More than 135 alumnae volunteer leaders returned to campus in November for a professional development program to enhance their abilities to perform their roles on Barnard’s behalf. Thursday working dinners targeted regional club leaders, class officers, and fund raisers; Friday’s sessions shared information about the College’s needs, priorities, and initiatives. Professor Jose Moya addressed the current debate about immigration. Delegates learned how Barnard students embrace mentoring, civic engagement programs, and internships. “No matter what we do as devoted and dedicated volunteers,” said Leadership Assembly chair Merri Rosenberg ’78, “it’s all for the students. The funds we raise, the alumnae connections we strengthen, the support we provide for faculty and administration—every effort supports the enduring legacy of Barnard in selecting and developing talented young women.”
On October 5, more than 100 students took the subway to Wall Street. Buoyed by their anger and bolstered by widespread support from the faculty, they joined hundreds of protesters that day and that month, adding their voices to a growing howl of resentment over pervasive inequities—social, political, and above all, economic—in the United States.
It is a new moment on campus, and perhaps in history. We have had several protests at the College since the fall semester began, with students expressing concerns over both national issues and college policies. What connects these threads is a generational anger and a very real fear—both personal and demographic—that students graduating at the turn of the twenty-first century will face a tougher future than that of their parents; a future marked, perhaps, by permanently sluggish growth, an increasing gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else, and a country whose political elite seems to have forsaken leadership in favor of ideology.
The movement, if it is one, is only in its earliest phases, and we have yet to see if its adherents will be able to translate their anger into specific demands or policy proposals. Certainly, the basics are there: higher taxes on the wealthy; fewer loopholes in a distinctly loopy tax code; greater support for public education and student financial aid. These are the kinds of policies that would mitigate the division between the one percent and the 99 percent and assure that a seat at the top of the pyramid comes, as it long has in this country, as a result of effort, intelligence, and luck, rather than by birth.
Much has been made thus far of the protesters’ lack of political direction. Some blame this absence on divisions within the group, on its refusal to embrace hierarchy, and on time. But I think there is a more basic cause: the lack of an intellectual underpinning around which to coalesce. All revolutions, Keynes famously wrote, carry the distant echoes of some academic scribbler. The American Revolution had Locke and Montesquieu. France, the works of Voltaire and Rousseau. Soviet and Chinese communism grew directly from the theories of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Mao. Today’s protesters, by contrast—both the 99 Percent and the Tea Party, ironically—have few scribblers to guide or undergird them. Buried in the Tea Party’s demand for lower taxes and less government is a watered-down and attenuated version of Friedrich Hayek’s antipathy to state intervention and Milton Friedman’s embrace of unfettered markets. Buried similarly in the cries of the 99 Percent is a Keynesian yearning for fiscal stimulus and government intervention—for government to enter the lives of its citizens by regulating the economy and redistributing wealth. Yet all of these thinkers—Marx, Hayek, Keynes, Friedman—were writing in response to wholly different crises and radically different times.
Where is the philosopher of the digital age? The economist who not only studies inequality but proposes solutions for a world where people, money, goods, and ideas can cross borders in an instant? Sadly, he or she doesn’t exist. Instead, the disciplines that might have produced these thinkers—my own disciplines, most likely, of political science and economics—have grown narrower and narrower over the past several decades, fine-tuning algorithms and tweaking methodologies, rather than rewarding scholars for bold, never mind radical, ideas. Keynes would probably not receive grant funding for The Means to Prosperity, a provocative and wide-ranging volume that laid out specific recommendations for attacking unemployment.
And Adam Smith? He was a moral philosopher, concerned with the overlap between ethics, jurisprudence, and economics, an interdisciplinary pursuit that rarely flourishes in the academy today.
I don’t believe that higher education bears much of the blame for the inequities that now confront our country, or for the gloomy forecasts that have driven our students to the streets in protest. In fact, higher education remains one of the few drivers of socio-economic mobility in the United States and one of the few pathways by which a person born at the bottom of the pyramid can propel herself toward the top. Yet we should be doing more. In addition to supporting our students and wishing them well, we should be providing them with the sparks for great theories and the planks upon which to build real policies. Higher education does an excellent job of preparing our students to think. But in a world increasingly adrift, we also need to prepare them to do—to envision the problems before them as part of a broader conceptual whole, and to grasp for the grander visions that might eventually pave a way out.
I was pleased to read the article on Professor Gavronsky in the Fall 2011 issue of Barnard. It was exciting to read about his accomplishments and dedication to the Barnard community throughout the years. I do remember him fondly from a course that I was privileged to attend. His illustrious career and multifaceted talents make all of us proud.
