Spring 2013

Spring 2013

LILY KOPPEL ’03

Exploring the women behind America’s astronauts

Lily Koppel ’03 may have been just “moon dust”— as she jokes— during the great age of space exploration, but in her second book, The Astronaut Wives Club, the 32-year-old author deftly transports readers through that era, navigating territory that has seldom been traversed.

With an eye for colorful detail, Koppel tells the stories of the women behind the astronauts, the wives who lived in a Texas “space burb” known ironically as Togethersville, where they baked moon pies and debated the merits of Pepto-Bismol-colored lipstick. It was here that they gathered for coffee and cocktails, trading tips on how to handle the always-present press and bearing the strain of presenting the ideal family to the American public.

“The wives felt the pressure to do everything just so, now that the whole country was watching them,” writes Koppel in the book, released this spring by Grand Central Publishing. The women “found their real selves disappearing behind Life magazine’s depiction of what it meant to be not only the perfect fifties housewife but the perfect astronaut’s wife, molded like the popular Barbie doll, which had first appeared on store shelves that spring,” in 1959. The women, who eventually formed an Astronaut Wives Club, largely kept up the charade of perfection, even while their husbands passed long stretches away from home, training for life-threatening missions, and cavorting with “cape cookies,” mistresses they kept in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Of course, the world of an astronaut’s wife didn’t include only hardships, as Koppel’s entertaining account points out. Not only did banks offer steeply discounted home loans, but the astronaut families received Corvettes for $1 a year, had the chance to visit with the glamorous Kennedys, and were routinely given presents—some odd, like the $1,000 gift certificates to Neiman Marcus each of the wives received anonymously from a priest.

The book often reads like a novel, energized by each moon mission when lives hang in jeopardy, and when a wife might turn her eyes skyward after sunset and consider her man on the moon. Koppel says that in her reporting for the book, many wives spoke about “what a magical era it was, setting this completely audacious goal and then achieving it.” She adds, “In the Facebook-Twitter world, our horizons are reduced to this very little screen. Four decades ago, we were looking up at the moon.”

Koppel’s successful first book, The Red Leather Diary, which escorts readers through the love and cultural affairs of a young Jewish woman in 1930s New York City, was mandatory reading for Barnard’s entering class of 2012. Like her second book, it gave voice to a woman of recent history and may shift a reader’s perceptions of that time period.

Growing up in Chicago as the daughter of an artist and a writer, Koppel says that in college she began thinking about these hidden tales of women, her writing influenced by Margaret Vandenburg’s first-year seminar. In Vandenburg’s class, she began thinking about “the different quality to women’s stories,” how they are “often told in a subversive way,” and that their “stories are told in the margins, in scraps.” This mindset enabled her to recognize the significance of a red diary found buried in a steamer trunk that had been left in the dumpster outside her Upper West Side building. The diary prompted her to track down its writer, Florence Wolfson, who was 90, living in Florida, and still vibrant.

Koppel applied a similar logic when she stumbled across a coffee-table book of space explorations that her husband, writer Tom Folsom, had purchased. Flipping through the pages, scanning the colorful photos of “a group of guys in silver space suits,” and also finding a Lifemagazine photo of the wives decked out in candy-colored dresses, Koppel realized a story was waiting to be told.

—by Elicia Brown '90

—Photograph by Mark Seliger

JENNY MILCHMAN '92

Jenny Milchman is conducting a phone interview from the front seat of her car parked on a street in Columbus, Ohio. Her daughter Sophie, 9, and son Caleb, 7, do their schoolwork in the back. Jenny’s husband, Josh Frank, who creates mobile Web sites, sits next to Jenny conducting a work-from-the-road session with no fewer than three computers.

This is all part of the plan. The Milchman family embarked in February on the tour for Jenny’s book, Cover of Snow, about a woman’s quest to unravel the mystery behind her husband’s suicide. They’ll be on the road until September. That meant renting out their house in New Jersey, trading in their cars for a four-wheel-drive SUV, car-schooling the kids, and hitting the road for hundreds of bookstore and library events across nearly 40,000 miles. “I have to say, it’s 100 percent the most fun I have ever had in my life,” says Milchman. “My whole family is with me. I get to see how everybody thinks and feels from moment to moment, and then at the end of the day I get to walk into a bookstore and meet my readers. I just can’t believe it.”

A trip of this magnitude is not without its challenges. “The biggest thing we had to give up in making this trip was...losing our children’s spots at their charter school. We’re hopeful they get back into this special school,” she says. “But for now, car-schooling seems to be an excellent substitute. The occasional multiplication battles notwithstanding, the kids are getting a cultural, ecological, and historical immersion in our country. Generally, they begin with math, reading and writing worksheets, plus spelling, and then we add a special lesson for the day....So we talked about the Civil War when we were in Gettysburg, and read Robert Frost in Vermont.”

Although Ballantine Books, part of Random House, published Cover of Snow, this is no regular first-time-author book tour. Milchman masterminded the whole marathon herself, with the help of an independent publicity firm, as a personal reward for her years of trials and tribulations in dogged pursuit of publication. She was occasionally tempted by the ease and speed of self-publishing, but knew it couldn’t offer the same reach that a Big Six publisher could. She planned to add to Random House’s efforts with her own, and her family worked with her to bring her dreams to reality. “I knew no publisher was going to pay for a trip of this magnitude, and certainly not for a ‘baby’ author,” Milchman says.

Before selling Cover of Snow, she met novelist Carla Buckley online; the two became close friends. When Buckley heard about Milchman’s plans for the tour, she wondered, “if she [Milchman] had a crazy side to her that she had managed to hide from me.” Buckley adds, “I know a lot of debut novelists, and I’ve never heard of anyone embarking on a book tour of this magnitude.”

