Comedian Henny Youngman once quipped: “Just got back from a pleasure trip: I took my mother-in-law to the airport.” Mothers-in-law are the easy butts of jokes, often stereotyped as controlling, ugly, nasty, and cruel. The barbs poke at a perplexing fact: When we marry, our spouse’s family instantly becomes ours too, yet they’re strangers with different values, customs, and expectations for everything from relationships with their children to gift giving. Navigating these relationships can be so challenging that family members resort to jabs and digs to mask their discomfort.
It doesn’t have to be that way, says Ruth Nemzoff, who offers tools for positive interactions in her new book, Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). If it’s any comfort, she says, tensions between spouses and in-laws are universal. She discovered that truth when speaking to audiences here and abroad over a three-year period while promoting her 2008 book, Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children. Audience members regularly pulled her aside to lament stressful relationships with their in-laws. Nemzoff knew she had the makings of her next book.
Don’t Roll Your Eyes explores how in- law bonds can be strained when families confront the challenges of intermarriage, children, money, and death and dying. “People think in-laws don’t matter, but you’re going to be involved with these people if they get sick, when a grandchild is born, or when there’s a health crisis,” says Nemzoff, a resident scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center. Her other roles have included professor, legislator, and doctoral student, as well as wife, mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother. The Boston native enrolled at Barnard after succumbing to the lure of New York City, earning a master’s degree in counseling from Columbia in 1964. She received her doctorate in administration, planning, and social policy in 1979 from Harvard. She also served in the New Hampshire legislature from 1975 to 1981.
Friends may rally in an emergency, but family members often remain the first line of defense. “You might not have expected to be living in the same house with your mother-in-law, but she may be the only one able to help,” she says. The value of family as caretakers hit home nearly three years ago when her Boston-area home of 25 years was damaged in a fire. “It was really the kids, in-laws included, who led us around until we were back on our feet,” says Nemzoff. With her husband, Harris Berman, she has four children, including Sarabeth Berman ’06, four in-law children, and seven grandchildren.
Married for nearly 50 years, Nemzoff says her respect for her mother and her in-laws grew over time. “I understood it,” she says. “The mother really loves her son and gave a lot to him. And I think she has some rights to his affection and his finances if needed. Parenting is a lot of work and sacrifice.”
Adjusting to evolving roles is a lifelong process. People learn to compromise, soften rough edges, ignore annoying habits, and tolerate, or perhaps even appreciate, quirks. “Be forgiving,” she advises. “Give people a break when they call it wrong.” Nemzoff encourages both generations to recognize that their perceptions of one another may be colored by their own expectations about childrearing, holiday traditions, spending, and saving. Rigid beliefs can trigger judgmental attitudes, and anyone who feels judged is also likely to feel insecure. She urges compassion and understanding. In-law relationships, whether new or established, can be deepened if the parties respect the connection that turned them from strangers into relatives. “If we want to be in a relationship with the children,” she says, “we have to love what they love.”
—by June D. Bell
A class with the legendary poet and late Columbia professor Kenneth Koch taught Jamie Babbit skills she uses each time she directs a television show. Koch would assign students to write in the style of a particular poet. “He’d say ‘write like Emily Dickinson,’ and we’d have to be able to imitate the style and bring our own creative flair to it,” she recalls. It’s the same in television; show creators set the tone for a new program, then call in directors like Babbit to direct individual episodes, a role Babbit likens to “being invited for Thanksgiving dinner as the guest of honor and you’ve never met the family before,” but one in which she feels at ease. “I find myself using that skill all the time—deconstructing the visual language that has been used and imitating it.”
Babbit has also written and directed several independent films. Her first was the 1999 satirical comedy But I’m a Cheerleader. Starring Natasha Lyonne, the movie is about an all-American high schooler whose parents suspect she is gay and send her to “sexual redirection” school. The film won multiple festival awards and landed Babbit on Variety’s “50 Creatives to Watch” list. She has since directed The Quiet (2005) and the forthcoming Breaking the Girls, and she wrote and directed Itty Bitty Titty Committee (2007).
In the two feature films she wrote, gay female characters take journeys of self-discovery. “She brings a unique perspective to her movies—being a woman, a lesbian, and telling stories relevant to both,” says Andrea Sperling, a producer of Babbit’s films. The two are also former longtime partners and have two children. “She tells stories about women who have to get through, learn, strengthen themselves . . . and change people, whether it’s politically, sexually, or emotionally.”
Babbit’s own journey toward a career began at Barnard. Through the career services office, she landed an internship her first year with the producer of Dead Poets Society. A Centennial Scholar (former Columbia professor Larry Engel was her mentor), she used her scholarship money on summer film studies at NYU. She also took film classes at Columbia. But she always planned to pursue an international- affairs career and, like her father, attend Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). A semester in Ghana brought a change in thinking: She spent her spare time shooting footage of the lavishly decorated taxis common in West Africa. “I was more interested in making a movie than in doing foreign service,” she says. That footage became a film, which she handed in as her senior thesis. “At Barnard, I was able to explore all of it, then figure out what I was most interested in.”