Congratulations, Professor Gavronsky, on your retirement. All of us wish you the very best and thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
—Yolanda Irizarry ’73
San Juan, PR
It is wonderful that the Barnard Center for Research on Women is still going strong after 40 years [“The Next Forty Years,” Fall 2011]. The conference this September made very clear that the Women’s Center (which is what we called it when it was founded in 1971) continues to promote feminist scholarship and activism.
We were saddened, then, to find no mention or photograph of Jane S. Gould in the article about the Center’s 40th anniversary. Jane, the first permanent director of the Women’s Center, was appointed in 1972 and served in that capacity until 1983. It was largely her vision that shaped the unique role and identity of the Women’s Center at Barnard.
As just one example, Jane organized and nurtured the first 10 celebrated Scholar & Feminist Conferences, where academics and activists could meet and exchange ideas on the center’s common ground.
Although Jane died in 2009, she inspired us to celebrate her legacy and spirit at the 40th anniversary conference.
—Janet Axelrod ’73
—Fanette Pollack ’74
Editors’ Note: No slight was intended to the late Jane Gould, who did so much to shape what has become known as the Barnard Center for Research on Women. In historian and professor Rosalind Rosenberg’s 2004 book, Changing the Subject, she writes about the women of Columbia University and how they developed and fought for the ideas of modern feminism. She devotes many pages to a highly readable and vivid account of the founding and subsequent growth of the center and the women who contributed to it. Fittingly, the Columbia University Press is the book’s publisher.
A Second Opinion
The fall issue’s celebratory and self-congratulatory tone about the Barnard community’s engagement in feminist issues seems to me to be quite unmerited. Shouldn’t women at Barnard be pushing beyond the familiar clichés? What exactly is meant for example by “gender equality”? When the majority of students in college, law and medical schools are women, does it matter that the staff of the New Yorker is all male? If the percentage of women in politics remains steady at 17 or 18 percent is “sexism” an explanation or a way of avoiding an explanation?
It is shameful to be congratulating yourselves about unionizing domestic workers or protesting tuition increases when no mention is made of the need to free the hundreds of women who are the slave-prostitutes of human traffickers....
—Carol Crystle ’62
Questions and Answers
Regarding the Fall 2011 President’s Page, I also get those same two questions (“What is the relationship between Barnard and Columbia?” and “Why does anyone still needa women’s college?”). I have pulled out the pages and can now send them to anyone who asks. Barnard was enormously helpful in recognizing my special gifts and talents, taking me seriously, and nurturing me in a non-competitive-with-males environment. I am now a leader, teacher, performing artist, minister, wife, great-grandmother, and entrepreneur thanks to the unique four years at Barnard. Vive la différence!
—Seana Anderson ’69
American Trust for the British Library
I recently attended an “event” that took place at the “Event Oval” in The Diana Center.
The Diana Center was constructed on the site of the McIntosh Center. I was shocked that President McIntosh’s name was not preserved for the new building.
A “terrace” was given the name of President McIntosh. I saw no sign locating that “terrace.” In the least, the no-named Event Oval—the auditorium—should be named for President MacIntosh. That is the least tribute that the Barnard College of today may do to honor her name.
—Vivian R. Gruder ’57
New York, NY
Editors’ Note: The Summer 2011 issue features a photo of the McIntosh family on campus celebrating the dedication of the terrace at Reunion 2011.
We misspelled the name of Larissa McDonogh-Wong ’15 on page 28 of the Fall 2011 issue. We also incorrectly identified Sharon Fingerer-Goldman ’93 on page 30. We regret the errors.
For most of human history, little has been known about how people experience pain—let alone how one person’s pain might differ from another’s. But recent research has illuminated the surprisingly distinct ways that individuals experience pain—and how women perceive pain differently from men. These new findings could have wide-reaching implications, according to scientists who showcased their groundbreaking research into gender-specific pain perception at Barnard during a September 2011 event titled “Roadmap for Addressing Sex Differences in Pain Management.” The event was supported and co-sponsored by Women in World Neuroscience of the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO).
“Pain is one of the most prevalent of the diseases and ailments that have sex differences,” said Rae Silver, Kaplan Professor of Natural and Physical Sciences at Barnard and organizer of the event along with Emmeline Edwards, director of extramural research at the National Center for Complementary and Alternate Medicine and chair of the Women in World Neuroscience committee, and Kathie Olsen, founder and managing director of Science Works, LLC. Said Silver, “If we understood those differences, we could better treat and anticipate diseases in both sexes.”