Cover of Snow is actually Milchman’s eighth novel. It’s been 13 years since she left work as a psychologist (she majored in English and psychology) to focus on writing. She’s since worked with three different agents and had five different early novels on submission to editors, “and we were stuck in that stage for 11 years,” she says. In the end, another novelist friend she met online took Cover of Snow and put it into her editor’s hands and Milchman had a contract within the week.

Now, about a third of the way through her tour, Milchman says she loves that while every day is different, most end with events that put her in touch with the people she cares a lot about right now: potential readers. “The reason I stayed on the road was that I wanted to be able to walk into a bookstore or library and get to meet them. I could have sat at home, in the converted closet I use for a writing space, and just kept writing more novels. But I wanted to meet them in person. And now I get to do that every day, for this book that nobody wanted to publish for so long! It’s really a miracle.”

—by Kim MacQueen

—Photograph courtesy of Jenny Milchman

Fifth Global Symposium Highlights Women's Emerging Leadership 

More than 400 people attended Barnard’s fifth annual Global Symposium, Women Changing Brazil, in São Paulo in March at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The all-day event brought together Brazilian women leaders from the arts, community organizing, politics, medicine, science, and media to share their perspectives about women’s progress—and remaining barriers—with Barnard administrators, students, alumnae, and the public. This year also marked the attendance of four appointed Global Faculty Fellows from various departments at the College. 

As with previous Barnard symposia, Credit Suisse sponsored the Brazil event; Michelle Gadsden-Williams, the firm’s managing director and global head of diversity and inclusion, opened the symposium, acknowledging, “Women are changing Brazil and making significant impacts around the world, but there’s still lots to do.”

In welcoming the audience, President Debora Spar noted Brazil’s significance as the symposium’s location, both because of the number of women holding key leadership positions in politics and business, and because Latin America is “brimming, overflowing with…women’s leadership.” Besides having a woman president, Brazil has 10 female ministers. Spar also showed a short video about the Barnard experience, explaining that the College sees one of its missions as “educating students from around the world, who will become ambassadors back to where they come from. It’s a powerful network of amazing women.” Key components of that mission are identifying, understanding, and developing women leaders. “Women lead differently than men,” said Spar. “[We want] to try to understand how women lead and educate the next generation of young women to be the best possible leaders they can be. We’re expanding our mission to embrace the entire world.” Spar added, “The idea is to have an on-going series of conversations so that the work doesn’t end in São Paulo.”

The keynote speaker, Eleonora Menicucci, Brazil’s minister of the secretariat of policies for women, delivered a strong message about Brazil’s focus on expanding women’s opportunities. A physician, Menicucci explained that her portfolio is “pushing for gender equality and combating violence against women.” Some of the major initiatives, which are part of an overarching effort to “have women in a protagonist role in the government and society,” she said, include full-time day-care centers and schools to enable mothers to enter and stay in the labor force; safe houses for women escaping violent relationships; and allowances for women seeking divorce who have children, to help the women become financially independent.

Brazil’s current administration has “tolerance below zero for gender violence,” said Menicucci. “Violence against women is a wound … and that open wound has to be closed, no matter what.” Further, by facing gender violence, Brazil “brings women to the center of society as subjects in their own right. We are giving to these women a sense of life, a sense of citizenship.”

Innovative ways in which Brazilian women are expressing themselves was the theme of the “Voices of the Region” panel, which highlighted the ambitious, ground-breaking work of three young Brazilian women activists working in the arts—film, graffiti, and dance. Kathryn Kolbert, Constance Hess Williams Director of Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies, moderated a particularly spirited discussion featuring Panmela Castro, a graffiti artist and activist who founded an NGO that uses art to promote women’s rights; Kátia Lund, a film director and screenwriter known for City of God; and Mayra Avellar Neves, a student activist and winner of the 2008 International Children’s Peace Prize.

The panelists explored the complicated questions of identity, ethnicity, sexism, and violence in Brazilian culture and the ways in which each of these women had struggled against those constraints. “When I was a teenager, I was a rebel,” said Castro, once in an abusive marriage. “My dream was that my condition as a woman would not be limiting. I want to change things, and how we’re seen, and contribute to our struggle against domestic violence.”

Neves explained that her work as a dancer and actor “touches people in a different way. I’ve tried to transform and change people’s mentality.” And filmmaker Lund, who had grown up in a more privileged background than the other two panelists, urged the audience to “get started, sometimes to take risks. Don’t try to be so perfect. Don’t try to know everything. Learn along the way.”

The “Women in Science” panel, moderated by Brazilian journalist and television host Monica Waldvogel, featured Duilia de Mello, a NASA astronomer and professor of astrophysics at The Catholic University of America, and Mayana Zatz, professor of human and medical genetics at the University of São Paulo. Their primary issue was countering stereotypes that keep women from pursuing the sciences. Said de Mello, “We can’t have girls think that science is [just] for men.” Similarly, Zatz pointed out that her field of genetics was nearly unknown when she began her career, “School has to be restructured to teach young people how to think.”

The afternoon panel, “Conversations on Leadership,” was moderated by Spar, who said, “One of the ideas behind the global symposia is to learn from other countries and to bring back that learning to our students. [Here] we see mothers playing a big role in telling their daughters what they could do. We’re not hearing complaining. What has Brazil done right? What can we learn?”

Maria Cristina Frias, columnist for Folha de São Paulo, and Adriana Machado, CEO of GE Brazil, highlighted some of the ways that Brazil’s policies and culture work for women. “Gender has not been an issue in my career,” said Frias, adding that 40 percent of the editors at her paper are women. “There’s a culture of meritocracy.” For Machado, a key element is Brazil’s policy of granting six months of maternity leave; as a result, women aren’t afraid of losing their jobs after they have children. Machado, mother of a 14-year-old and 7-year-old, said, “I got promoted after the birth of my second boy. I have a structure at home where I know my kids are taken care of.” Then again, middle-and upper-class women in Brazil can afford to hire household help, which enables them to work outside the home with less stress than their American counterparts. “Ultimately,” said Machado, “women shouldn’t be ashamed of desiring power. You have to teach women and girls that there’s nothing wrong with having power.”