After graduation, she landed a job in Los Angeles on the set of her first big studio movie. “I realized that an $80-million movie is similar to a student film in that it’s really just the director, photographer, and actors—you just have more support. It became demystified.” She spent her spare time writing the script for But I’m a Cheerleader. “You have to pursue two things at once,” explains Babbit. “So by the time you get a chance, you are ready.” She took the script to the Sundance Film Festival and secured funding; by the next year she showed the finished movie there.
After this break, Babbit told her agent she wanted to try television directing, a field that still has relatively few women. TV writer Ryan Murphy, who went on to create or co-create Nip/Tuck, Glee, and American Horror Story, among other shows, had seen her film and in 2000 hired her to direct his show, Popular. She has since directed episodes of a wide range of shows, from the chatty comedy Gilmore Girls, starring Lauren Graham ’88, to the thriller-mystery series Revenge. Babbit especially enjoys working on such shows as Bunheads and Rizzoli & Isles, both created by women and exploring relationships between them. She’s also currently writing a movie about two sisters—one of whom just got out of rehab— working as maids in Cleveland, Babbit’s hometown, so she’s especially excited about the film.
Babbit thinks her career path is one for which many Barnard graduates would be well suited. “It requires persistence and a kind of fearlessness in pursuing what you want to do, and I feel that a lot of Barnard women are fearless and persistent.”
—by Abigail Beshkin
Marlena Holter ’15 spends her weekdays like most Barnard students—studying for an upcoming test, rushing to class, and hanging out with her suite mates. But by eight o’clock on Saturday mornings, she’s spinning, jumping, and pivoting on the ice during a practice that lasts eight hours, with another eight- hour session on Sunday. Holter competes with the Skyliners Synchronized Skating Team, which draws skaters from the tristate area. She is part of the 19-member senior line, or division, which, along with the junior line, is a member of Team USA. The entire team of nine lines takes part in competitions throughout the country; junior and senior lines also compete internationally.
Holter started skating at age 7, after admiring the Olympic figure skaters she watched on TV. By high school, she was practicing 35 hours a week, leaving her house in Westchester at 5:15 AM to train before school, and returning to the ice after classes. “Skating became my entire life,” she says. Holter’s team won national championship titles in the junior and juvenile divisions in March 2011; she is headed to the Spring Cup, an international competition to be held in Milan in 2013.
Attending Barnard enables Holter to keep competing with the Skyliners, but in addition to 25 hours a week of skating, strength training, and ballet and acting classes as well as traveling to competitions, she is pursuing a major in neuroscience and doing research in the laboratory of biology professor John Glendinning. Her experiments deal with how mammals taste sugars, research that may shed light on humans and obesity. Most days find Holter at the lab conducting behavioral experiments and caring for the mice that are her subjects.
“Marlena has to work incredibly hard to balance all of her academic and skating demands,” says Glendinning. “What has impressed me most is that despite all these demands on her time, she manages to remain calm, focused, and cheerful.”
Given her schedule, Holter often has to tell friends she can’t meet them for a party or outing. “When we’re out on the ice on a Saturday morning, we all know what we did last night—we went right to bed,” she says. But the camaraderie of her teammates makes up for the missed parties. “There’s something to be said for having 18 other people who completely understand what you’re dedicating your life to. I’ve been skating with some of these girls since we were 8 years old,” she adds.
After college, Holter plans to spend a year skating on a team in Finland before attending medical school. She was inspired to pursue medicine as a career after suffering a concussion while skating and being treated by a neurosurgeon. Ultimately, she hopes to practice sports medicine. “Marlena is a marvel,” says Lisa Hollibaugh, Barnard’s first-year class dean. “Any new student who dives into the neuroscience/pre- med track is challenged by the rigorous workload, and yet she has managed to adapt to her course load along with her full-time skating practice schedule, with fantastic results.
Her mother, Pat Holter, acknowledges that skating has helped her daughter develop impressive study habits. “The skaters all do well in school because of the discipline and time management they learn,” she says. “Marlena has a tremendous level of endurance. She can do schoolwork for hours.” Both parents have had to wake up at 5 AM on many days and sacrifice numerous weekends to drive Holter and her younger sister, also a synchronized skater, to practices and competitions. “It’s such a special sport,” says Pat Holter. “With both girls we did soccer, karate, and other activities, and this is what Marlena chose to do.” She is a strong technical skater and serves as the senior-line captain, which requires her to call out the steps and provide support to her teammates.
Still, for all the demands of training and competing while handling a full course load, Holter says she is grateful for the opportunities skating has given her. “Stepping out on the ice at an international competition—not many people get to do that.”
—by Jennifer Altmann
In her first high-profile case, Nancy Gertner defended Susan Saxe, an antiwar activist accused of robbery and murder in a Brighton, Mass., bank heist. Then in her late 20s, her experience had consisted mainly of representing women in divorce court and handling a few criminal trials. Though she had not planned to defend the lesbian radical feminist, the case would prove a watershed moment for her career as all eyes focused on Gertner and her client—and most expected them to fail. “I have no idea why I took the case except that I could not acknowledge my own fear,” she recalls. “If we failed, we were narcissistically carrying the entire mantle of our generation.”
