6/09/2020 Staff

Voices (Spring/Summer 2020)

This magazine article is part of Spring/Summer 2020 / Issue 95

A Force for Greater Good

Selam! As an alumna of 1988, the mom to twin Ethiopian daughters, and a long-time donor to Hamlin Fistula in Addis Ababa as well as other nonprofits in Ethiopia, I was thrilled to read Peter Durantine’s article on Dr. Rachel Nardos ’97 (Fall 2019).

Dr. Nardos’ message to “use your privilege as a force for greater good” is excellent advice, not only for recent graduates and alumni but for all of us living with great wealth—and if you can read this and don’t have to walk to find clean water, you’re wealthy by the world’s standards.

Thank you F&M, Dr. Nardos, and friends for enriching countless lives. I would love to hear from former classmates and professors. Feel warmly welcome to reach me at Journey2Believe@gmail.com

Maura Flaherty Byrnes ’88 
Suffern, N.Y.

Reaction to “The Pain of Progress”

“The Pain of Progress” (Fall 2019) was fascinating reading, and I’m grateful for the alumni who took the time, once again, to educate the larger F&M community about the issues they faced as students in the 1960s and ’70s. It’s quite understandable why they all cut ties with F&M.

Interested to read more about this time when I turned the page to “This is the Rat Speaking,” I was almost instantly dismayed to read the excerpt from Todd Mealy’s work. “Unruly students overstepping their bounds,” “misguided self-righteousness,” “not criminals or thugs [emphasis mine].” Perhaps most appallingly, the author claims that the detained professors were “emotionally scarred…left dejected that their lifelong commitment to social justice was disregarded so abruptly by their students of color.” That sounds like “white tears” meant to defend against the real harm caused to the Black students. All of the evidence and recollections in the previous article led me to believe that the professors’ reliance on Black students’ emotional labor in class, while discounting their lived experience in submitted work, led to a predictable result. Real change does not happen without discomfort.

While I recognize that some of Mr. Mealy’s research was included in the “The Pain of Progress,” I’m left feeling disturbed and disappointed that the editors saw fit to include this particular excerpt in the F&M Magazine. What was it meant to add to our understanding? In my view, it only serves to falsely undermine many of the points made by alumni of color in the previous article and is yet another emotional assault. 

Tanya Schaefer ’91
Portland, Ore.

 

I read “The Pain of Progress” with great interest. It seems that even after 50 years, it is still difficult to get an objective handle on this unfortunate incident.

At the heart of the controversy was the dissatisfaction of some of the students enrolled in a class called “Interdepartmental-4: The Black Experience in America,” offered in 1969 during the spring semester. The article says that the 12 black students found the class to be “frustrating and demeaning.” The reasons cited were claims of different grading standards for black and white students and resentment of black students at being singled out to talk about what it was like to be a black American. 

I can’t speak to the truth of what happened in the class, as I wasn’t in the classroom. Neither were any of the people interviewed for the article. Nor were most of the 60 students who held the professors of the class hostage on the day of the final. Kept in a room in Goethean Hall for several hours, they were released after granting concessions on grading and promising that no one would be punished.

My father, Sidney Wise, was one of those professors, and I can say with certainty that he did not view what happened as a sit-in, confrontation, demonstration, takeover, or protest—all terms used in the article. I think he would have described it as a crime. I know he was deeply upset by it. And I’d be surprised if deep down, law dean LeRoy Pernell, who participated that day, would not agree.

Deborah Wise Booth ’75
DeKalb, Ill.

 

The recent protests in response to the racist Halloween costumes worn by F&M students make it clear that the subtle, overt and systemic aggressions against students of color on campus continue. The protests amplified my distress at reading the recent “The Pain of Progress” article. 

Progress? The article lifted up a timeline (ending in 2012) of actions taken as an indicator for progress. Where is the survey data that reflects black students’ sense of belonging at F&M? Is F&M a campus where black students can walk around and feel human rather than black? Is Lancaster safe in that way? Do black students who graduate feel like they survived F&M or that they thrived at F&M? Those indicators would more accurately measure real progress.

The accompanying excerpt from Todd Mealy’s “This is the Rat Speaking” reflected the same ideology that drove the black students to protest in 1969. This excerpt from a white scholar writing from a white perspective about the Black Experience described the 1969 group of black students as “not criminals or thugs,” instead, just "malcontents" who were full of “misguided self-righteousness.” Mealy captures the hurt feelings of the professors, but the excerpt shows little curiosity about why the black students were so desperate and angry. Ouch. Robin D’Angelo’s “White Fragility” offers critical insight on the hard work that white people need to do to make meaningful progress to address racism—both personally and institutionally.

F&M Magazine’s “The Pain of Progress,” along with the recent campus protests are more wake up calls that F&M still has a lot of hard work to do before it can rightfully claim progress.

Barbara Wenger ’86
Berkeley, Calif.

 

In the article “The Pain of Progress,” the author mentions the contribution of Mr. Leon “Buddy” Glover to the follow-up report on the events and his later service as a guidance counselor at McCaskey High School. Readers should know more about his long and distinguished career with the School District of Lancaster. He served as principal of Edward Hand Junior High School (the first African-American principal in Lancaster County), a principal at McCaskey High School, and assistant superintendent and acting superintendent of the district. Mr. Glover is a respected member of the Lancaster community and a valued mentor to generations of young people. 

Carl S. Pike
Huffnagle Professor of Botany, Emeritus
Lancaster, Pa.

 

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