—by Merri Rosenberg '78

—Photograph by Gustavo Pitta

Four Barnard Global Faculty Fellows participated in the São Paulo event, using the opportunity to network with colleagues, pursue research interests, and bring that work back to the Barnard community. Although faculty members have participated in two previous symposia—in South Africa and India—the Brazil symposium represented the first time that the Global Faculty Fellows were selected in a more formal process spearheaded by the faculty-grants committee. The shift, says Vice Provost Hilary Link, reflected a desire to open the symposium to faculty members whose research interests in Brazil might not have been readily apparent. It also reflected one of the Global Symposium’s missions of developing academic and personal connections that last well beyond the one-day conference.

The faculty members, chosen last spring, applied by outlining their proposed research projects, with an understanding that those projects would “resonate back to the Barnard community,” says Link. “As the events have become bigger and more successful, we wanted to incorporate the work of the symposium into the broader campus community. It’s the lead-up, and the follow-up, in the arc of programming.”

Fellow Nara Milanich, associate professor of history whose focus is on Latin American history, went to Brazil to research the history of the paternity test before DNA. While she had known that scientists at the University of São Paulo had conducted cutting-edge research on paternity during the 1930s and 1940s, she was thrilled to find the actual reports at the medical school during her visit. “It was an amazing experience on many fronts,” says Milanich, who had gone frequently to Brazil as a child with her mother, an anthropologist. “I got lucky. I went to the institute within the medical school, where they had done the first paternity test in this hemisphere, in 1927, and found all the reports the doctors wrote.” Milanich has worked in Italy, Argentina, and New York investigating the comparative history of paternity tests; the São Paulo experience was “invaluable for the purposes of my research. … I would never have found this material otherwise.”

History professor Jose Moya went to further his work on Brazilian multiculturalism. Describing his experience as “eye-opening,” he notes that the diversity of the presenters alone—from a graffiti artist and a filmmaker to a government minister, CEOs, and scientists—guaranteed a wide range of perspectives. “Their insights and exchanges with the audience conveyed the dynamism of present-day Brazil,” he adds. “The impression was reinforced by contact with colleagues in São Paulo and Porto Alegre, where I was invited to give a lecture on the global circulation of people, ideas, and cultural practices. We’re now trying to figure out how to foment that type of connection between Barnard and Brazilian universities.”

There were many benefits for Colleen Thomas-Young, associate professor of professional practice in dance. “This vital exchange with other artists and art forms is a dynamic effort to expand what I am able to give my students,” she explains. “My proposal was to share my teaching and creative interests with the symposium group. I taught a contact-improvisation workshop for the professional dancers at the Balé da Cidade de São Paulo and offered a master class for other dancers, artists, and the general public. I also explored the creation of a new work in collaboration with filmmaker Petra Costa ’06.

“Petra and I shot four hours of footage,” she says. “I danced in the streets of Rio, as we were exploring ways in which woman measure themselves, their experience, and their life. Police stopped us twice because we were in the middle of the street or on some forbidden property. It was amazing to be so focused on any impulse that might immediately become the seed for movement.”

Maria Rivera Maulucci, assistant professor of education, expanded her exploration of gender-equity issues in elementary-science education in Brazil. (Previous research was done in the United States and Argentina.) She developed a survey to understand young girls’ perspectives on science education. In collaboration with Prof. Felicia Moore Mensah from Teachers College, she visited local schools and spoke with teachers, parents, administrators, and students. Maulucci says, “I gained a much greater appreciation for the Brazilian education system. There are similar challenges, and unique challenges, around issues of equity, especially with access for secondary students to quality education.”

She adds, “Both Argentina and Brazil have female presidents. They’ve broken that glass ceiling. I wonder what impact that has on girls’ aspirations for science, considered a non-traditional field.”

—by Merri Rosenberg
—Photograph by Gustavo Pitta

After the symposium, a group of six Barnard students, selected through a competitive application process to be Global Symposium Student Fellows, held a workshop for girls from São Paulo high schools, exploring how gender affects professional opportunities. The workshop was designed and facilitated  by the students and included role-playing simulations. Girls from five local schools gathered at Escola Graduada de São Paulo for the event, which opened with a welcome by Barnard’s Dean of Enrollment Jennifer Fondiller ’88 and an overview about women’s leadership by Kathryn Kolbert, Constance Hess Williams Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies.

Each year, the Global Symposium Student Fellows are selected by a committee that includes administrators from College departments involved with planning the symposium. Each fellow goes through a rigorous application and interview process in which she describes her interest in the year’s symposium region and women’s issues, demonstrates her experience with public speaking and event planning, and showcases her leadership roles on campus.

The Brazilian high-school students divided into groups for the workshops. They were assigned to play the roles of both male and female job candidates, hiring managers, and hiring directors. Hiring managers interviewed candidates, who talked about the credentials and backgrounds they had been assigned. Managers gave feedback to the directors, who ultimately made the decisions about whom to hire. When the scenarios were over, the Barnard fellows led conversations about how gender roles contribute to workplace dynamics and leadership within an organization.

The high schoolers responded enthusiastically to the exercises and were eager to discuss women’s roles in their society, according to student fellow Mariany Polanco ’13. “I came away with a fresh perspective on how young women view leadership,” she said. In the group led by fellow Mary Glenn ’13, the conversation moved from the workplace simulation to other contexts where leadership opportunities exist, such as a university setting or even in the home. “The [Brazilian students] frequently raised the question—can anyone be a leader?” Glenn explained.