Once she accepted the challenge, Gertner developed a friendship with Saxe and immersed herself in mounting Saxe’s defense. “Her background was similar to mine,” she says. “Visiting her in jail was an experience that I never forgot—even as a judge—what it’s like to hear the doors slam when you go to prison. Those are the kinds of experiences that I think we all should have on the bench.”
The first trial ended in a hung jury, which few lawyers, reporters, or others expected. Articles on the trial referred to Gertner as the “lady lawyer”—if they referred to her at all—highlighting how little the public thought of Gertner or female criminal-defense attorneys at
the time. Saxe later pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but the highly charged case helped make a name for Gertner and her Boston law practice. As a lawyer, and later a federal judge, she would continue to spark controversy and advocate for important social issues— and would win the respect of her opponents.
Known for wearing red dresses in court and, early in her career, carrying her legal briefs in shopping bags, Gertner kept a file on the gender insults and sexual discrimination she encountered from judges and other lawyers. Despite, or perhaps because of, her struggles to be taken seriously in the male-dominated world of law, she went on to handle cases involving sexual harassment, abortion, murder, sex discrimination (including a lawsuit against Harvard Law School for discrimination in a tenure issue). At the start of her career, she also represented a woman whose psychiatrist was accused of having sex with her.
Now, three decades after the Susan Saxe case, Gertner shows few signs of retreating from the public eye. Beacon Press published her memoir, In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate, in 2011; she now juggles speaking engagements, full- time teaching at Harvard Law School, and work on a second book about her time on the bench. She says she’s also been approached about running for political office and hasn’t ruled out that possibility. Indeed, hanging up her judge’s robes means that Gertner can air her opinions much more freely. “As my husband says, now that I can speak, I can’t shut up,” says the law professor. “I have a lot that I’ve held in over the last several years.” She spoke candidly about her career and the challenges facing professional women during an alumnae event and book-signing hosted by the Barnard Club of Boston in October.
Gertner grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the youngest daughter of a Jewish family with roots in Poland and Hungary. Her older sister, Roz, attended Barnard and Gertner followed, studying political science and serving as president of the undergraduate association during her senior year.
She arrived at the College as one person and came out another. As Anna Quindlen, who is quoted in Gertner’s book says, “I arrived at college with...a trunk full of perfect pleated kilts, and perfect monogrammed sweaters, by Christmas vacation I had another perfect uniform: overalls, turtlenecks...and the perfect New York City Barnard affect— part hyperintellectual, part ennui...” After reading The Feminine Mystique and discovering her social conscience, Gertner left college an antiwar protestor and an outspoken feminist, though admittedly the kind of feminist who shaved her legs. “We were the transition generation,” she says, noting that she remains in touch with a group of friends she met at the College. “The school I started off at was not the school I graduated from and not remotely the school it is today. It was the place I first marched against the Vietnam War.”
While at Barnard, Gertner took a constitutional-law class, an experience that, when paired with spirited debates with her father growing up, sparked her interest in studying law. “I still have my notebook from that class,” she says. “It was seared into my memory.”
At Yale Law School, where Gertner was one of 20 women in her class, she struck up a friendship with classmate Hillary Rodham and met Bill Clinton, who would later nominate her for the federal judgeship. After Yale, Gertner worked as a law clerk, and then practiced at a firm in Boston. Her long- term plan was to become a professor rather than practice law. “But after the experience of literally saving someone’s life in the Saxe case, I couldn’t leave,” she says. “I just did what I thought was right.”
Throughout Gertner’s career, she’s advocated for what she believed, even when the path to justice was winding and unclear. In one case, she defended a local college student who’d been found guilty of rape because Gertner thought the original charges were not believable. On appeal the conviction was overturned, and her client went free. Still, Gertner worried about the precedent set for future rape cases since the appeal initially resulted in a decision that was not helpful to women victims, and went beyond what she’d originally asked for. As she wrote in her memoir, “Once you are enlisted to represent someone, you cannot control the outcome, the court’s reasoning, [or] the impact on other cases.”
For much of her twenties and thirties, Gertner says she was “determined notto marry and have children, part of my rebellion in direct proportion to my mother wanting it.” She met her future husband, ACLU attorney John Reinstein, when they worked together on abortion cases. When the couple married, Gertner became stepmother to Reinstein’s daughter, Sarah. Gertner had her first of two sons, Stephen, at age 39, and jokes that her experiences of motherhood and menopause ran “neck and neck.”
When asked about balancing motherhood and a high-profile legal career, Gertner explains that starting a family later in life allowed her the stature and resources to create a flexible schedule when she needed it. But, she notes, her experience can’t be generalized. “Between the two of us, we could create an environment where [balancing children and a career] is possible, but I don’t want anyone ever to believe that that’s the only right thing to do,” she says. “It was right for us.”
