arrives in the mailbox, I take a few minutes to review the class notes but glance at any of the other pages in a manner that I’ll generously call random. When the Spring 2022 issue arrived, however, I immediately read two pieces in it: the delightful one by Tess Taylor ’99 about the class in grammar and sentence diagramming, and Katharine Whittemore’s piece about Tamara Johnson ’73.

If Michele Barale and Chick Chickering had offered that grammar class when I was at Amherst, I would have eaten it up with a large spoon. As for the piece about Tamara: Thank you deeply for Ms. Whittemore’s article, which I think gives clear, thoroughly developed insights into something that I knew approximately nothing at all about when I was at Amherst. Exchanges with other alumni suggest I am not alone in this sentiment. Your careful, extensive use of sources who knew Tamara well—including Ted Lenox ’73, whom I met in Nashville when I had graduated from Amherst and Ted was about to matriculate—is impressive journalism.

I also am sure I’m not the only member of the class of ’68 to be gladdened and moved by your mention of our classmate Harold Wade, who, like Tamara Johnson, graduated from Andrew Jackson High School. Harold’s sudden, heartbreaking death, only a few years after Amherst, remains an enormous loss. We—all his acquaintances and Amherst itself—would have benefited endlessly from what more he would have done to insist, over and over, on attention to the feelings and needs of minorities and other marginalized people.

John Stifler ’68
Florence, Mass.


Correction

The Spring 2022 cover story incorrectly stated that Ted Lenox ’73 studied in France at the same time as his friend Tamara Johnson ’73. It is another friend, Harold McCray ’73, who was there that year, and who spoke to the magazine about Johnson’s time in France.