Adriana Moore ’15, herself a graduate of Escola Americana de Campinas, one of the participating schools, noted an impressive degree of social awareness among the students. “They raised issues of sexism within advertisements and everyday language,” she said.

Student fellow Dhvani Tombush ’15, who participated in the inaugural Young Women’s Leadership Workshop as a high-school student at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, was reminded that culture doesn’t have to be a barrier between women. “As I sat with those girls, I realized that the bond of ‘woman’ was stronger and cut across our global differences,” she said.

The girls in São Paulo were not the only high-school students to take part in the workshop. Before the trip, the student fellows held a preliminary workshop on Barnard’s campus for local students from around New York City. “Leading the same program for these two distinct groups brought out cultural differences and similarities between young women in Brazil and young women in the United States,” said Annelise Finney ’15.

The student fellows came away with a sense that their curriculum had animpact on the students and that these conversations were an important vehicle for helping younger women think about the role of women in their own society and in other parts of the world. “One of the Athena Center’s core principles is that leaders have to share what they’ve learned with the next generation. I loved putting that into practice,” said Glenn.

—by Alyssa Vine
—Photograph by Gustavo Pitta

As the mother of three boys, Daniela Pernis Muldowney ’84 is well practiced in managing a hectic household. Those skills were essential during the past few years when she became the primary caregiver for her elderly parents. Although her parents lived in their own apartment near her home in a Boston suburb, Muldowney was kept busy shuffling their medical appointments, hospitalizations, and various crises, while also caring for her sons, who are now 19, 16, and 9.

“I would have to drop everything and go to the hospital,” says Muldowney. “I’d call my friends to pick up my kids. There were significant numbers of times when I’d have to choose between being at the hospital for my father or at a play for my son. Or I’d have to choose which parent to support.” She admits that when her eldest son was applying to college, she never met his college counselor, and confesses, “I’d never seen the college until we dropped him off.” Muldowney takes care of her now-widowed 85-year-old mother’s bills and taxes and fields “15-20 calls a day.” She explains, “The fact that I don’t work outside the home means my mother thinks I should be available.”

Her situation is emblematic of that of many others caught in the “sandwich” generation: women raising children who are also taking care of elderly parents and relatives. According to an AARP 2009 report, of more than 40 million adults providing care for family or friends, nearly 70 percent are female. Many, no doubt are daughters or daughters-in-law. Sometimes the care is direct, other times the role is defined as managing logistics for a relative still living independently, or in an assisted-living facility or a nursing home. New skills may be needed, such as how to be an effective and appropriate advocate with physicians or with staff at an assisted-living residence.

“The majority of my patients have adult children with young children,” says geriatrician Cathryn Devons ’82, an assistant clinical professor of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, and director of geriatrics at Phelps Memorial  Hospital Center in Westchester County. “My patients’ children, who are in the waiting room, coordinate appointments with picking up children from the school bus.” Devons, who has three young children and a 93-year-old mother, understands the responsibilities of a “sandwiched” caregiver. “Being a woman, and in the same situation, I have practical experience and empathy,” she says.

The challenges are, of course, different for each woman and her family. What makes it stressful for many caregivers is that no one is really prepared for this particular role. No matter what one’s course of study at Barnard, nor one’s professional expertise, learning how to provide care, advocate for older relatives with hospitals and doctors, and navigate the complex universe of insurance and entitlements can be daunting.

And the choice may not be as stark as taking Dad to the emergency room versus watching your daughter’s soccer play-offs. Vacations get canceled, frantic phone calls interrupt the workday or quiet time in the evening, and medical emergencies and hospitalizations cause further disruptions. There can be tensions with siblings when there are disagreements about how best to care for a parent, and even financial burdens related to providing care or sacrificing one’s own employment prospects.

Joanna Davis Berkowitz ’75, a physician in south Florida, says that when her parents first moved near her they were about 30 minutes away, in good health and very independent. About six years later, their medical needs increased, and they moved much closer. There were “times when my kids got a little bit of short shrift, when I’d bang my head against the wall,” Berkowitz concedes. She had to juggle her role as primary caregiver for her parents with the demands of Hebrew school, dance recitals, and proms for her three children.

“It is, and it was, exhausting,” she says. “Life was like when the babies were little. I would go to work, and say, ‘I may have to leave.’” On balance Berkowitz believes she was lucky. As an academic doctor with a supportive division chief, she had more defined hours than physicians in private practice. Also, her parents were financially independent, so neither Berkowitz nor her two siblings had to provide monetary support for them.

Of course, some caregivers also say they welcome the opportunity to give back something to beloved parents. “I am very grateful to my parents for their lifelong support,” says Maria Rudensky Silver ’80, a retired Foreign Service officer who lives in her suburban Westchester childhood home with her children and her 89-year-old mother; her father was with the family until his death last January at the age of 90. “I’ve provided more care for them, but both provided a lot of nurturing for my kids.” Her father frequently drove her children to their activities. Today, Silver helps manage the banking and bills, and bathes her mother.

Silver’s situation is somewhat less common. For many, the pressures are unending. “There’s a huge amount of stress,” says Belinda Carstens-Wickham ’73, professor of foreign languages and German at Southern Illinois University and mother of four. She finds it challenging and exhausting to balance the needs of her 15-year-old, who rides horses and takes lessons four days a week, with her role as caregiver for her mother, who lives in a nearby assisted-living residence.

“My daughter gets out of school at 2 p.m.,” says Carstens-Wickham “I have to get her home, and then visit my mom. I feel more pressured now at 61, with my mom in assisted living and with one child at home, than when I was a single mom with two young children. Every day I have to figure out when I have to see my mom, take care of Hannah, and prepare classes.”