Over the course of her career, Gertner has received numerous awards. Most recently, the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts awarded her the Lelia J. Robinson Award, which recognizes women who “have captured the spirit of pioneering in the legal profession.” She says choosing a favorite award—like choosing a favorite legal case—would be like choosing which child she loves most. However, she admits that being the second woman (after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) to receive the Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association in 2008 “has a special resonance because of who the namesake is.” Gertner says she admires Marshall’s clarity of vision in dissent after dissent. “[In a speech] Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said that he brought to the court a set of experiences, perspectives, and context that was unique to that Court: The experience of having been reviled, discriminated against, and representing the powerless and dispossessed,” Gertner explains.
As a professor of law, all too often she meets students at Harvard who are “hell-bent to pay back loans and seeking conservative career choices.” Gertner wrote In Defense of Women because “I wanted to talk about what it was like to make choices based on what you love, to write about making a career in the public interest. Life would have been easier for me if I hadn’t made those choices.”
The gender discrimination that she encountered as a young lawyer in the seventies followed her even as the Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed her nomination for the federal judgeship. She recalls mobilizing every prosecutor she had ever opposed to send letters of support. Still, Gertner says her appointment was held up for 10 months. Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, who had recommended her for the federal judgeship in the first place, worked tirelessly on her behalf. The Senate eventually confirmed her in 1994, and she served on the bench until 2011. Along the way, Kennedy served as an inspiration. “He was willing to use his legislative skills towards social change,” she says. “It didn’t matter whether there would be consequences.”
Even after her appointment, Gertner was criticized for her outspoken tendencies. Judges are often expected to be impartial, but impartiality is a struggle, and the question is how to achieve it since it’s not something that’s innate. “None of us is born neutral and without opinions,” she argues. “We select judges in their forties and fifties, and life [gives] you opinions. The enterprise is to know where those opinions end and the job begins.”
Those dynamics explain why Gertner is working on a second book, this one about the role of judges in contemporary society. “I’m writing about being a judge, not in the way that the academic books have treated it, but talking about the real pressures on judges,” she explains. In her time on the bench, Gertner observed what she describes as pressure to avoid controversy and dismiss cases on technical grounds. “These forces really undermine access to justice, and it cuts across right and left,” she says.
—by Susan Johnston
—Photograph by Dorothy Hong
Janna Levin '88
“I came to science late,” says astrophysicist, writer, and Barnard associate professor Janna Levin ’88. She had been studying philosophy when she discovered a passion for a more tangible field of study. “It was the universality of math that was appealing,” she says. “Math was still true, and that was fascinating.” Today, Levin splits her time among a range of passions. She is a professor of physics and astronomy, a scientist studying black holes, an award-winning author of two books, including the novel A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, and a mother. She enjoys them all. “We’re too accustomed to having small identities,” she says, noting that her writing and her research never compete with each other except in terms of hours in the day. “They are very different experiences,” she affirms. This spring, Levin will be on sabbatical at the California Institute of Technology, continuing to study what happens when black holes collide, and recording the sounds the universe makes when space starts to fumble and vibrate.
Elnaz Menhaji-Klotz '02
Elnaz Menhaji-Klotz doesn’t have the kind of career that can be left at the office—or the lab. Her role as a principal scientist at Pfizer Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., means she works long hours with biologists and researchers to create compounds that could end up as new medicines to treat cardiovascular and metabolic disorders such as heart disease and diabetes. The compounds that prove successful in initial tests go on to the clinical-trial phase. At Barnard, Menhaji-Klotz was drawn to organic chemistry, which she continued to study at Yale, earning a PhD in the field. “It’s all about concepts,” she says. “I didn’t feel like I had to memorize things. We faced problems like, ‘Here’s a molecule. How do you make this?’ That’s what I do now.” Today she applies those concepts to research that’s both challenging and fulfilling. “The potential rewards are so huge,” Menhaji-Klotz says. “I love it. This work can have such a great impact on human lives.”
Bonnie Fleming '93
Bonnie Tamminga Fleming sees her work as fundamental: “Particle physicists work to break the world down into the smallest building blocks.” After graduating from Barnard, Fleming spent three years as a beam operator on a particle accelerator at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. “The concept of smashing particles open to learn more about the universe attracted me to particle physics,” she says. Fleming returned to Columbia University for her PhD, and now heads an experimental-research group at Yale University focusing on high-energy neutrino physics. Fleming partners with Fermilab outside Chicago, where she works on experiments that often involve hundreds of scientists from institutions around the world over the course of many years. “In all of these experiments, we’re working to discover new properties of neutrinos and understand what they can tell us about the universe,” she says.
Archna Patel '03
Archna Patel is only half joking when she says that watching CSI led her to a career as a DNA analyst. As a student, she loved law but not the prospect of life in a courtroom. She also relished studying chemistry, and understanding how explosions occur from the simplest actions; the tiny details capable of producing such large consequences fascinated Patel. “On CSI, they found connections between the smallest of things, and that solved the crimes.” Patel now works as a criminalist in California’s state department of justice in the San Francisco area, where she maintains a database of DNA samples. “You’re given only a number of a sample” without any accompanying identifying information, she says of the cases that come into her lab. Her job is to look for DNA matches. “[Ultimately] when you find out the details of a specific case you’ve worked on, say, the murder of a child, you feel you’ve helped bring justice and closure to that family.”