In opening the event President Debora Spar pointed to the importance of maximizing knowledge to improve the health benefits of pain treatment and introduced the distinguished panelists. The participants offered a range of revelations into the study of pain—from the possibility that redheaded women are more pain tolerant than brunettes to the prospect that astronauts could unveil the mysteries of gender-specific pain.
Dr. Marianne Legato, who founded and directs the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University, moderated the panel and noted that until the 1990s, most scientific research dealt with the middle-aged white male. In some cases, laws restricted the participation of women. Pain rarely received much attention from scientists, since studies of pain were largely seen as “soft” or “pseudo” science. In place of scientific knowledge, there was conventional wisdom, which held either that women are tougher because they are equipped to endure the pains of childbirth or that men are tougher because, well, they’re men. Turns out, neither stereotype is exactly right.
Women likely are more sensitive to pain in some ways, but they also have hormones that can mediate pain in ways that don’t work for men. Jeffrey Mogil, the E.P. Taylor Chair in Pain Studies and Canada Research Chair in Genetics of Pain at McGill University, explained: “Males and females have qualitatively different pain-processing mechanisms; that is, difference in kind, not in degree.” His research of the neural mechanisms that mediate the perception and inhibition of pain has indicated that women might have fewer mu-opioid receptors, which respond to morphine. This difference might explain why women typically need higher dosages of pain medications.
Dr. Mogil also found connections between the gene that accounts for red hair color in 80 percent of natural redheads and how those redheads perceive pain. A study he conducted with redheaded mice found that redheaded females could tolerate significantly more pain than other females or redheaded males. “These strong and robust brain differences in pain processing are going to leadto differential pain treatments,” he predicted.
A major value of research into perceptions of pain is the potential to find better ways to alleviate it. Dr. Richard Smiley, a professor of clinical anesthesiology and chief of obstetric anesthesia at Columbia University Medical Center, said that his research into the genetics of labor pain suggests oxytocin might protect pregnant women from the development of chronic pain. Oxytocin is a hormone released in women during and after childbirth and while breastfeeding, and has been associated with creating emotional connections.
Finding effective ways to treat pain experienced by women is especially important since 70 percent of those who suffer from chronic pain are women. Though oxytocin produced naturally by the body can prevent chronic pain in some cases, it cannot be used to treat it, said Dr. Smiley.
Fortunately, there are other possible solutions. Dr. Josephine Briggs, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, discussed non-pharmacological interventions for chronic pain, such as complementary and alternative medicine. One study found that people with chronic pain who practiced mindful meditation suffered with substantially less severity than those who did not.
The human body may be the focus of pain research, but the new frontier of such research, according to Dr. Saralyn Mark ’83, is outer space. “Turns out, it’s easier to discern differences in sex and gender-based health care in space because you can discern those differences very fast and in a way that you often cannot on Earth,” said Mark, an endocrinologist, geriatrician, and women’s health specialist.
Studies of pain in space have already proven fruitful. One revealed that almost all female astronauts begin to experience orthostatic hypotension, meaning they feel like they’re going to faint, when they return to earth. This may be due to differences in how the body adapts to microgravity and readapts to earth. “When women are stressed, they tend to increase their heart rates, whereas men tend to clamp down,” she said.
Thanks to female lab subjects, redheaded mice, research in space and the pioneering studies of the panelists, a window is opening onto one of the most intense of human experiences. As scientists understand more about the relationship between gender and pain, people’s experience of pain—and especially women’s—could become a lot less painful.
—by Deenah Vollmer
Compete. Be your own advocate. Don’t be afraid to say yes to opportunities that you may not think you’re prepared for; don’t even fear failure.
These were some of the messages delivered to students, alumnae, trustees, and faculty from the five remaining Seven Sisters Colleges—Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Vassar—who participated in the launch of The Women in Public Service Project, a major initiative of the U.S. Department of State in partnership with these schools. More than 40 members of the Barnard community, including board members of the Alumnae Association, joined women from around the world at an all-day event on December 15, in Washington, D.C. The colloquium featured Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, elected women leaders from around the world, American women politicians, prominent women from the armed services, and founding second-wave feminists such as Gloria Steinem.
“We want to tackle this critical issue, to have more women inspired and empowered to participate fully in the governance of their nations,” said Secretary Clinton. “There are many ways women can serve. You don’t have to be president or prime minister or party leader to serve. There are many benefits of bringing more women into public service. We need a broader range of expertise as we work to solve our problems. We need more women at the table, expanding the pool of talented people.”
