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Letters to the Editor

December 2005

December

Empty Pedestal Fitting
“He looks like a plantation owner.” “He’s elevated. We’re being told to admire him.” That’s all Jaebadiah Gardner, ’05, knows about James J. Hill, “Common Ground,” Sept. 2005. He “glowers” at the statue across from More Hall on the UW campus, but he doesn’t see it from an educated perspective. He has no understanding of why it’s there or what it represents. If “the primary mission of the University of Washington is the preservation, advancement and dissemination of knowledge” then, when a sophomore says something sophomoric, the mission of the University should be to challenge that student to pursue a greater understanding. In this case, the mission of the University should be to intellectually challenge a bright young man like Gardner and encourage him to actually study and learn something about James J. Hill and American history. Hill only had nine years of formal schooling and began work as a clerk at age 17. He was a man of tremendous accomplishment. He built railroads instead of empty pedestals. One can make a credible argument that it was industrialists like Hill who created the manufacturing economy and made it possible to put an end to slavery on the plantations. This same manufacturing economy in later years was to provide a new life for the sharecroppers who moved north to find opportunity.

Shouldn’t the privilege of a university education be coupled with a responsibility to seek a deeper level of understanding that surpasses silly stereotypes? Instead of being encouraged to increase the weight of the chip he carries on his shoulder, Gardner should have been challenged to explore how a Northern capitalist differed from a Southern plantation owner. He should have been challenged to explore the idea that the cultural legacy of European history and of Western civilization belongs to people of all ethnicities, just as the legacies of all the diverse cultures of the world belong to all of humankind. Gardner should have been encouraged to embark on diverse intellectual travels that would expand his perception beyond one narrow ideology.

Gardner was cheated by the University of Washington, and we are all cheated when a bright young mind is not challenged to achieve its full potential. The empty pedestal is a fitting symbol of this swindle.

Will Cummings, ’89, ’93
Kent, Washington

Another Step out of Darkness
I, too, felt aware of being “outside” the traditional learning community of the modern university as a UW freshman in 1984. A white female from a working class family that had for so long nurtured its own fear of knowledge, I looked up at those white gods on Suzzallo’s façade and felt invisible. But, like most students of color and all women, I couldn’t stop there. I was propelled into this environment by my desire to change my world for the better. In doing so, I became visible.

Isn’t it funny? What J.B. [Gardner] and Sumona [Das Gupta] have been able to accomplish at the University of Washington is … the active perusal of a liberal education. These motivated students, by imagining a statement, garnering ample institutional support, and seeing their vision through until its completion, have enjoyed more power than the real world can promise them. It’ll be so much more challenging “out there,” as any public artist will tell you. The kind of hard, uncomfortable and emotional interactions experienced by the students in John Young’s class—mitigated by caring teachers and facilitators—are only a microcosm of the committees all artists must deal with in seeing any project through to completion. And in the real world, there are no guarantees.

If these young adults have learned one single lesson of worth through this process, I hope it is that real change feels uncomfortable, is hard, and must result in tension and frustration. Yet, the act of struggling toward an egalitarian society does not itself guarantee its achievement. I hope these students haven’t learned at their college that a good life is an easy, unchallenged one.

I learned, from those guys on the walls of Suzzallo and from my professors and classes, that, the only given in life is that at any point in our shared human history, art is there to remind us of the best part of ourselves: our creative drive to be visible no matter the cost. That is the most valuable legacy of these students’ artwork. Like Shakespeare and Plato, or Galileo and Van Gogh, or Maya Lin and Pablo Neruda, “Blocked Out” canonizes yet another step out of darkness and into the light.

Kate Wallace Johnson, ’88
Wenatchee Valley College
Omak, Washington

Indebted to the Students
In your article, “Common Ground,” you captured beautifully the incredible work of the students, and particularly the student leaders, Sumona Das Gupta and Jaebadiah Gardner.

Yet another exceptional feature of this project was the group of faculty, administrators, community members and advisers who pulled together to support the students in their endeavor. “Rusty” Barcelo, vice president and vice provost for diversity, gave direction and encouragement to the students from the very beginning, and provided intellectual guidance to us all. Gail Dubrow, now dean of the Graduate School at the University of Minnesota, negotiated the complex thicket of art, architecture and administration, and mediated the process throughout.  The advisory group whom Art Professor John Young pulled together included community members who gave freely of their time and expertise, as well as UW professors who lent depth of understanding at every point along the way.  We are all especially indebted to Ethnic Studies Professor “Rick” Bonus.