Kaitlin Kratter '05
“When I got to college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” says astrophysicist Kaitlin Kratter. But during her first year at Barnard, she took two science courses. Then she heard about a summer research internship at the American Museum of Natural History. She got the internship—and it changed her career trajectory forever. Kratter spent two summers working at the museum. She completed her senior thesis project there, modeling the sensitivity of an instrument that images planets around distant stars; the device was developed by astrophysicist and American Museum of Natural History curator Ben Oppenheimer. Her early research was illuminating. “At the museum, I really got a sense of what a career in astrophysics would look like,” she says. Now a Hubble Fellow at the University of Colorado-Boulder, Kratter researches binary-star systems and studies what happens to a planet’s orbit when it circles two stars. Her work made headlines last summer when she co-authored an analysis on the irregular orbits of Pluto’s newly discovered moons.
Susan Schwartz-Giblin ’59 & Marian Meyers ’59
NEUROSCIENTIST & BIOCHEMIST
Susan Schwartz-Giblin planned to teach high-school science after graduation. Her mentor, biology professor Ingrith Deyrup, had another idea. “You’re going to graduate school,” Deyrup told her, and helped make it happen. Schwartz-Giblin earned a PhD in physiology from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She built a distinguished career as a researcher and professor, serving for 11 years as dean at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Schwartz-Giblin views mentorship as a most important responsibility. She counsels career-minded women: You don’t have to choose between work and family. “There is no right time to have children—you make time. If the only women who had children were those with free time, it wouldn’t be a very interesting world.”
“When I was 12, I knew that I wanted to be a scientist,” says Marian Bennett Meyers, co-president of her class with Schwartz-Giblin. Her high-school chemistry teacher let her spend hours in the school’s lab each week. When she entered Barnard, she’d already decided to pursue a career in chemistry. “Barnard taught women scientists, and invested in labs, teachers, and equipment at a time when women were not readily accepted as scientists,” she says. With a PhD in biochemistry from Cornell, Meyers joined a lab at Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center, researching cancer-drug resistance. She discovered sorcin, a previously unknown calcium- binding protein, and subsequently discovered that sorcin also plays a role in cardiac function. “In the future, this information may help improve the treatment of heart disease and increase our knowledge of calcium’s function in cell biology,” Meyers says.
Active volunteers on behalf of Barnard, both Schwartz-Giblin and Meyers have joined forces to underscore the need for science majors by encouraging alumnae support for scholarships.
History professor Herbert Sloan discusses the idea that the Constitution should be revised every generation.
It was a radical idea, then and now. Driven largely by his obsession with the problem of debt—both national and personal—then-U.S. minister to France Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison dated September 6, 1789, detailed a process by which the U.S. Constitution could be revisited, reconsidered, and recast for every generation. Writing from Paris, he said: The question, whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also among the fundamental principles of every government.
Jefferson rejected the notion of a “perpetual Constitution” or even a “perpetual law.” The “living generation” must determine its own course, as Jefferson saw it, and not be burdened by the debts of the previous generation.
“Jefferson figured out the lifespan of a generation using demographic data available at the time,” says Herbert Sloan, professor of history at Barnard and author of Principle and Interest: Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Debt (Oxford University Press, 1995). “He came to the conclusion that at the end of 19 years, half of the people living at the beginning of that 19-year period would be dead and replaced by another cohort. And that meant that whatever they had enacted no longer had any validity because it wasn’t the expressed will of those who were alive—the former majority no longer exists.”
The idea first came up in conversations Jefferson had been having while in Paris, and took shape as he considered the consequences of those conversations. “There were other aspects of context that play into this,” says Sloan. “Jefferson is worried about his own debts but he’s also interested in what’s going on in the French Revolution, and he’s interested in the work at that time in creating a new constitution for France. The debts of the U.S. are also under consideration.” But Jefferson’s idea would go nowhere.
With the national debt now over $16.3 trillion, what would Jefferson say of the fiscal problems the U.S. faces in 2013? In the wake of the recent spate of tragic mass shootings, how would he respond to those who strictly interpret the Second Amendment of the Constitution as a right to bear arms of all kinds even in non-military circumstances? We posed these questions and more to Sloan, a Barnard faculty member since 1986, who has spent the better part of the last 35 years studying and teaching Jefferson and the history of the U.S. Constitution.
You delivered a Constitution Day talk titled “Thomas Jefferson Was Right: We Need a New Constitution Every Generation.” Tell us a little more about this idea.
Jefferson felt very strongly that it wasn’t enough to say, “We’re satisfied with what we have.” Rather, he believed you had to go through the mechanics, create a new constitution, or somehow positively demonstrate that what you have works. It sounds so radical to talk about changing the U.S. Constitution, but most state constitutions have provisions that require reconsideration at fixed intervals. However, people don’t pay much attention to state constitutions—it’s the ultimate boring subject. Starting in the 1820s, state after state adopted provisions for periodic revisions of their constitutions. In New York, it’s every 20 years.
