Remembering Alice Gifford

I was saddened to hear that Alice Gifford—beloved wife of Professor Emeritus of English Bill Gifford and beloved mother of their daughter, Caroline—passed away on Saturday, February 2, after a long illness. Several generations of Bill’s students at Vassar (myself included) knew Alice well, as Bill frequently invited his classes into his home, where Alice was the wonderfully generous hostess. Bill has also always been a magnificent correspondent with former students, many of whom would see him and Alice at reunions and, yearly, at the college’s outstanding Gifford Lecture series for writers.

In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests that memorial donations be sent either to the Hospice of Dutchess County or the Gifford Lecture Fund at Vassar, c/o the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development.

Mindy Aloff ’69
Brooklyn, New York

Shattering Autism Myths

Thank you for highlighting the story of Zoe Gross [“The Growing Autism Advocacy of Zoe Gross ’13,” Fall 2012]. This is precisely the kind of story those of us in the autism community need to help counter the myths and fears that surround the condition. Bravo to VQ for telling the story of a young woman who is extraordinary in her own right and yet not so different from many other autistics who are bright, inquisitive, committed, and capable of using their talents to effect positive social change.

Diana B. Austin ’89
San  Rafael, California

Downside for Men’s Sports

The revolution in collegiate sports in the 40 years since 1972 has been dramatic and particularly advantageous for women’s roles in varsity competition [see “Title IX Turns 40,” Fall 2012]. But there have been some upsetting downsides for men’s participation in varsity collegiate sports.

While Vassar and other private colleges have maintained swimming and diving for both men and women, many public universities have arbitrarily dropped non-revenue and Olympic sports for men, particularly swimming and diving.

But these men’s swimming and diving teams had supplied an impressive number of Olympic champions over the years. Diver Greg Louganis, who won several Olympic gold medals, for example, emerged from the University of Miami, which has now canceled men’s swimming and diving.

Some years ago, Elaine [Gail Elaine Burket Harwood ’53] and I drove downstate to watch Northwestern’s football team play the University of Illinois. During the contest, there was an announcement about a varsity swimming and diving competition to be held at their new aquatics center after the game. What they did not mention is that, due to Title IX, no male athletes—only female athletes—were going to compete.

William L. Harwood
San  Rafael, California

Sex in the Curriculum

Whenever I’ve returned for reunions, I’ve noticed certain changes: notices everywhere for specialized clubs—African American, Latino, Asian, gay, lesbian. The campus seemed splintered into factions, and I wondered whatever happened to that esprit de corps that once distinguished the Seven Sister schools.

After the protest at Vassar in February by the Westboro Baptist Church, I am again wondering whether Vassar has promoted LGBTQ causes more than any other college?  Is Vassar’s dedication to “inclusivity” misguided?  Is it reasonable to tolerate everyone and everything on campus? This surely contradicts the purpose of a liberal education, because you can’t recognize, measure, and promote achievement when the main concern is equality. Nor should the issue of sex and sexual preference override the basic issue of education. 

Schools are places to enrich the mind. Jacques Barzun, the great scholar who died last year, expressed it perfectly: “School is not intended to moralize the wicked world, but to impart knowledge and develop intelligence.” Will we ever return to that ideal?

Joan Zimmerman  Shore  ‘56
Paris, France