Even when one’s role is primarily that of a long-distance manager, the responsibility can weigh heavily. Seana Anderson ’69 inherited the caregiving role for her mother when her sister died in 2005. Her mother, physically healthy but wheelchair-bound, was in an assisted-living facility, but memory loss required a move to a nursing home. Anderson, executive director of the American Trust for the British Library, is the one responsible for decision-making. “I try to visit her every four to six weeks.” Not easy, since Anderson and her partner live in a multi-generation household in Brooklyn, with Anderson’s daughter and grandchildren. She admits to “a constant, high level of stress.” Similarly, Muldowney, who cares for her mother and has three children, acknowledges, “I’d get short-tempered. “With all these people poking and prodding at you, you yourself disappear. You’re exhausted and feel guilt all the time.”

“Guilt and anger are very normal reactions,” says Reeva Starkman Mager ’64, director of DOROT East, a social-service agency for the elderly in Manhattan. “People start feeling out of control. It’s important to get help. Examine your support system; give small, defined tasks [to someone else] so you aren’t burdened with all of it. You need to develop and maintain friendships. If you cycle into isolation, you don’t have [any] available [relief].”

The sandwich role can just as readily also apply to someone who doesn’t have children but is trying to balance multiple roles. “I grew up with extended family—my grandmother and an aunt—living in the home,” says Angela Macropoulos ’82 who returned to the family home on Long Island to take care of her mother. “Caregiving is not new to me.”

Macropoulos has been dealing with her mother’s neurological condition, which leaves her unable to walk. Although her mother remains at home and attends a day program nearby while Macropoulos is at work, (She’s a lawyer and also a stringer for The New York Times.) managing care has been challenging. “No one tells you how to navigate,” she says. “For the last year and a half, I’ve been navigating between my life with my partner...and caring for my mother. I believe my caregiving staves off depression for her, [but] I’m tired all the time.” She adds, “I’m being pulled in different directions and have chronic anxiety.”

There are remedies to alleviate some of the on-going stress related to caregiving. Devons suggests seeing what services can be delivered to the home, to reduce the stress of maneuvering a frail elderly person in and out of cars. Social workers can provide home visits, eligible elderly can receive Meals on Wheels, and more and more geriatricians provide home-care visits for their patients. If finances permit, geriatric-care managers will help with the logistics and details of many aspects of elder care, from paying the bills to finding health aides, to arranging medical appointments.

Support groups composed of people in a similar situation who will understand what you’re going through can be invaluable for the caregiver’s psychological health. Many are free, and the advice that’s shared can be practical and useful. Respite and day care can also be invaluable, to give the caregiver a break from the relentless routine.

Mager urges caregivers to get support from friends and other family members and to look at ways to simplify their lives whenever possible. Outsource tasks, like house cleaning, cooking, or even chauffeuring a parent or child to appointments. “Many women don’t even self-identify as caregivers, but doing so changes how you understand what you are doing and the level of your involvement in a new way,” says Mager. “Although a tremendous burden, the role of caregiver also builds strengths, allows for reconciliations, and introduces new skills.”

Simply understanding that being a “good enough” caregiver may be good enough. “You cannot fix or reverse time,” says Mager. “Be careful about your goals. What can you reasonably do? The benchmarks should be whether your parent is safe, and has some quality of life.” Ultimately, caregiving is about how to honor your parent, and preserve yourself and your family, offers Mager.

—by Merri Rosenberg
—Illustration by Jon Han

 

 

 

Newspaper stories, magazine profiles, books—an illustrious publishing career encourages this writer to create an online magazine for women on the “right side of 45”

If you Google, “best dressmakers in NYC,” the first hit on the list is an article from NYCitywoman.com. Looking to learn more about the marriages of past US presidents? Try searching “first ladies, marriages.” Just below the inevitable Wikipedia entry is an article from NYCitywoman. The online magazine, as described by its founding editor Barbara Lovenheim ’62, is devoted to lifestyle issues for women who have said good-bye to their thirties. According to Lovenheim, research indicates that about 40 percent of the women who live in Manhattan are between 45 and 65 years old; two-thirds of them are college-educated, and more of these women work in high-powered jobs than in other cities. This market, she says, is underserved by major media.

Every month, Lovenheim, an experienced journalist and interviewer who has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, and The International Herald Tribune, and a team of freelance writers, assemble articles on a broad array of subjects of interest to this demographic: lifestyle ideas, changing bodies, caregiving issues, and economic challenges, such as career changes and retirement. Leavening these topics are fashion and beauty features, such as the dressmaker ratings, what the mother of the bride should wear, and what lotions are best for drying skin. The site includes a range of features—from newsy to quirky—such as profiles of lesser-known 19th-century first ladies. “We are not aggregators of content,” says Lovenheim with pride, “We create our own.” To do that, she draws from a team of writers, mostly female with whom she’s worked over a the years. She pointedly adds that she pays her writers; many Web sites do not.

A gracious speaker with a calm demeanor, Lovenheim grew up in Rochester, New York; she was an honors student who was rejected by Radcliffe, and decided to come to Barnard, lured by its affiliation and proximity to Columbia, its New York City location, and the theatre. An English major, she earned a master’s at the University of Wisconsin and a PhD at the University of Rochester. For the next 14 years, she taught English, first at Queens College, then at Baruch. Denied tenure at both institutions, she says now, “It was a blessing in disguise.”

She left the academic world in 1975, not long after The New York Times Book Review published her exposé about college professors who hired ghostwriters to write their books. From academia, she joined a large New York public relations firm. At first a secretary, she was soon given a promotion one Friday, only to find out the following Monday that the agency had lost a major money-making account, which effectively ended her new position and her pursuit of a public relations career.

Although she lost her “day job,” she had been contributing to Our Town, a community newspaper serving Manhattan’s Upper East Side, The Soho News, and The Village Voice. These assignments led to articles for the Times. Lovenheim joined a friend in London in 1979, and began writing for the new arts section of the International Herald Tribune, interviewing the famous such as Arianna Stassinopoulos (pre-Huffington), then a Cambridge graduate with a radio talk-show; opera diva Maria Callas; Billie Whitelaw, the favorite actress and muse of playwright Samuel Becket; and prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn, who said almost nothing for five long hours.