Also, the U.S. Constitution hasn’t always been quite as sacred as it is today. At the end of the 19th century, there were people calling for pretty dramatic changes to it. They were willing to fiddle with things. There were real amendments—on women’s suffrage and prohibition, for example. Teddy Roosevelt [president from 1901-1909] and others, like [the socialist and union leader] Eugene V. Debs were of the attitude that the Constitution needed to be modernized. Charles Evans Hughes, as governor of New York from 1907 to 1910, talked about how we are governed by a constitution, but the Constitution is what the courts and judges say it is. Hughes became a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, eventually chief justice.
When did the most significant shift to a more rigid and unchanging view of the Constitution occur?
The current phase of this is a post-1970 event. Until then, there was more flexibility about it in terms of attitude. In the last 30 years or so we’ve seen this resurgence of conservative understanding of what the Constitution is about. Today it’s a more impacted situation. People on the more progressive side are afraid of changing the Constitution because they worry that we might lose the Bill of Rights. If you’re on the right, there are different forms of “originalism,” interpreting and following only the Constitution’s original meaning and the intent of those who drafted it. Conservative interest groups have made successful efforts in supporting this understanding of how the Constitution should be interpreted.
What do you think Jefferson would make of all this recent talk about gun rights and the Second Amendment, especially given recent high-profile mass shootings, like the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut?
Jefferson certainly thought it was appropriate to have an armed citizenry within a well-regulated militia—he actually didn’t believe in having a standing army—but he wouldn’t recognize the situation that exists today. He would insist on the Second Amendment, but he’d be appalled by how the amendment has come to be understood.
The original language of the Second Amendment has no relation in practical terms to 2013, and what the United States has become. We’re stuck with this notion [of the right of the people “to keep and bear arms”] because we’re stuck with this document. And the fact that recent Supreme Court decisions have suggested the difficulty with respect to gun control indicates how problematic this amendment is. In addition, state legislatures are loosening up gun-control laws well beyond anything that the Supreme Court demands. There have been recent passages all over the country allowing for concealed weapons. The popular will seems to be in favor of loosening gun control rather than tightening it. We’ve had shooting incidents like Columbine and Newtown; they create an enormous outcry and then it gradually goes away. So it’s not just the poor old Constitution, it’s what people actually want.
You’ve written about Thomas Jefferson’s relationship to debt. In your book, Principle and Interest, you say Jefferson was obsessed with debt, and struggled with it himself. What do you think Jefferson would make of the national debt, and people’s individual debt?
Jefferson wanted to put the debt on the road to extinction—that was the meaning of his time in office. He would really have problems with the way in which American public finance is managed today. But, he lived a long time ago. While we certainly want to do him honor, it’s a very different situation now. Also, Americans aren’t willing to give up their credit cards. It’s hard to apply the pay-as-you-go models that he was fond of to the way contemporary Americans live. I think, arguably, that most of modern America would be anathema to Thomas Jefferson. He was an 18th-century gentleman. He’d be distressed by society today; he’d be one of these people who would say the problem with America is the one outlined in Bowling Alone, the 2000 book by Robert Putnam, that discusses how Americans have become increasingly disconnected from community and democratic engagement. Our civic life is at a low point; political participation is hopeless. This is not what Jefferson imagined an active citizenry to be.
In addition to Principle and Interest, Herbert Sloan is the author of numerous articles on the Colonial and Revolutionary periods, the founding fathers, and the Constitution. He earned his bachelor’s at Stanford, his JD at the University of Michigan, and his PhD at Columbia University. He is at work on his next book about Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Gouverneur Morris and how they came to the conclusion that the Constitution was seriously deficient.
—by Dimitra Kessenides '89
—Photograph by Dorothy Hong
In 1973, when she joined Barnard’s toddler center, Patricia Henderson Shimm was definitely breaking new ground. Not only were there no other pre-school programs that specifically catered to the toddler set at that time, the very notion of sending 2-year-olds to nursery school was an entirely new concept. Just finding enough toddlers to get the centerup and running was a major challenge. “It was basically unheard of,” says Shimm, who was hired to serve as the center’s founding teacher by its then director, the late Frances Schacter. An assistant psychology professor at the College, Schacter specialized in early-childhood development, as have subsequent directors, and conceived the idea for the center.
Shimm’s original mandate was to create “a low-key play center” where parents could bring their youngsters two mornings a week and Barnard professors and students could study the toddlers’ development, an important aspect of the center; at the time there was very little research being done on that specific age group. Research on toddler development continues to play a vital role even as the facility encourages young children to learn through creative play and activities. All studentswho work at the center, which is affiliated with Barnard’s psychology department, are enrolled in an eight- credit yearlong course. Undergraduate and graduate students, researchers, and educational specialists from around the world are frequent visitors and observers as well.