The Women in Public Service Project is intended to develop a new generation of women leaders from around the world. There will be a major educational program, starting with a pilot summer institute to be held at Wellesley in 2012. This initiative, which will provide training in public speaking, leadership, and strategic thinking, will rotate among the other founding women’s colleges in the partnership in future years. Other measures will include grants from the State Department for academic research into the issue of women in public service, an online mentoring program, and partnerships with businesses. As Clinton asserted, the project will “build a large, unprecedented public movement to support more women into public governance.”
For the past several years, Barnard College has been at the forefront of the effort to promote and encourage women leaders with innovative programs, and with President Debora Spar’s focus on Barnard’s global presence. The College has been offering leadership training and opportunities to young women leaders around the world in a variety of ways. Some of its groundbreaking initiatives may prove to be models for the project and the other sisters. The Global Symposia bring together regional women leaders and students for all-day panels and discussions. To date these symposia have been held in Beijing, Dubai, South Africa, and this spring, in Mumbai. Also at Barnard, The Athena Center for Leadership Studies trains and develops women leaders from the earliest ages throughout their careers, and the Visiting International Student Program (VISP), offers Barnard’s singular educational experience to young women from other countries.
“Graduates of women’s colleges are disproportionately represented in public service and have entered public life from the beginning as pioneers in public service,” said Vice President for College Relations Dorothy Denburg, at the Kennedy Center lunch for the participants. “We’ve produced a long and impressive list of firsts. We’re focused on expanding the network of women in public service.”
Still, there was no denying that simply being among such a critical mass of influential women in public service as well as meeting alumnae and student peers was a heady experience. “The accumulation of so many powerful, successful women yielded striking similarities across experiences, all of which produced advice that stressed a bolder, braver approach to the world that is so often lacking,” posted Barnard student attendee Adair Kleinpeter-Ross ’14. “It opened my eyes to a whole new realm of service that is powerful, as increased numbers of women in public service will change the decisions that are being made between countries, change policy, and really change the world.”
As Malvina Kefalas ’14 wrote, “Public service doesn’t simply happen: committed, thoughtful individuals must enter into it to make an impact on society…. Even in an inaugural session, these resources were present. Being able to network with and, quite frankly, even to speak to some of the women in the room was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Alumnae responded similarly. “As an alumnae leader who is also a public servant, the event brought those two roles of my life together,” said Peri Horowitz ’96, chair of the Alumnae Association’s professional and leadership development committee, who is the director of special compliance and policy for the New York City Campaign Finance Board. “The range of public service represented in the attendees was humbling and the barriers other women face are unimaginable to me. I was very proud to be part of Barnard’s delegation to the event and I hope that Barnard will be able to involve the many alumnae who are quietly doing all sorts of valuable public service on their local levels in future project initiatives.”
Reeva Mager ’64, chair of the Project Continuum committee and director of a social services agency DOROT East in New York, added, “The opportunity to be together solidified my thoughts about the importance of volunteerism. I am proud of Barnard’s role and was proud to represent us there.”
For many of the students, seeing mentorship in action and networking at the highest levels was undeniably exhilarating. “I can say with conviction that this experience was, thus far, the highlight of my Barnard career,” affirmed Shilpa Guha ’12, who interviewed White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett on stage as part of the Colloquium program. “As a student, to be able to witness living proof of this ‘pathway’ that has been paved for us, the next generation, I [feel] really compelled to continue the legacy.”
—by Merri Rosenberg ’78
During the first 46 years after her graduation, Carol Opton ’46 rarely ventured back to the Barnard. But this past fall, when Opton learned of a new memoir-writing class for Barnard alumnae taught by bestselling author Erica Jong ’63, she knew: “I’m doing this.” She’d devoured and delighted in Fear of Flying, Jong’s 1973 work, which Opton read shortly after it was published. She’d related to the protagonist so fully, she says, “The voice could have been mine.”
There may be many more stories like Opton’s in the coming months, as Dorothy Urman Denburg ’70 settles into her new role as vice president for college relations, in which she oversees alumnae affairs and career development. As vice president, her mission is threefold: “To more fully engage our alumnae in a broader range of activities than in the past,” she says, “to allow alumnae to take advantage of things at the College that are not necessarily related to a development or support request, and thirdly to increase interactions between alumnae and students.”