London was glamorous, but Lovenheim was earning very little money, and she returned to New York the following year. There were more assignments from the Times and the new arts page of The Wall Street Journal. In addition to arts coverage, she also included social issues among her story ideas.

In 1986, Newsweek published a study by Harvard and Yale demographers indicating, “that a single woman [over a certain age?] had a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than getting married.” The comment ignited a blaze of media attention; New York followed up with Lovenheim’s cover story, “Brides at Last: Women Over 40 Who Beat the Odds,” that led her to a book contract. Beating the Marriage Odds: When You Are Smart, Single, and Over 35, was published in 1990. Lovenheim smiles when she recounts her own love story. She met John Grimes, a now-retired ABC radio news correspondent, when she was 50; they remain together today.

The year 1990 marked her fourth and final interview with actress Katherine Hepburn, a relationship that began with the first interview in 1983. Over the years Lovenheim wrote pieces about such high-profile figures as Robert Redford, Cher, and Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. Of her celebrity profiles, Lovenheim says simply, “I’m curious about people.” She wasn’t interested in their celebrity as much as the “how” of their lives: How they got into their fields, how they became successful, and how they did what they did so well. She says she was able to land these interviews because she had powerful newspapers and magazines behind her, and a good network of contacts through her freelancing. She also approached her subjects when she knew they had a new project—play, film, or other performance—in the works, and would find the publicity beneficial.

From newspapers and magazines, Lovenheim took her career in yet another direction, while remaining part of the publishing world. An inheritance provided her with the means to create and produce books and brochures for nonprofit organizations, such as the Museum of American Folk Art, Museum of Jewish Heritage, and the New York City Ballet. During this time, a chance introduction to two Holocaust survivors who remained hiding in Berlin with five other family members for almost three years during the Nazi regime, led her to another book: Survival in the Shadows: Seven Jews Hidden in Hitler’s Berlin was published in 2003. Lovenheim hopes that at some point, the book will become a film.

In 2010, she switched gears with the release of Breaking Ground: A Century of Craft Art in Western New York, for which she interviewed master craftsmen such as furniture maker Wendell Castle, metal sculptor Albert Paley, and ceramic artist Wayne Higby, all of whom made major contributions to the studio craft movement in this country.

For now, NYCitywoman.com remains Lovenheim’s focus, with the latest issue (as of Barnard’s publication date) including features such as “Party Math: How to be Your Own Caterer,” a feature that grew from one food writer’s advice to a widowed college chum who, after several years, decided it was time to throw a drinks party for 20 people; “Ageless Erotica: Pleasures that Never Grow Old”; and a profile of author and former Berkeley activist Barbara Garson who chronicled the lives of real people during this economic downturn in a recently published book, Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession. The site also includes an extensive archive of past features, so you can still easily find the names of those great dressmakers and visit the best flea markets in New York City.

—by Annette Kahn
—Photograph by Dustin Aksland

For four days in April, the campus sprang to life with the sound of spoken-word poetry, as hundreds of performers converged at Barnard for the annual College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). Members of 59 teams from colleges across the country—from the University of California at Berkeley to Brown—performed pieces they had written individually or in groups. Rhythmic and lyrical, slam poetry is performed, rather than read, and often deals with social or political issues; judges score performances. Slams are lively events, with the audience cheering on the poets and booing at especially low scores.

Increasingly widespread since the 1990s, poetry slams have earned mainstream attention on such TV shows as HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. Each year the CUPSI poetry slam is produced at a different college; this year Barnard hosted the event, which included preliminary bouts, semifinals, and a championship round.

Karole Collier ’15, Amira Aganovic ’15, Gabrielle Smith ’16, and G! Pe Benito ’16 were members of Barnard’s team. For them, slam poetry is more than an extracurricular activity; according to Pe Benito, writing poetry and performing it at slams is both a privilege and an obligation. “Not everyone has three minutes onstage in front of hundreds of people,” she says. “You have to speak for the people who can’t. When we get together and create something as a team of artists, we’re not doing it for ourselves—we’re doing it for people we love and people we don’t know.”

Karole Collier

Karole Collier is fascinated by the multifaceted. While writing poems that explore “intersectional” issues like black feminism, she questions how such issues converge with other cultural phenomena: “How does a black feminist feel about hip-hop or about derogatory hip-hop?” she asks. “How does a black feminist grapple with the fact that this is a piece of her culture, but also somehow turned against her?” Collier, who started writing slam poetry after joining the Philly Youth Poetry Movement as a high-school student, also bears in mind the intersection of poet and audience—far more demanding for slam than written poetry, she says. “In slam you have three minutes onstage to convey emotion, provoke thought, and make sure your audience is well -quipped with your stance on your thoughts. You have three minutes to do all that and make it dynamic and memorable and something that people want to hear again. And it has to be just as eloquent as a written poem.”

Amira Aganovic ’15

“Whatever inspires someone to write in a diary, that’s what inspires me to write poetry,” says Amira Aganovic, who has been producing poems since eighth grade. But that doesn’t mean she writes exclusively about herself: she likes adopting various personas, giving voices to people who would otherwise lack them. She plays with her own voice, too. “I’m interested in challenging my style and how I usually write,” she says. She’s long favored rhyme, but now she’s exploring other sounds. Participating in the team has encouraged her to explore different topics as well; the team’s writing prompts and exercises have pointed her toward fresh material. Freshness also preoccupies her on a larger scale: “You have to remember that what you say has been said before, so how can you do it differently, how can you present the same idea in a different way?”