Persuading parents to sign up their toddlers took some real doing. “At first, no one came,” says Shimm, who remembers literally standing outside the Barnard campus on Broadway in hopes of finding mothers with children to fill the center’s ranks. Thanks to her recruiting efforts, the fledgling institution ultimately managed to attract seven toddlers in its kick-off year, including a few children of Barnard professors. In the ensuing years word about the center’s toddler program continued to spread.
Fast-forward several decades, and the center, marking its 40th anniversary this year, has clearly overcome any recruiting challenges. From the initial seven youngsters, the facility has a current enrollment of 50 and a long waiting list of prospective applicants. It has also expanded its offerings to include both morning and afternoon sessions, and expanded the age range, now encompassing toddlers from 1 1/2 to 3 years old. During this time, the center has become a model for many new toddler-care facilities in the United States and abroad and is used by nearly 300 psychology students a year to learn about child development. Under Tovah Klein, who has a PhD in psychology and became director in 1995, the Center for Toddler Development has continued to build on its sterling reputation for providing a rich, nurturing learning environment for toddlers while also doing first-rate research on early-childhood development and play as well as on parenting.
Additionally, its popularity with local parents, including high-profile New Yorkers such as actress Sarah Jessica Parker and journalists Juju Chang and Maria Hinojosa ’84, has continued to grow. “I was really grateful for the experience,” says Parker, the mother of three center alumni, who believes the tools she picked up from the staff on how to communicate with her children and establish routines have been invaluable. “We’ve used those tools every day as parents,” she says. She thought so highly of the center that she also recommended it to her brother and sister, both of whom sent their children there.
Patricia Mallon ’63, a natural resources major, believes strongly that women’s colleges should continue not only to survive, but also thrive. “I really, really believe that single- sex education should be available,” she says. “It dismays me that several of the other [Seven Sister] schools have gone over to the other side. I thought if I could help, I want to do it.” Throughout the years, Mallon had supported Barnard. Then, her late husband discovered charitable gift annuities. After learning how they work, Mallon made a gift to Barnard in 2000, and followed it with additional gifts in 2006 and 2012.
A retired librarian consultant, Mallon makes it clear she isn’t wealthy. She simply finds that gift annuities make good economic sense and allow her to provide for herself while also supporting a women’s college for future generations.
The way a charitable gift annuity works is that the donor makes a gift to the College of $10,000 or more and receives an immediate charitable tax deduction. The donor chooses the annuity beneficiary, often the donor herself, and Barnard then pays that person a fixed annual income for life at a rate based on his or her age at the time of the gift. It is possible to name up to two lifetime beneficiaries. An older beneficiary typically receives a higher rate of return, but any donor can establish a higher rate by deferring the annuity payouts to a future date. As an example, Mallon deferred payments on her first gift annuity until she’s 73, at which point she’ll receive payouts at a double-digit rate. She started receiving quarterly payments, though the terms of the payouts may vary, from her 2006 gift right away, and will begin receiving quarterly payments from her 2012 gift at the end of this year. The annuity payouts have the added benefit of being partially tax free. Upon the lifetime beneficiary’s death, any funds remaining in the gift annuity go to Barnard.
Barbara Kelman Ravage ’67, an English literature major, is a freelance writer whose income varies greatly from year to year. After a particularly profitable 2009, her accountant advised her to make a major donation to offset her tax bill. She was about to turn 65, and retirement was on her mind. Ravage, who had only intermittently contributed to the College over the years, then decided it was the right time to make a gift to Barnard to set up an annuity. Another profitable period a couple of years later resulted in a second charitable gift annuity to Barnard. “At some point I realized that I have now given Barnard close to 10 times as much as my father paid for a year’s tuition back in the 1960s,” she says. “He is no longer alive and college tuition has increased more than tenfold, but I feel that in some way I am thanking him for making my Barnard education possible.”
Gloria Grubman Sandford ’44 believes that her Barnard education enabled her to meet some of the intense challenges she’s faced in her life. A self-described “nerd,” she was only 15 when she started college, but she relished Barnard’s intellectual atmosphere. “I couldn’t have found a more perfect environment,” Sandford says. “I was determined to become a successful woman and stand on my own two feet.” Her father always told her she might have to take care of herself someday; she wanted to be prepared to support herself and “be somebody,” as she puts it.
Following graduation, Sandford headed to California for graduate school, having earned a full scholarship. She returned to New York two years later with a master’s degree in political science/Latin American political affairs. Bilingual in English and Spanish, she became the official interpreter for the Venezuelan consulate. In time, she married and became the mother of three daughters. Then tragedy struck: Her husband of 18 years died of a heart attack, leaving her to raise their children—ages 3 to 12—on her own. Believing they needed her more than ever, she sought a solution that kept her at home butalso provided the family with sufficient income. She went back to school and studied finance. “I took to that like a bird takes to flying,” she says proudly. A successful investor, she provided for her daughters, put them through college, and helped them buy their first homes.
Sandford had supported Barnard over the years, but her charitable gift annuity in 2007 was her first major gift, and she’s currently working out details for another. “Without the education that I got I never would have had the drive or the confidence to figure out what I had to do in my life alone with my girls,” she says. Mallon echoes a similar sentiment. “I was relatively shy and scared,” she notes, and describes her freshman year at Barnard as the best of her life. “My Barnard education...gave me self-confidence.”
