Remembering Christa

The news came out of the blue — the way bad news often does — and with a shocking blend of horror and incomplete information. “God, Jay, what terrible news about Christa,” was the voice mail message from Hugh Cosman ’75. There was only one Christa in my life, my classmate and friend Christa Worthington ’77. As it was too late to return Hugh’s call, I turned to Google.com and learned just how terrible the news was. Christa had been stabbed and bludgeoned to death in her home at the tip of Cape Cod. Adding to the unfathomable horror was the fact that her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Ava was left alone in the house with Christa’s body for almost two full days until the crime was discovered.

In the days and weeks that followed, the media glommed onto this story, and the details and secrets of what was once a very private life became fodder for the insatiable appetite of a public weaned on sensational revelation. The Christa I first met in Tony Wohl’s History of England class deserves better than to have her life summed up by salacious headlines and sound bites.

Christa was a classmate, a friend, a roommate, a colleague. She became a mother at 43, and treasured the little girl who became the focus of her life. We shared interesting times together, first at Vassar, then in those exciting years just after college, that time when life is ripe with possibility, and, as we grew older, those sobering years when your parents become ill and dependent on you, when you reevaluate the course your life has taken, when you come face to face with the decisions you’ve made over the past 25 years.

Christa won’t be there as the class of 1977 gathers for our 25th reunion this year, but we will remember the fey and beguiling English major, pay tribute to her spirit, and mourn her light, which is now lost. Perhaps we’ll quote Shakespeare, whose words were never more discerning: “Death lies on her like an untimely frost upon the sweetest flower of all the field.”

Jay Mulvaney ’77
New York, New York

Stereotypes and Euphemisms

Congratulations on a very readable issue (spring 2002) of the VC Quarterly. The only thing that gave me a jolt was seeing my position in Class Notes — only two classes before mine and both of them dead. I found the spring issue of the VQ particularly readable because it had not one but two articles that I immediately wanted to answer.

The Vassar stereotype (“Vassar in the Spotlight”) in the early part of the 20th century was a serious-minded social worker with horn-rimmed spectacles and orthopedic shoes. This conception changed drastically and became more sex-conscious after Vassar went coed — plus c’est change, plus c’est le même chos. Underneath all these changes, one thread endures; Vassar girls are realists.

Not By Any Other Name” expressed my feelings exactly. I have been living in a retirement home since January 1985, and I am smothered by euphemisms. I have told my children that when I die, if they ever say I “passed away,” I shall come back and haunt them. The very worst example of the euphemism for death that I ever encountered was in the obituary of some clergyman; he did not die or pass away, he was “promoted to Glory.”

Frances O. Moore ’26
Blue Bell, Pennsylvania

AAVC Board Election 2002

With interest, I perused candidates’ accomplishments listed and found the greatest, most difficult, and — when done right — most satisfying ones missing: husband, wife, children, and church.

Shirley Spratt Mitchell ’64
Montreat, North Carolina

Re: The Classroom Inside

I felt compelled to respond to the article regarding Dr. Mamiya’s Green Haven Prison program. I took a course with Dr. Mamiya in the late ’70s in which I refused to participate in this part of the course. Twenty some odd years later, I have yet to regret that decision especially after reading this article. I was offended and extremely disappointed to read that this program was popular among many suburban white Vassar students because it facilitated social contacts with Black and Latino men. How sad that these same students did not take advantage of the opportunity — however currently limited — at Vassar to address their ethnic misconceptions by establishing dialogues, or even friendships, with their Black and Latino Vassar male peers. How even sadder still that these same students felt comfortable crossing the so-called “color line” in an extremely controlled environment.

Sheryl Smikle ’81
Poughquag, New York

I was delighted to see the article about Vassar students interacting with inmates inside Green Haven Prison. In the last five years I have spent over 600 “inside” hours as a facilitator in the Alternatives to Violence Project mentioned at the end of the article, and it has added immeasurably to my life. A unique part of the program is the training of inmates to be part of the facilitation team. Interestingly, this program started at Green Haven in the 1970s and now exists in most states in the U.S. (not “Massachusetts-based” as stated in the article). Participation is available to any of you reading this. The most important qualification is the belief that we never stop learning even when we appear to be leaders. Information is at http://avpusa.org. (Our oldest facilitator received her training five years ago at the age of 90 and, yes, she still facilitates regularly.)

Dotty Voorhees Joos ’61
Occidental, California

Re: Spring 2002 Vassar Quarterly

Bravo on a fine looking spring Vassar Quarterly! Among the alumnae/i I know, we all agree theQuarterly content is better than ever -- more bite, more punch, more relevancy to the lives and sensibilities of younger graduates (while diminishing nothing from tradition).