Gabrielle Smith ’16

Writing slam poetry has shown Gabrielle Smith—a product, like her teammate Karole Collier, of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement—that the world is filled with challenges that demand attention. And those challenges are more complicated than they first appear. How can working on poetry provide that particular lesson? During her writing process, Smith confronts multiple perspectives on any given topic (a recent one was student debt); each new perspective represents another issue that needs to be addressed. Such complexity is just what draws her to slam poetry. “When I first started, it seemed very simple; you just put your emotions on the page,” she says. “But the art of performance poetry is so intricate and intertwined. I love how hard it is to make a picture on the stage and on the page. I love how hard it is to do a beautiful job.”

G! Pe Benito ’16

When G! Pe Benito was growing up in Southern California, she filled her journals with thoughts she felt unable to share. Eventually, slam poetry would provide a means of expression. “It’s another language, like painting,” she says. “The emotions are so powerful they can’t be said in any other way.” For Pe Benito, poetry is a healing process as well as an artistic endeavor: The audience’s responses to her poems often show her that many others feel as she does. “It takes the isolation out of struggle,” she says. “It’s kept me alive; it’s kept me grounded.” Now Pe Benito, who likes to listen to hip-hop music before her writing sessions, produces mostly poems about her emotions and experiences. The genre offers both risks and rewards: “When you open up, all the ugly and inconvenient and disgusting comes out, as well as the beautiful and passionate and wonderful.”

—by Abigail Deutsch 
—Photographs by Dorothy Hong 

A Celebration of Scholarship and Growth

“There’s been a dramatic transformation,” says Professor Tina Campt. “There’s been the transformation of going from nothing to something.” She’s talking about the Africana Studies Program, which she directs—and which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. In two decades, Africana studies has gone from being a major with little financial support—formed in response to black students’ demands for programming that addressed the issues they faced—to a thriving program on its way to becoming a full-fledged department. Along the way, Africana studies has seen major milestones.

Festival performers with Ntozake Shange: Simone Sobers '15, Ebonie Smith '07, Taylor Harvey CC '14, Shange, Gabrielle Davenport '15, Victoria Durden '15 and Sarah Esser

 

Under the directorship of Kim F. Hall, Lucyle Hook Chair, professor of English and Africana studies, from 2006 through 2010 the program initiated student research trips to Ghana and Charleston, S.C., began offering a minor, formed the Consortium for Critical Interdisciplinary Studies (CCIS), and acquired new and expanded offices. In addition, the program hired three senior faculty, including Campt, a professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. These sweeping advances reflect the College’s faith in the program. Unlike many other schools, Africana studies at Barnard focuses on the African diaspora as a starting point for a holistic look at interconnected black communities across the globe; integrates gender studies as a core component of the curriculum; and focuses on the local as well as the global.

In November, Africana studies used its 20th anniversary as a springboard to honor one of Barnard’s most renowned African American alumnae, playwright and poet Ntozake Shange ’70, as its second Distinguished Alumna in an ongoing series. A screening of Tyler Perry’s adaptation of Shange’s Obie Award-winning choreopoem, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, preceded a panel discussion about the film and Shange’s work. Professor Monica Miller led a conversation between Soyica Diggs-Colbert of Dartmouth and Shange, who offered candid thoughts about the film.

But the real celebration took place in February, when Shange returned for a two-day conference. “We wanted to honor Ntozake Shange and her contribution as an incredibly visible and prolific Barnard alumna, and also celebrate the fact that we’re still producing outstanding black women artists and thinkers,” Campt says.

Choreographer Dianne McIntyre led a conversation with Shange; Barnard students, under the direction of music producer and Barnard Center for Research on Women Alumnae Fellow Ebonie Smith ’07, performed excerpts of Shange’s work. The following day, speakers and panelists including Stanford Professor Jennifer DeVere Brody, Columbia Professor Farah Jasmine Griffin, and several other scholars, discussed her multifaceted works and their cultural and artistic significance.

Ntozake Shange

 

“This is one of the strongest places in the country for doing Africana studies,” Barnard President Debora Spar said in the conference’s welcoming remarks. “Africana studies at Barnard is vital, it’s growing, and it’s really core to much of what we do here.”

Ntozake Shange’s contribution to the celebration, literally and symbolically, was monumental. “People came with their original copies of her work, those first editions,” says Yvette Christiansë, professor of English and Africana studies. “People who remembered going to the first staging of for colored girls came. Young women came who had created their own work in response, and in the creation of their own work began to learn how to reread Shange.” The conference, Christiansë says, highlighted questions about how knowledge is transmitted and why there’s a need to continually revisit lessons we’ve already learned—the same questions that drive the program year-round.

“We thought that it was singularly appropriate to celebrate our twentieth anniversary by reflecting on the work of an artist who challenges and inspires us to reflect not only on how far we have come, but who commands us to think about where we want to go now,” Campt said during the conference.

Africana Studies is currently moving toward departmentalization, which, when implemented, will be a major step that will confer additional visibility and legitimacy. Campt hopes to partner with more schools and with organizations in Harlem and abroad. “A public celebration is also a public commitment to keep working,” Christiansë says. “It’s a public commitment to claim, ‘We are here.’ The closing to that claim is, ‘We are here to stay, and we are here to grow.’”

Shange accepts a presentation poster from from Yvette Christiansë; Professor Tina Campt looks on.

 

—by Jessica Gross
—Photographs by Samuel Stuart

Barnard has several options for creating named scholarship funds with gifts of $50,000 or more. Donors are honored and thanked at annual Torchbearers receptions, where they can meet the scholarship recipients. The reasons for endowing these gifts are many, as the stories of three newer supporters attest:

Isabel Jacobs ’54 feels a connection to today’s Barnard students in large part because of the diversity of the student body. She grew up in New Britain, Conn., and says that in 1950, coming to college in New York City was as drastic as traveling to the other end of the earth. “It was an enormous cultural experience,” says Jacobs. “It changed my life. I met people I would never have met before because of the diverse student body. Many of them are friends to this day. It introduced me to fields of study and interests that I had absolutely no way of understanding before.”