For Ellen O’Brien Saunders ’63, a medieval-history major, coming to Barnard from a Midwestern public high school was initially a shock, but she learned what excellence is. When she ultimately took on the assignment of co-chair of the planned- giving subcommittee for her class reunion, she learned about the advantages of charitable gift annuities—resulting in her establishment of one in 2012. Saunders feels a lot of women are allergic to learning about money and financial planning; she encourages her friends and alumnae to read about annuities on Barnard’s website, barnard.edu/development/ planned-gifts/, ask questions, and gather information. She thought carefully about her decision, finding it satisfying from both financial and emotional perspectives. “It helps me to think I’m making a contribution when I’m no longer around to make annual gifts,” Saunders says. “I’m giving the College some stability in its planning and its future.”
Somewhat intimidated by the accomplishments of some of her classmates (who include Erica Mann Jong and Martha Kostyra Stewart), Mallon avoided reunions until her 20th in 1983. At the final luncheon of Reunion weekend she looked around and saw a table for the class of 1933. “I thought, “Those women are 50 years out of college and they...look good,” spurring her to attend her 40- and 45-year reunions. “Now I’m here,” she adds. Thanks to her and others like her, the chances are good that many Barnard women will also reach that milestone.
—by Lois Elfman, additional reporting by Stephanie Shestakow '98
—Illustration by Mikey Burton
Riverside Park—Day, 2009, ink on mulberry paper, linocut, 5.5x7.75 inches
Rivka Widerman '77
Wrap legs under the plane. Lean back. Roll out. Bend knees. Spread arms. I repeat these instructions over and over again in my head. It’s the sequence given to me by the ex-Navy SEAL strapped to my back as I ready myself to take my first tandem skydiving jump. I feel like I’m in a movie that begins with an intense action scene and then flashes to the past to explain the backstory.
This is my backstory. At the beginning of his senior year of high school, my oldest child, Leo, asks my husband and me to skydive with him to celebrate his graduation before he leaves for college. We agree. It’s a long time away and it seems like an abstraction. There are several hurdles to get over as well. For Leo and my husband, Matthew, it’s the 230 lb. weight limit, and for me it’s my pathological fear of heights. Weight can be lost but there is no diet for fear. In January Leo is half way to his goal, Matthew is hovering at the 230 lb. mark and my fear is in full bloom. Before I know it, August is here. Leo is at 220 lb., Matthew is still hovering, and I’m opting out. We have three younger children. I rationalize that only one parent should jump in case “something” happens.
So how did I end up in my very own action scene? Jump day comes and our family and Leo’s two friends caravan to the Skydive Temple. I’m along to applaud their bravery and take pictures. There is a glitch. When it comes time to weigh in, Matthew is hovering on the wrong side of 230 and is grounded. All spring and summer I’ve said that I will be the jumping parent if Matthew doesn’t make the cut. When I get the news, I hesitate, but then do the unimaginable and agree. I suit up as Matthew changes into lighter clothes and begs for mercy for the few pounds he is over. The manager grants his request, but it’s too late for me to turn back now. I’m going through with this. It’s decided that Leo will jump twice, first with Matthew and then with me. Different planes, one surviving parent.
Back again to the scene on the plane. I’m sitting on the edge of the open door, legs wrapped as told. Leo jumps first. I’m too stunned by what I’m about to do to assimilate the fact that I just watched my son tumble out of an airplane. A strange determination comes over me. It’s as if there is no another choice but to roll out. Before I can think again, I’m free falling from 12,000 feet at 125 miles per hour. The astonishing part is that I’m not scared. There is none of the crippling fear that comes to me at the edge of a high balcony or a cliff. Apparently the
brain cannot calibrate for distance when skydiving. In 60 seconds the chute goes up and the deafening rush of the free fall is replaced by the purest quiet I’ve ever experienced. At that point, the ex-Navy SEAL points out where Leo is coming down. It’s the first time I think about him since we were on the plane. He looks so far away. He lands and greets me as I touch down. He beams as he hugs me. He never thought I could do it.
Forward to my movie’s epilogue. The weekend after our jump, Leo and I fly out of state to drop him off for his freshman year of college. There are no parachutes or ex-Navy SEALs this time but it’s as big of a jump for both of us. For him it’s easy. He is ready to free fall into his future and the thrill of young adulthood. Leo does not need the weight of my hugs, tears, and gargantuan parental love to ground him. He needs me to watch him float through this transition from afar.
For me, rolling out of an airplane is easier than driving out of the university campus without him. This is not a tandem event. I have earned this solo emotional jump with nine months of pregnancy and 18 years of parenting. We spend my last night on campus walking, laughing, and talking. He gives me my instructions, lets me know it’s time to jump. He is going first and I will follow. Unfortunately the heart can calibrate for the distance. I trust that we will both land softly on the same earth at different places. We will be very proud of each other. I never thought I could do it.
—by Elizabeth Burford Breston '87
—Illustration by Junyi Wu