Sitting in a cheerful office at the Vagelos Alumnae Center where a quilt made from her favorite Barnard T-shirts adorns one wall, Denburg speaks with the warmth and wit one would expect from a college official known to host “Knitting with Dean Denburg” study breaks. The position of vice president for college relations is a new one for Barnard, as well as for Denburg, who is herself perceived as a kind of institution on campus, after serving as dean of the College from 1993 until 2010 and in a various other administrative roles since her own graduation. Very few people have yet managed to call her by her new title, she
says. Though she adds, laughing, “I’ve been introduced as Vice President Dean Denburg.”
In her new capacity, Denburg has initiated a raft of programs to draw alumnae back to Barnard. In addition to the memoir-writing course, recent and popular offerings have included a community service Reach-Out program for both alumnae and students (as part of new student orientation this past fall); a two-day Hudson River adventure last spring led by Barnard professors; and a series of lectures called Barnard@work, held in the midtown law offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, with the space and lunch donated by Helene Finkelstein Kaplan ’53. “When we did a survey of alumnae, everyone was united by their academic experience of the College,” explains Denburg. “We are trying to capture that as much as possible.”
In the near future, Denburg says she would like to add online classes for out-of-town graduates, and repeat the Barnard@work program with new as well as previous lecturers, which included Richard Pious, professor of political science; Randall Balmer, professor of religion; and Anne Higonnet, professor of art history. Denburg is hoping to find another alumna to provide space.
In an even more ambitious initiative, she is working with Senior Lecturer in English and Director of First-Year English Margaret Vandenburg, to design a course for alumnae, similar to what is now mandatory for first-year students. The coursewill likely include seminars, as well as lectures delivered by faculty of the English department distinguished in various literary periods. For alumnae beyond the metro area, Professor of English Mary Gordon ’71 will offer a literature course online with interactive components in fall 2012.
For Opton, the return to Barnard exceeded her high expectations. Jong proved to be a brilliant instructor, “listening, challenging, welcoming, and thoughtful.” A retired political consultant who had her own firm, Opton reports that she also found her classmates to be inspiring, and duringthe three, two-hour sessions, she says, “we bonded in a way that’s really weird.” In fact the group meshed so well, that they requested (and got) an extra class. The women spanned the generations, but “what we have in common is this intellectual curiosity and capacity,” says Opton, adding, “It transcends the years.”
—by Elicia Brown ’90
Julie Zeilinger ’15 had a unique challenge during her first semester at Barnard: She had to balance studying for exams and completing papers with writing blog posts, finishing a book, and managing a flourishing career as a writer. The founder and editor of theFBomb.org, a blog and online community for young feminists with about 30,000 unique visitors every month from across the globe, she says, “I knew it was going to be a challenge to continue as editor while at Barnard, but the Web site is my baby, I just couldn’t give it up.”
The “F” in FBomb is for feminist, but the double entendre is not an accident, as the site’s “About” page explains: “The FBomb.org is for girls who have enough social awareness to be angry and who want to verbalize that feeling. The FBomb.org is loud, proud, sarcastic … everything teenage feminists are today.”
The writing on the site has one common thread: Everything is written by and for young feminists. “The whole point is to get girls writing and thinking about their own lives and about feminism,” says Zeilinger. “The content tends to be very personal; it’s based on our relationships, our bodies, and things that are central to our lives.” This approach leads to an eclectic mix that includes poetry, critiques of media coverage, and what she describes as “straight-up rants about sexist experiences.”
Balancing the demands of FBomb and her academics isn’t all that’s keeping Zeilinger busy. This past fall, she completed a book, an extension of FBomb titled A Little F’d Up. “The book is a guide for girls who don’t really know what feminism is or what it means for our generation,” she says. A Little F’d Up is scheduled to be published in April by Seal Press, a small feminist publishing house.
Zeilinger has also managed to squeeze in time for the Barnard Center for Research on Women, which enlisted her to be a part of an intergenerational panel at a conference the center co-sponsored, “Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later.” Alongside prominent scholars, attorneys, and activists, she discussed young people’s perspectives on sexual harassment.
Originally from the Cleveland, Ohio, area, Zeilinger discovered the world of feminist writing through an eighth-grade research project, and has remained an advocate ever since. “I realized that I had always been a feminist; I just didn’t know the name for it until I began to research,” she says. She launched FBomb during her sophomore year of high school in hopes of creating a medium through which young women could share their voices. “It turned out there were a lot of teenage girls looking for the same thing,” she says.
The content posted on FBomb has changed slightly as Zeilinger, along with many of her contributing writers, have transitioned from high school to college. “The FBomb community has grown together,” she says. Recent posts have focused on college-specific themes and campus events, and a column covering issues of sexuality was recently added.
