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

The Bicentennial Issue

The cover of the fall 2021 issue of Amherst magazine
Though I’m not an Amherst graduate, my twin brother was, and the guy I almost married was, and my husband of 65 years is (he served as chair of the board, too, through the advent of women students and the dismantling of fraternities), plus the class of ’85 includes our daughter. The moving essays in the Fall 2021 issue, each so wise, each so different, prompt this reply from 
someone “tangled in the web.”

At nearby Smith, a professor’s comment on my Joyce, Yeats and Eliot exam of the early 1950s became a life prompt for me: “Your ease in writing sometimes obscures the fact that you have nothing to say.” Eventually I became a biographer, primarily of Emily Dickinson, and can attest to the consequential role that Amherst College played in her family through three generations. Her grandfather lost his livelihood getting the new institution off the ground; the small faculty spent term breaks traveling about the countryside with tin cups.

Amherst’s birth pains seem analogous to the creation of Hampshire College, 150 years later, into the beginnings of which poured the energy, vision, excitement, wisdom and funds of an impressive list of Amherst College presidents, graduates, faculty and staff. Some of them became temporarily engaged by and some permanently ensnared in the creation of a fifth college within this small river valley radius of established institutions. Four-College minds designed Hampshire to be both a uniting and an experimenting entity. Largely because of its extraordinary positioning, but also because of the talent it attracts, Hampshire survives, while most of the several new colleges envisioned and established in the same era have been snuffed out or absorbed.

Seems to me, as these essays by Amherst graduates reveal, that the reinvented wheel is ever a different wheel, and it’s the fabric that makes the difference.

Polly Longsworth


A phrase in one of the Bicentennial essays stood out to me: “a bullying kind of pedagogy.” The writer, Rand Richards Cooper ’80, meant that Amherst’s teaching was anything but that, and yet the wording struck a chord with me.

Before Amherst, I went to an all-boys’ high school in Puerto Rico. Bullying was part of my education. I was bullied, and I learned to bully to survive. My memory of Amherst was the opposite of that early education—until I read the essay by Cooper and, a few pages later, the essay by Professor Bill Pritchard ’53. Pritchard recalls, with dark humor and ambivalent nostalgia, the “tough” play his generation “took to be masculine,” and “the lash of Professor Arnold Arons,” who talked about the mission of the teacher as “taking a blowtorch to [the] fannies” of his students.

The one-two punch of Cooper and Pritchard reminded me of a “tough” phrase I found at the end of my final paper in my “Introduction to Liberal Studies” class. It read, “You are not Amherst material.” Friends at Amherst taught me by example how to counter the “challenging” ways of the College and to graduate with honors in the end. They listened, and they taught me to trade those moments of cruel pedagogy for good-humored debates in Valentine.

Still, I am left with a wish to respond to that bullying pedagogy without rejecting or romanticizing the College on the Hill. Cooper remembers Amherst’s way as the drive to “shake you, wake you and remake you.” I prefer the lesson I learned from my Amherst friends, a lesson I apply to my pedagogy every day: to care, to listen and to help.

Benigno Trigo ’84
Nashville, Tenn.


Congratulations on a delightful collection of articles and reminiscences. The photo of Casino Night (“200 Years of Photographs”) took me back to the first one, in 1970–71, largely a production of my fraternity, Kappa Theta, in particular Mal Phillips ’72. As the (first?) student representative at history department faculty meetings that year, I got to know Professor Asa Davis (“People, Protest, Purpose: A College Timeline”) slightly, although I did not have the chance to take a course with him. Along with about a dozen other students, though, I did take Black Studies 11 when it was first offered that fall, taught by an anthropologist from UMass, Dr. Johnnetta Cole, who went on to a remarkable career: president of Spelman College from 1987 to 1997, president of Bennett College from 2002 to 2007, and director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art from 2009 to 2017.

Jim Albisetti ’71
Lexington, Ky.

Your Timeline Ideas

On June 3, 1966, graduating seniors protested the war in Vietnam by walking out of their graduation ceremony shortly before Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara received an honorary degree.

In the famous Associated Press photo of the protest, President Calvin Plimpton ’39 can be seen at the podium, with Dean of Admission Eugene Wilson ’29 to his right. Next to them, seated, is board chair John J. McCloy ’16, a former assistant secretary of war. McNamara is next to McCloy. The five members of the class of ’66 in the photo are myself, Al Leisinger, Robert Hunter, Jarrett Leplin and Ted Rosengarten.

That day I also did an additional protest: In a home video taken by a parent who filmed the graduation, you can see me walking by Plimpton with my head down and not reaching out to accept my diploma.

As this was one of the first protests against the war in Vietnam to take place on the East Coast, the photo appeared on the front page of all the major newspapers the next morning. Later, Marshall McLuhan included it in his book The Medium Is the Massage, perhaps to show the contrast in hairstyles between the five slightly long-haired protestors who are walking out and the short-haired graduates who remain seated. Indeed, many of the seated classmates stood up the moment after the photo was taken to give McNamara a standing ovation.

Elliott Isenberg ’66
San Francisco


The New Curriculum is mentioned in the timeline, but I feel that it 
deserves a longer mention. It is a safe bet to say that any Amherst man (and we were only men) would start almost any story about his college days by referring to one or more of the courses in that curriculum.

Theodore Baird’s English 1–2 had a book published about it; writing three papers a week, all year long, was arduous, with the prompts excruciatingly difficult. Physics 1–2 and Math 1–2 were parallel courses and brilliantly designed. They were headed by Arnold Arons, who in 1965 was declared by Time as one of the 10 best college professors in the country. He taught with sarcasm, intimidation and fear; his style would not be allowed today. History 1–2, in my year taught by Fred Cheyette, was really a course in historiography. The reading load was massive. (I was a winter athlete, and by the June exam period I was 1,200 pages behind in my reading.)

Intellectual boot camp, indeed. Sophomore year was little better. While my class didn’t have to participate, the American studies course was also nationally famous, through the publication of the “Amherst Pamphlets,” each a case study in an aspect of American history.

Perhaps a separate piece on this approach to the first two years of study would be in order.

Peter Snedecor ’69


In the spring of 1979, the College ground to a halt when a cross was burned in front of Charles Drew House. Students occupied 
administrative offices; classes were canceled and faculty organized teach-ins; student committees made demands; and President John 
William Ward held a contentious all-College meeting. Then it turned out that the cross was constructed and set aflame not by would-be Klansmen, but by Amherst 
students who so despaired of the College ever grappling seriously with the experience of undergraduates of color that they decided this was the only way to get our 
attention. The wood used to make the cross was identified as having come from the basement of Charles Drew House.

That experience was a complicated, unprecedented, deeply layered moment in Amherst’s 
history—at least an order of magnitude more compelling than most of the entries in your timeline. It stands eye-level with the 1970 
protests that established the 
Department of Black Studies. Alas, nothing so tidy and tangible as a new student cultural center or affinity group, or a new academic program, came of it—those palatable fruits of other Amherst protests—though it would be pretty to think that the trustees were moved to 
divest from apartheid South Africa a little sooner.

Perhaps this messy un-resolution is the reason why those days in 1979 were left out of the timeline, which is stocked with the whimsical, the uplifting or the tamely self-critical. I understand that the express purpose of an alumni magazine is to warm our hearts, stir our pride and thereby open our bank accounts to our alma mater; but calculated 
historical amnesia is a sin.

Vahe Keukjian ’82
Stone Ridge, N.Y.