Jacobs knew she wanted to attend a prestigious women’s college. It was important that the college be affiliated with a men’s school, so her choices came down to Radcliffe or Barnard, and New York easily won out. Her mother played a crucial role in Jacobs being able to live out her dream, contradicting her father when he insisted that the “local university is good enough for girls.”

Now Jacobs is honoring her mother’s own unfulfilled dreamof being a doctor by creating the Bessie Schafran Fenster Scholarship to provide support for pre-med seniors. Fenster graduated from New York University in 1931. Her family wouldn’t allow her to apply to medical school, believing it was inappropriate for a woman to be a doctor. The scholarship fund also honors Jacobs’s late husband, a physician who helped pioneer the field of pediatric rheumatology. While raising three children—her daughter Deborah Jacobs is Class of 1977—Jacobs worked as a high school history teacher in the New York City public schools for 26 years.

Isabel Jacobs '54

 

The IRA option in 2012 and 2013 allows individuals 70½ or older to make a charitable gift directly to Barnard from an IRA or spouse’s IRA (or Roth IRA). The fact that it counts toward the individual’s required minimum distribution and is not treated as taxable income, helped her decide to fund the endowment. “I wanted to do it while I was alive so that I could see the fruits of it rather than having to leave it after my death,” she says.

Another of this year’s Torchbearers is James Neff, who recently endowed the Elizabeth Gould Neff Scholarship Fund. Named for his mother, Class of 1927, Neff says attending a Torchbearers reception stirred memories of his mother and left him deeply impressed. A product of her generation, Neff says, his mother always deferred to his father. Only after Neff created the scholarship fund did he learn that his mother had been a regular contributor to Barnard. Although he didn’t see palpable evidence of her Barnard experience, he clearly appreciates her connection to the school.

Neff attended Princeton University, and while he enjoyed his time there, he claims he wasn’t a particularly good student. To graduate in 1953 he needed to retake his comprehensive exams in order to receive his diploma. But, the Korean War was going on, and since Neff was going to be drafted, he enlisted in the Army for three years. When he completed his tour of duty, he enrolled at Columbia School of General Studies for a year then obtained his Princeton degree. He joined The Bank of New York in the personal-trust department and developed a different perspective and appreciation for learning. Neff attended NYU and earned certificates in management and marketing, and another one at the Stonier Graduate School of Banking, then at Rutgers University.

After attending an event at which Arthur Levine, then president of Teachers College, was speaking, Neff was inspired to endow a scholarship fund. With matching funds from The Bank of New York (now Bank of New York Mellon), Teachers College received approximately $500,000. “Some shade of my own failure as a student was to help other students do better,” says Neff, who also volunteers as a tutor at P.S. 6 in Manhattan.

James Neff

 

Neff established another connection to Barnard through the late Diana Lanier Smith ’45, a relative of Neff’s wife. Smith endowed a scholarship for women of Native American descent. Smith and Neff attended a Torchbearers reception where Neff met India Lovato ’14, the student aided by Smith’s generosity. “I thought of my mother at that time,” says Neff, who then decided to endow a scholarship. He adds candidly, “I felt I owed my mother’s memory something because the money I have in my pocket right now is from her estate, which I helped to manage.

“My interest in education in the broadest sense has always been there one way or the other. I’m pleased to try to facilitate a good education [for someone else].”

Lori E. Gold ’78 came to Barnard after attending what an “experimental” high school in Brooklyn, where she studied anthropology. Barnard’s anthropology department, where Margaret Mead was still lecturing, was a lure. As Gold was about to graduate, her younger sister, Grace, decided to enter Barnard’s class of 1982. Tragically, Grace’s life ended on the night of graduation 1979 when she was struck by falling masonry from a building on Broadway and 115th St. Today, New Yorkers can thank Grace for the existence of Local Law 11/98 (formerly Local Law 10/80), which Gold is campaigning to have renamed the Grace Gold Law. Created in the aftermath of her death, the law mandates the periodic inspection of New York City building facades higher than six stories. If unsafe conditions are found, repairs must be made or other reinforcement measures taken.

Members of the class of 1979, Grace’s senior suitemates who were celebrating their graduation before she was killed, helped establish a darkroom in the McIntosh Student Center named for her. Subsequently, the Grace Gold Digital Photography Center, in the publications suite at Brooks Hall, was dedicated on April 7, 2011. “As part of my talk about Grace during the rededication, I revealed two things. One was the portrait of my sister by artist Rob Rush, which he created from several 30-plus year-old, mostly black and white images, which now hangs in the Grace Gold Digital Photography Center. The other was that I would be moving the Grace Gold Memorial Scholarship Fund from The Miami Foundation to Barnard, its ultimate,” says Gold. The fund is for students who intend to pursue a career in writing, journalism, or a related field.

“That my sister’s life was over at 17 can only, in my opinion, be shown to have had value beyond those who knew her in that brief time by allowing her to do good for others as time moves forward,” she continues. “Now she will help Barnard students achieve their dreams, finish their educations, and follow their passions.”

Gold, a consultant who advises non-profit organizations on fund development, strategic planning, and long-term sustainability, was a BAAR (Barnard Alumnae Admissions Representative) for 10 years in South Florida, interviewing prospective students; she continues to speak with children of friends and family interested in Barnard. “I feel a connection when I am physically back on campus walking the paths and halls that connect us, intergenerationally,” she says, “It is not the choices that Barnard women make, but the manner in which we make choices—doing it with full-throttled determination, conviction, and focus.”

Lori Gold

 

—by Lois Elfman ’80
—Photographs by Dorothy Hong except Lori Gold by Geoff Levy