These additions to the cast who contributed to this project by no means brings the list to a close. The project gave us a chance to use our administrative positions to advance fundamental values; provided an unequalled opportunity to teach and learn; and offered a risky creative and artistic challenge. In short, it brought out the best in a long list of people, and for this we are indebted to the students.

Debra Friedman
Dean, College of Public Programs
Phoenix University

Selecting for Excellence
If nothing else, your article on the concrete block with footprints now adorning the UW campus certainly demonstrated the quality of art produced by a committee. … While our so very earnest students are learning to design and place a concrete block, the extremely selective schools of science and technology in China and India are turning out hundreds of thousands of graduates, who probably never considered whether their campus was “welcoming” or not. Those institutions are selecting for excellence, not diversity. Tick, tick, tick, tick …

Anthony Williams, ’68
Flagstaff, Arizona

Politically Correct Gobbledygook
So, as I understand it, the point of your September cover story, “Common Ground,” is that the UW campus statues of “Empire Builder” James J. Hill and former Husky football coach Jim Owens should be denigrated because they are, or were, insensitive white males. They are to be countered by “Blocked Out,” an angry diversity monument “dedicated to those who are excluded from the house they were exploited to create.” In Owens’ case, he was pressured to apologize for unspecified transgressions against “students of color” many years ago. Frankly, when I was sports editor of the Daily, I didn’t think Owens was a very good coach (certainly not in Don James’ league), but I didn’t realize that he wasn’t just losing football games; he was also committing crimes against humanity. Horrors! If I had only known.

Apparently, this monument flap illustrates how the UW administration is urging minority students—those who are “underrepresented and unheard”—to express their “sincerity and determination.” … This sounds like the usual politically correct gobbledygook heard on college campuses throughout the U.S. these days. Or perhaps this is the way the University administration is bringing people together and creating a sense of community at my alma mater. You tell me because I’m a bit confused about the real motives of student activists like J.B. and Sumona.

Guy W. Farmer, ’57
Carson City, Nevada

Unfair Racial Stereotypes
I was disappointed by your September 2005 Columns cover story, “Common Ground”. The article praises student Jaebadiah Gardener for helping foster a UW campus that’s more friendly to diverse cultures, yet in the second paragraph Gardener shows that he embraces the same unfair racial stereotypes as the people he deplores.

Gardener says the campus statue of James J. Hill “looks like a plantation owner.” But as your article notes, Hill was in fact a railroad tycoon that played a key role in the economic development of the Pacific Northwest. Deploring the statue of Hill simply because he happens to “look like” the stereotype of a racist plantation owner displays no less of a racist attitude than a white employer refusing to hire a black employee because his hair “looks unprofessional.”

Both employ equally racist visual heuristics instead of actually getting the facts straight. Shame on Gardener for his factual ignorance, and shame on Columns for praising him as an “exceptional student” and uncritically printing his views.

Andrew Chamberlain, ’01
Washington, D.C.

Diversity and Invisibility
Thank you for your article entitled “Common Ground” about campus art and the vision of the two exceptional students who had the vision to represent a difficult concept about diversity and invisibility.  Kudos to them!  Since this was ultimately a class project, I would have liked the article to have been more inclusive by naming all the students who contributed to the project. The group photo was great, but they should have been acknowledged by name for producing something that will hopefully inspire other students and campus life for generations to come.

Loreen Lilyn Lee, ’05
Seattle, Washington

Intellectual Poverty
There is perhaps no better reflection of the poverty of our political and intellectual culture than the fact that when Noam Chomsky offers a critical analysis of U.S. foreign policy [“First Take”, June 2005], it is characterized as a ‘rant’ and he is denounced [“Letters,” Sept. 2005] as “an ... America-hater,” and “idiotic.” Such inflammatory rhetoric is no substitute for a reasoned debate about crucial issues.

Sol Saporta
Dept. of Linguistics, Retired
Seattle, Washington

Another Side of Chomsky
In the September “Letters,” Mike Perry implies that because Noam Chomsky has said critical things about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he is somehow a supporter of Saddam Hussein. R.W. Allen implies that Chomsky is “an identified America-hater.” One does not have to delve very far into Chomsky’s writings to realize that nothing could be further from the truth.  Chomsky uses very strong words to condemn Saddam Hussein. In regards to his sentiments for the American people, he often expresses great hope and appreciation for them; his criticism is reserved for the government.

