I just learned of the passing of Dr. Constance E. Berkley, a long-time member of the Africana Studies Department.

We felt the dynamism of her mind before she entered any room. Her presence itself was instructive. Custom-made shoes and clothes; kohl-lined eyes; inspiriting smile. Around her, we sat taller, spoke more thoughtfully. She taught to our limitlessness, invited us across thresholds of history through the incantatory power of language. We spoke the words of Ibn Khaldun, Tayeb Salih, Lorraine Hansberry, W.E.B. DuBois, and Cheikh Anta Diop; we felt oratory’s liberatory power. She lectured from meticulously updated, hand-written notes on 4x6 index cards. She looked askance at computers, raising one eyebrow and tapping her finger to her temple: “Knowledge must be embodied.” Under the thrall of her resonant voice, we inscribed her lessons on our bones.

Her sun-soaked office boasted a tall map of Africa, illuminated Arabic sayings, glorious stacks of books and papers, and a photograph of her late father. She listened and responded to our hopes and fears, our heartbreaks and epiphanies with preternatural focus and insight. She’d sometimes offer a Medjool date with her words of wisdom: “The nature of freedom is elusive... If you want to live, you must always be compassionate. It has not always been this way. Protect yourself by being vulnerable…”  

Dr. Berkley single-handedly made a way for me to pursue my creative goals in college and laid the foundation for my artistic career. Learning of her death, I unpacked several of her letters… “My dear son and colleague,” she began each one. Walk tall among the ancestors, Dr. Berkley. You, who changed our minds for the better.

Daniel Alexander Jones ’91
New York, New York

Vassar Vets and Football

I enjoyed reading the piece about the Vassar Vets and football [Winter 2014, “Fight for the Gridiron”], as I was there (as they say) as one of the involved Vassar Vets. We did not get the football team, but we did meet the Skidmore challenge with a basketball team. Miss Blanding and Dean Mildred Thompson [Vassar class of 1903] came through on that request and put out for uniforms, in pink and gray before coeducation morphed the pink into burgundy. It did take some juggling of locker room schedules in what was then the gym area in Kenyon Hall, but the college managed to figure out those logistics. As I recall, the Vassar team triumphed over Skidmore.

I would like to add a footnote to your article about the degree granted to the Vassar Vets. In 1949 and then in 1950 the diploma was issue by the State University of New York, but authorized by Vassar faculty and trustees. Then when the proposal that Vassar move to New Haven and become a part of Yale was rejected and coeducation became the viable alternative, President Alan Simpson wrote to each Vassar Vet graduate and said that he would like to have the college grant those men a Vassar diploma. President Simpson was an imaginative, scholarly, and forward-thinking college administrator who loved to shake up the status quo. His leadership and his encouragement in curricular matters were central to the local ferment of the 1960s and ’70s, and markedly changed Vassar College. He was a teacher-administrator, not a corporate business administrator, as so many college presidents have had to become these days. To cut to the chase, in June of 1972, each surviving Vassar Vet received in the mail, with a gracious letter of re-welcome, a genuine Vassar diploma.

Howard Winn ’50 (and ’72)
Poughkeepsie, New York

Marathon Reactions

Please allow me to offer some constructive criticism about the piece published on the last page of the Winter 2014 issue describing one man's experience at the 2013 Boston Marathon. I don't recall ever reading an essay so blatantly self-promoting, pitilessly unconcerned with the victims of terrorism, and flamboyantly dismissive of gender equality. VQ should be much more rigorous in its acceptance criteria for selecting the important closer to each issue.

Dave Tobias ’83
Rhinebeck, New York

I was shocked and saddened by your decision to publish Bruce Mendelsohn's account of the Boston Marathon bombing, "Running into the Unknown." I found Mr. Mendelsohn's bizarrely self-promotional account of last year's terror attack to be callous and downright offensive. I suppose I should be glad that Mr. Mendelsohn was able to find himself and re-affirm his manhood during the worst domestic terror attack since 9/11, but I can only conjure a vague feeling of repulsion and disgust at his action hero descriptions and barrel-chested bravado. As for his claim that “it was my moment,” there is little I can say.

Mr. Mendelsohn's Kiplingesque musings on masculinity are equally disturbing. He casually dismisses the important, evolving discussions we have within the Vassar community and in popular culture on gender and masculinity in favor of an antiquated call for manly decisive action. Implicit in his view is nostalgia for a fictional past filled with bold, brave men, unburdened by messy questions of privilege and structural violence. This is a viewpoint that is increasingly isolated in our society today and certainly out of place in the Vassar community, where calcified gender norms have never found a home.

Robinson Yost ’08
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


The article “The Wild, Wonderful World of MS MR” [Winter 2014] incorrectly stated that the band’s Tumblr site is administered by Tyler Kohlhoff. Band leaders Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow (both ’10) are actually responsible for MS MR’s Tumblr content and consider it an extension of their personal expression. Photographer Tyler Kohlhoff works with the duo on promotional shots and album covers.