Since arriving at Barnard, Zeilinger has been pleased to find an offline community of like-minded peers and supportive professors. “Barnard is such a great environment. I’ve become more comfortable identifying as a feminist, and I actually have the chance to discuss feminism and feminist issues in classes,” she says. “And that’s been a new experience that I can write about.”
—by Maura Ewing
To submit a listing to "SALON," send an e-mail to email@example.com
Pampered to Death: A Jaine Austen Mystery
by Laura Levine ’65
Kensington Books, 2011, $22
by Wendy Dubow Polins ’84
Hamilton Hall Press, 2011, $16
Cold Stone, White Lily
by Anne Bailey ’80
Friends of Julian, Norwich, UK, 2011, $15
See You in the Dark
by Lynne Sharon Schwartz ’59
Northwestern University Press, 2011, $16.95
What You Least Expect: Selected Poems 1980 - 2011
by Rebecca (Lou) Radner ’61
Class Action Ink, 2011, $12.95
The Adventures of M. M., Music Mouse
by Pia (Fiedler) Lord ’87
PublishAmerica, 2011, $16.95
Cato the Caterpillar
by Pia (Fiedler) Lord ’87
PublishAmerica, 2011, $24.95
by Pia (Fiedler) Lord ’87
PublishAmerica, 2011, $9.95
The Night the Moon Went Out
by Pia (Fiedler) Lord ’87
PublishAmerica, 2011, $12.95
V is for Vagina: Your A to Z Guide to Periods, Piercings, Pleasures, and so much more
by Alyssa Dweck ’85 and Robin Westen
Ulysses Press, 2012, $14.95
Ethics for Enemies: Terror, Torture, and War
by Frances Kamm ’69
Oxford University Press, 2011, $35
The Brazilian State: Debate and Agenda
edited by Laura (Rosenbaum) Randall ’57, Mauricio Font, and Janaina Saad
Lexington Books, 2011, $85
Assisted Living Administration and Management: Effective Practices and Model Programs in Elder Care
by Darlene Yee-Melichar ’80, Andrea Renwanz Boyle, and Cristina Flores
Springer Publishing Company, 2011, $70
Adirondack Style: Great Camps and Rustic Lodges
coauthored by Lynn Woods ’78 and Jane Mackintosh; photos by f-stop Fitzgerald and Richard McCaffrey
Universe Publishing, 2011, $50
Rites of Return: Diaspora Poetics and the Politics of Memory
Edited by Marianne Hirsch, William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia, and Nancy K. Miller
Columbia University Press, 2011, $27.50
Integrative Strategies for Cancer Patients: A Practical Resource for Managing the Side Effects of Cancer Therapy
by Elena J. Ladas and Kara M. Kelly, Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Columbia University
World Scientific Publishing Company, 2011, $39
Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution 1620-1720
by Carl Wennerlind, Assistant Professor of History
Harvard University Press, 2011, $39.95
“What’s for dinner?” is an increasingly loaded question, one that has little relationship to the relatively benign query our mothers and grandmothers faced. Consider the decisions that many of us confront nearly every day: what we choose to buy—organic? locally sourced? fair trade? sustainably harvested?; where we buy it—supermarket? farmers’ market? food co-op?; and how we prepare it. For many of us, the issue of feeding ourselves and our families has become an ongoing political debate.
“Much indeed does, depend on dinner,” said Elizabeth Castelli, professor and chair of the religion department and acting director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women, which sponsored the panel “What’s On Your Plate? The History and Politics of Food” this past November.
It wasn’t exactly the stuff of Food Network’s seductive recipes or glossy plates. Faculty members Kim F. Hall, Deborah Valenze, Hilary Callahan, and Paige West, explored some of the political, historical, and environmental issues around such basic staples as sugar, coffee, and milk, as well as genetically modified food, through wide-ranging and often provocative academic lenses.
For Kim F. Hall, the Lucyle Hook Chair and professor of English and Africana studies, the history of the banquet and sugar offer insight into economic relationships during the seventeenth century. The banquet in particular, “is a significant cultural and literary form in the seventeenth century that mediates desires about class, gender, and commerce,” she said. Hall noted that when sugar became cheaper, banquets became more elaborate. She also highlighted the discrepancy between the labor required to produce and bring to market the commodity and the illusion of ease that banquets suggested: “Wealth delivered without labor from nature, or from exotic, but domesticated people of color,” explained Hall, who’s currently working on a book about women, labor, and race in the Anglo-Caribbean sugar trade during the seventeenth century. The banquet and sugar enact a global fantasy that reinforces royal dominion over nature. The table, she said, “is an image of maritime control made entirely of sugar.”