Alexander Steinberg '93
White Plains, New York

I have just read the unpublished letter to the editor (spring 2002) from Eleanor Stoddard. I am concerned that you did not find the point she made as being important enough for you to publish it. I am certain that there are many of us who feel the same way.

There are many alumnae/i over 65 at which point vision starts to deteriorate. I am well past that point and have found several problems with your present format. Just glancing at the issue for Winter 2001, reveals the following visual problems for me:

a. The last page (70) places orange lettering on a greenish yellow background making it very difficult to distinguish the headings. The lack of contrast between the bluish green letters and that mustard colored background make reading hard work. The pinkish background on page 69 tends also to hide the colored headings, the reddish ones are difficult but surprisingly the bluish ones are almost impossible. On page 28 I cannot decipher Ethan Zone's Stats as a Brewer Goalie. See also the bottom of page 21. It would be nice to be able to determine the Watson Fellows' topics.

b. Another problem arises when text is printed over a picture background such as on pages 8,9, and 11. The outlines of the letters become confused by the pictures.

c. I know that you can save money by reducing the size of the type but the font does not really separate the letters enough to read easily. The class notes are so tightly packed that just glancing at them is enough to discourage one from trying to read them. What good does it do to economize to the point where readers take a quick look and go no further?

My eyes have needed glasses since I was 12 but this has never created a reading problem. I am near sighted and still do a lot of reading and writing so do not believe the problem is unique to me. Am certain that there are many alumnae/i who are discouraged from enjoying what appears to be most interesting material.

Ruth A. Walker, Ph.D. '42

Thanks to a classmate, I've read the letter not printed in the VC Quarterly 2002 from Eleanor Stoddard '42 complaining about your format of using colored pages printed in white. I heartily agree with her comments and find it odd that you should be so uninterested in something that affects your magazine so much. Even though this complaint has something (probably) to do with the age of one's eyes, it is, nevertheless, something that should be noted.

Josephine Little '42

I always look forward to receiving the Vassar Quarterly. No other publication that arrives in my mailbox points up as decisively how the world has changed since 1931 when I graduated from Vassar. It's not only that over 70 classes have matriculated at Vassar since then: It doesn't seem so long ago that I turned to the back of the Quarterly to look up dispatches about classmates. Now when Class Notes for 1931 do appear, they are included on the first page of their section.

Unfortunately during the past half year my eyesight has dimmed significantly. Judging by the articles I could decipher in your spring 2002 issue, I like your new format and editorial content, but please could you give strong consideration to changing to a darker and somewhat larger typeface? To me your current print style looks so tiny and pale that even using a lighted magnifying glass I have difficulty reading it. Please don't leave us elder alums — eyesight-challenged as we are — out of your otherwise enjoyable quarterly grapevine.

Norma M. Morse '31
Briarcliff Manor, New York

Message From the Editor

When Vassar was redesigned in 2000, many letters to the editor regarding the new look, both pro and con, were published in the winter 2000 issue. We continue to strive to maintain a balance between a design that is engaging and attractive and text that is easily discernable. I want to encourage readers to send in comments that can help the magazine remain accessible to all. However, it is our policy to first list letters to the editor that refer to a specific story’s content, but this in no way reflects our commitment to a consistent and pleasing design.

Re: Matthew's Mug

I thought the feature on Matthew's Mug generally provided students with a historical backdrop and alums with the current status of the mug. However, you omitted an important feature of Mug life today: jazz nights. Ever since Gabe Rosenn '00 came to ViCE with the idea of having a few jazz concerts in the Mug several years ago, jazz nights on Tuesday have become as popular as Fridays or Saturdays. Stefan Zeniuk '02 has taken up the reigns with a vengeance and has put his heart and soul into getting the best bands from the current scene in New York and New England. Now, even those who don't like to bump and grind, dislike hip hop, and refuse to wear tank tops can enjoy the Mug. Though you chose to omit them from the official Mug history, Gabe and Stefan and those who have worked on ViCE jazz for the last several years deserve credit.

Nick Loss-Eaton '02

Re: Not By Any Other Name

Not that long ago, for the first time and with great enthusiasm, I wrote to Class Notes about my life's adventures with my husband. It was after a wonderful summer during which Rick attended Harvard Graduate School of Design, and I reconnoitered Boston's south shore. How could I know that within days after arriving home, he would be diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and over the next 90 days deteriorate till his death on November 19. This letter is prompted by the comment on the last page of the spring Vassar Quarterly. I never said Rick "passed away." He died - as did my father when he walked into the hospital at the age of 90 and died within the week - and my mother who was hit by a train when she drove over a grade crossing when the gate failed to operate. In the latter cases, I accepted and was "insulated." As close as I was to my parents, when Rick, my husband of 40 years, died at the age of 63 there was no insulation - only that provides by the brain's ability to prevent the totality from getting through. Subsequently, the loss - the grief - becomes part of every day. It's inescapable, inevitable, and unending. Family and friends are supportive, and you get on with it, but you never get over it. No amount of information or discussion can change that.