Duane Wright, ’90
Seattle, Washington

Atomic Nightmare
If the only human health problem resulting from exposure to nuclear fallout was thyroid cancer (and this link was established long ago) then the Chernobyl and Hiroshima research discussed in the article “After the Fallout” (Sept. 2005) would have more validity.   However, the medical profession knows that ionizing radiation during and after exposure to nuclear blasts, or even nuclear materials, has many more ramifications, some proven some theorized.

As an “atomic veteran” (a legal term coined by Congress) involved with nuclear weapons testing and deployments more than 50 years ago, I question why the same scrutiny paid to the foreign victims of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl has not been extended to American victims, especially military, beginning with the Trinity shot (first atomic detonation) in New Mexico, and continuing with American POWs in Japan in 1945; American occupation forces in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and the “guinea pig” soldiers—sailors, airmen, “coasties” and Marines—put in harm’s way as our nation developed, tested and deployed weapons of mass destruction, and nuclear machinery.

A long list of cancers, other than thyroid, has been legislatively (read politically) determined to be presumptively caused by ionizing radiation and a small number of “atomic veterans” have been compensated.

But, other diseases, ranging from cancers to autoimmune conditions, are subject to a “dose reconstruction” … before the government will aid the victim. Despite several billion spent on this and associated “stalling tactics” by the Dept. of Defense and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, few “atomic veterans” have been compensated or cared for.

The statement in the article, “The question now is how many deaths and illnesses will history lay at Chernobyl’s doorstep?” is only the tip of an atomic nightmare.

What should be asked is, “How many deaths and illnesses—and other human tragedies—can be laid at the doorstep of those who developed, tested and utilized the ‘power of the atom’ without safeguards for those exposed?”

Few, if any “atomic veterans” have complained about use of the “bombs” to end World War II. But most have, and continue to ask the question, “When was enough enough, and why can’t we, as Americans, get the same medical and other help offered our former foreign enemies?”

Terry T. Brady, ’87
Anchorage, Alaska

The Battle of the Mascots
As a longtime Husky football season ticket holder for football, and currently a men’s basketball season ticket subscriber as well, I was pleased to see the mascot vote in the Columns I received. The 2001 mascot developed by Nike is hideous; it does not look like a Husky, it doesn’t even look like a dog, period. I refuse to purchase any merchandise which has this logo on it. Please consider going back to a mascot such as the 1979 or the 1995 mascots. Even a plain “W” such as 1991 would be better than the butt-ugly mascot we have unfortunately been forced to see since 2001. I know many fans who feel as I do.

Let’s get back to being real “DAWG” fans with a decent mascot.

Katherine H. Anderson, ’74
Mercer Island, Washington

Subliminal Advertising?
I’m writing in response to your invitation to vote on my favorite Husky logo [“Alumni to Vote on Mascots,” Sept. 2005]. I suppose 1995 might be my favorite, but I’m mainly concerned about 2001. My first reaction when I saw it years ago was to recognize the Nike logo in the neck and lower jaw of the Husky dog. I assumed this subliminal message was intentional, but wasn’t sure until I read in this issue of Columns that the logo was designed by Nike graphics! The overt Nike logo on the Husky uniforms is bad enough without the subliminal Nike logo buried in the Husky logo. I don’t think the UW should be in the business of advertising on behalf of Nike.

Floyd Short
Mercer Island, Washington

A Cure for Crows?
The short article on crows and their attacks on people [“First Take,” Sept. 2005] brought to mind a letter I saw in Runner’s World many years ago from someone in Australia who used to get attacked on his runs by a species of kite. On a couple of occasions he actually got scalp lacerations from them. He noticed that they always attacked from the back. He came up with a very simple, completely effective cure. He went to a novelty store and bought a set of buttons with pictures of eyes on them. The eyes were looking up. The buttons were two inches in diameter. He pinned them on the back of his hat and was never attached again since the birds felt he could “see” them.

Dave Jones, ’ 72, ’76

Correction
We gave the wrong title for a composition by Music Professor Richard Karpen in the “DXARTS” feature in the September Columns. The correct title of the printed score is “Exchange.”

 

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