Closer to our time, milk offers other insights into our ambivalent relationship to food, suggested Deborah Valenze, professor of history, and author of Milk: A Local and Global History, which was featured in the Salon section of the Fall 2011 issue of Barnard. Milk is, admittedly, “by, for, and about women,” said Valenze. “Milk originally comes from the breast,” she said, noting that the small statues and amulets of the goddess Isis nursing her son Horus depict the breast, “as a means of indicating sustenance.” Somehow, though, milk evolved from a remedy for “bodily ailments,” including “female problems,” to a more suspect substance before pasteurization, when milk sources were highly contaminated, sometimes by diseases like diphtheria and tuberculosis.
To Valenze, raw milk, the current craze, stands for “pure, unadulterated nature …it tastes like what we imagine the pastures that cows graze in taste like,” said Valenze. “People nowadays do seem to have had enough of modern food. Raw milk is a rebellion against all that. It raises a lot of questions about social class and the price of food … and how much we need to know about our food. Nowadays, there’s much more careful interrogation going on about how things got to the store.” Raw milk is a reminder about “how ambivalent we are about getting too close to nature,” said Valenze. “It’s a real tension.”
Other tensions—cultural, economic, and environmental—arise from the ways different foods are produced. Paige West, an associate professor of anthropology, has worked in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for the past 15 years, and has studied many groups including a coffee-growing community. In PNG, 86 percent of the coffee is grown on smallholder farms, which often pride themselves on how their coffee industry connects them to the global community. Two hours and 10 minutes of labor, at a cost of 15 cents an hour for that labor, translates into one pound of coffee that we consume. The single-origin coffee has an elite status in many Western societies, even as the growers in PNG are reduced to “savage” status. West explains that the Western lens that perceives and labels their cultures as “primitive” makes it possible for them to be dismissed in the political and economic realms, rather than according them the dignity of their work producing a commodity that is in fact highly prized by Western consumers.
There’s no ignoring the political, economic, environmental, or feminist issues in food, insisted Hilary Callahan, associate professor in the biology department. “Does our food cause all of our diseases?” she asked. “Our plates are filled with sugar, with cheese—and does that lead to our society being crippled by obesity, by diabetes, by heart disease? We can ask whether what we have on our plates is causing our environmental problems.”
Some of the foods that are part of our daily diet, like sugar that comes from sugar beets, are genetically engineered. It’s ridiculous how chemical our food has become, said Callahan, who pointed out that in the twenty-first century, we’re going back to a more natural way. She noted due to the pressure and need to feed a planet that currently hosts some 7 billion people, citing the example of genetically engineered papaya that is virus-resistant, and pointing out that we convert rainforests and grasslands into coffee and sugar fields. Added Callahan, “We also have to think about the environment…. These simplistic, quick techno-fixes
are obviously wrong.… When we look at food, we really are using it as a funnel, and then we broaden back out to agriculture, to marketplaces, and to other social institutions.”
The lively discussion raised questions for the audience to think about, even if there was no easy resolution to the issues. Whether it’s a matter of avoiding contamination or seeking out those sometimes-elusive “pure” products, however we define them, food is inherently messy and complicated, noted West.
—Merri Rosenberg ’78
Watch a video of the event.
Unlike the physicists who developed the science of the atom bomb during the late 1930s, many scientists never witness the often devastating consequences and ethical implications of their research. Take the case of mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Shelby Layne ’13, a Spanish and Latin American cultures major, told the audience at a fall 2011 Barnard event that people of that nation have paid a severe price for the scientific and technological advances that turned its minerals into valuable commodities. Conflict minerals reside in many of our cell phones, laptops, and digital cameras—they’re what make a cell phone vibrate, she told an engrossed crowd at the Held Auditorium. But the militia who controls the mining industry, she explained, have inflicted brutal violence upon the Congolese people. Layne also said that advocacy groups are asking people to urge electronics companies to only use conflict-free minerals.
The event at which Layne spoke, Awareness Into Action 2, focused specifically on the environmental impact of some of the most important scientific and technological advances of recent times. The student-produced leadership panel also provided a glimpse of a new interdisciplinary academic minor at Barnard: science, policy, and ethics—part of the Science and Public Policy (SCPP) program—that is designed to prepare scientists, policymakers, and citizens for the moral challenges posed by scientific and technological advances.