Jean Schaeffer Ackerman '54
Manahawkin, New Jersey

Re: Vassar Steals the Spotlight

I read your article about references to Vassar in the movies. I'd like to complain about a relatively minor point but a significant one. You quoted the first-ever reference to Vassar in film. It was Groucho Marx who said that he went to Vassar and when Margaret Dumont replied "but that's a girls college," he responded, "I found that out the third year . . ." That is where you're quote ends. However the actual line is "I found that out the third year when I tried out for the swim team." This omission has grave consequences. It removes the humor from the first Vassar reference. And what an honor it was for the college to be the subject of a joke by one of, if not the greatest comedian ever. This single line is partially to blame for the fact that I am now a student at Vassar College and that I tried out for the swim team last year. I also wonder if it had any impact on the lives of my grandmother, a student here, and my great-grandmother, both a former student and former head of the English department. So you may find this petty, and indeed it may be, but my love of Vassar while great can only hope to match my love of the Marx brothers. (And I wonder if unbeknownst to me this love was shared by my Vassar relatives that I never met.) The point is that you left out the most important part of the most important Vassar reference ever. How can an article treat this subject and leave out the punch line? Was it too risqué? I should think that offense should not be a concern at such a liberal and open-minded school. So thank you so very much for taking the time to humor my concern.

Annya Tisher '04

As I received the VQ in the post this week I was particularly struck by the cover bearing Lisa Simpson. I immediately associated it with her mentions of Vassar on The Simpsons. My next thought was incredulity. As I read the magazine's cover story, the feeling of frustration and disillusionment I had before I opened the magazine did not subside. Instead, I was further astonished by the lack of pride and respect that I perceive to be increasingly present in Vassar-related matters through its insistence on emphasizing pop culture as the end-all of the Vassar experience. Is this what we stand for? Mentions in pop culture?

I had already been taken aback by the fact that there was an entire section devoted to Ethan Zohn in the AAVC Website, but this unabashed display of empty fanaticism was, to say the least, disrespectful. Why does Vassar have to cling on to these trite narcissistic attempts at fame and recognition? As a Vassar graduate I am not proud of being mentioned in The Simpsons. Rather, I am proud of having met the most engaging people, of having had a terrific education and of having expanded my world to such a formidable extent. It therefore pains me as a Vassar graduate. So if Vassar claims to be a "new-ivy" or whatever the chosen denomination, we must learn to abandon such frivilous endeavours and emphasize the Vassar experience, which I still think is unmatchable.

Keith V. Bush '01
Brooklyn, New York

Re: Spring '02 Letters

I would like to make a correction to the letter entitled, "Cover Story Revisited," by Ms. Frances Levison Low that was published in the Spring 2002 Alumnae/i Quarterly. Her letter referred to an earlier article in the Winter 2001 Quarterly about Anita Hemmings who "passed" for white and graduated in 1897 as the first "black" graduate of Vassar.

Ms. Low stated that Anita Hemmings attended "Mt. Herman" prep school. Actually, Northfield Seminary in Massachusetts was the girls' school from which Anita graduated in 1893. A lengthy article about Anita Hemmings, written by her great-granddaughter, Jillian Sims, appeared in the Spring 2001 NMH magazine. According to Ms. Sims, Anita Hemmings entered Northfield Seminary in 1892 "to improve her chances of being accepted at Vassar." Anita's room-mate there was "black." Northfield, an excellent, liberal prep school, had a history of admitting young women of color, even before 1892. I receive the NMH magazine because I am an alumna of Northfield School for Girls, class of 1951. Sometime after I graduated, Northfield and Mt. Hermon, the boys' school, became one school.

I am African-American and a proud and loyal graduate of both Northfield and Vassar, class of 1955. I was welcomed and well prepared at Northfield. I was accepted by Vassar for my qualifications, and was well educated there. I feel that it is important to give credit to Northfield for Anita Hemming's presence at Vassar, whatever the circumstances. The 2001 Vassar article indicated that Anita was almost denied her Vassar diploma when her racial identity was discovered. The article also stated that the first openly acknowledged Negro student entered Vassar in 1940.

Vassar has come a long way in its admission policy since Anita Hemmings' day. Salve, Vassar!

Sandra Koger Bussey '55
Kensington, California