Putting environmental leadership into action
Awareness Into Action 2 served as the culmination of Diane Dittrick’s “Environmental Leadership, Ethics & Action” course. Dittrick, who serves as senior associate in environmental science and co-director of the environmental science laboratory, designed the interdisciplinary seminar to focus on environmental issues and leadership development; theseminar includes an ethics component taught by religion professor Randall Balmer. The course focuses on environmental leadership development through real-time learning experiences using digital media as a teaching tool. Student research is blogged weekly on Columbia University’s edblog Web site as well as showcased on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Web site OnEarth.org. Layne, who also introduced several other presentations, said that the mission of the class was to deepen students’ understanding of the human role in nature and its effects
on the earth’s ecosystem and biochemical cycles.
Physics professor Tim Halpin-Healy, who facilitates the new minor, opened the event by pointing to one of the most formidable challenges facing future generations: oil consumption. In a post-panel conversation he noted, “The bad news is that the global economy consumed about 1.2 trillion gallons of oil a year (equal to 1 cubic mile), and we only have 43 cubic miles of oil left. The good news is that we’ve got a bunch of bright young talents working on the solutions to our environmental problems.”
Among them is chemistry major Aliza Stein ’12, who explored biomimicry, the idea that nature has already addressed many of the problems contemporary society faces. For example, sharkskin, naturally resistant to bacteria, can be used on doorknobs and on hospital and school surfaces to prevent the spread of disease.
Anna Newman ’12, a biochemistry and education major, described how schools and community gardens are promoting environmental awareness. She talked about the potential for school gardens to address the problem of childhood obesity, and observed that when kids are planting their own food, it helps them think about how the food gets to their plate, and can inspire healthier eating habits.
Meanwhile, anthropology major Weyü Shameka Hodge ’13 built off an internship in Ecuador for her project on the abuses of petroleum extraction in disadvantaged communities. Hodge said that she’d never seen so much devastation in her life, and pointed out that the oil companies knocked down peoples’ houses to drill. Natives were dying of cancer due to contamination exposure, and they had no other place to work than for the very oil companies that were poisoning them.
In his closing remarks, Professor Halpin-Healy emphasized the importance of the interdisciplinary nature of Dittrick’s course. “It’s as much about ethics as it is about science,” he said. “My fear is that scientists going out in the field will come up against ethical dilemmas they’ve never faced or even thought about before. I hope this course and new minor will help prepare our students for the types of ethical challenges some of them are bound to face over the course of their careers.”
Fostering an interdisciplinary approach
The science, policy, and ethics minor grew out of a $200,000 Science Education for Tomorrow grant Barnard received 12 years ago from the National Science Foundation. Halpin-Healy implemented and facilitated the grant, which called for finding talented, engaging faculty from a variety of disciplines who were committed to matters of science, policy and ethics and would collaborate on upper-level, team-taught, and small-scale interdisciplinary seminars.
One course the minor incorporated was Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences Philip Ammirato’s “Genetics, Biodiversity and Society,” which he has offered almost every year since 1999. The course seeks to match scientists with economists and social scientists to explore the implications raised by plant biotechnology (the loss of old crop varieties in this time of modern agriculture, genetics and breeding) and genetic advances involving humans (stem cells, cloning, etc.). “The discussions try to seek some understanding of the biology behind the headlines, while appreciating the ramifications of such technological advances,” he says.
Students completing the minor must take two interdisciplinary seminars, one philosophy course, and two ethics-related courses. Halpin-Healy developed the program with science majors in mind, but students from a diverse range of majors have signed up for courses. “We draw broadly from a great constellation of majors, which is really fabulous,” he notes.
“Science & the State,” a course he taught in Spring 2011 with Professor of Political Science Richard Pious, provides a good example: The course roster included three physics majors and a few chemistry majors, along with students from environmental science, biology/neuroscience, political science, economics, history, and even a theatre-arts major. “The seminar was dominated by Barnard students, with a few Columbia kids in there for good measure,” Halpin-Healy said.
The Science and Public Policy program’s interdisciplinary nature leads to courses with fresh approaches to thoroughly studied scientific subjects. For example, Pious asks students to examine the ethical dimensions of critical decisions made by nuclear scientists or governmental policymakers. “Students see that science is not just about discovery in the physical world, but also about decision-making in the moral universe,” Pious said.
One of the most valuable aspects of the program may be its potential to bring together distinguished faculty and passionate students from many different corners of the Barnard campus. “Team-teaching within the SCPP program has been one of the most satisfying experiences in my 22-plus years at Barnard,” says Halpin-Healy. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity to cross departmental boundaries, and it epitomizes the great interdisciplinary endeavors that are possible at a premier small liberal-arts college such as Barnard.”
—by Deenah Vollmer