A note of counter-dissent to Sally Schaefer Miller’s well-intended call for veganism, naturopathy, and the avoidance of cancer research (Spring letters). The “detoxification” and “self-healing” she speaks of are a fine bit of cultural lore, worthy of study, but when loved ones are dying, I personally consider it a grave violation of ethics to deny them treatment that has been tested and found effective. Research has brought us knowledge of things that really work, while tradition has brought us only the satisfaction of recording the past. I sincerely doubt that Ms. Schaefer Miller has accomplished anything outside the normal range of cancer outcomes without any evidence-based treatment. I eat vegetarian because it’s what I like, and if the only way I could get a needed nutrient turned out to be from an animal source, I would have no hesitation. A dear friend of mine has survived five years past her expected death date through a liver transplant. Well-meaning friends have tried to talk her into going off her anti-rejection drugs and taking milk thistle—a combination that would kill her. Fortunately, she has not gone that route.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Value of Athletics
Alumni who call to verify their entries for the forthcoming directory may be surprised to hear the phone answered “Oberlin College—Home of the Yeomen.” Oberlin is home to many wonderful things, but for most of us, varsity athletics does not top the list. What alumni may not know is that there is an effort by College officials working closely with the new athletics director to “change perceptions” about Oberlin athletics in an effort to “restore successful programs.” Coincidentally, I happened to learn about Oberlin’s new image while taking part in a discussion group at Carleton College about the book Reclaiming the Game by William Bowen and Sarah Levin. Drawing on data from four groups of Division III schools plus the Ivy League, the authors argue that there is a clear trend toward an “athletic divide” between recruited athletes and students at large. Most worrisome are significant levels of academic “underperformance” by recruited athletes when compared to students at large with similar SAT scores and high school GPAs. Many highly selective colleges are beginning to question whether it is desirable, or even possible, to remain competitive in their Division III conferences without seriously compromising their educational mission. I find it incomprehensible that anyone who has read the book carefully—as President Dye surely has, since Oberlin is included in the data set—would suggest placing more emphasis on athletics. In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Nov. 14, 2003), President Dye claims to have the support of many faculty who “agree that we need to pull up our socks about athletics.” But based on my experiences at Carleton, I would guess that faculty (and alumni) are not fully informed about the costs and trade-offs involved in fielding “successful” teams. Do they know, for example, that a team’s success depends largely on a coach’s ability to recruit, and not on his or her skill as a trainer and educator? Are they aware that 42 percent of the faculty at Williams College “believe that varsity athletics detracts from the educational mission of the college”? Do they know that, with the exception of football and men’s basketball, recruited student athletes are considerably less likely than students at large to come from underrepresented minority groups? And when the new athletic director demands—and is granted—“a cooperative relationship” with the admissions office, do they know exactly what is meant? In the Chronicle article, President Dye identifies Oberlin as “a college that has experienced the unfortunate results of undervaluing athletics.” It is undoubtedly true that certain outstanding high school students may bypass Oberlin in favor of a school with more emphasis on athletics. But it is also true that an improved athletics program will exclude students of moderate athletic abilities from varsity competition because they don’t measure up to the new recruits. I urge College officials to take a hard look at how they define athletic “success.” In the words of a Williams faculty member, “We want to have an athletic program for the students rather than having students for the athletic program.”
The 10th Reunion: A Beautiful Friendship
I love Oberlin. Where else could I walk by a campus building and hear medieval
polyphony wafting out the window, then enter an auditorium to watch an educational
hip hop group tear it up?
Where else could I visit with professors who remember
me, are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and are happy to converse on
topics as various as the psychoanalytic abject in art and whether
it’s a good
idea to re-edit new scenes into the old Star Wars trilogy?
Where else could I participate in a building tour delivered by an unbelievably
articulate undergrad on the concept of architecture as pedagogy? And did I
mention that this incredibly beautiful facility is also a one-of-a-kind environmental
design that provides an amazing learning tool?
Where else could I talk with classmates who are doing everything
from union work to piano instruction, collaborative theater,
research on autism, therapeutic clowning, emergency room medicine,
and insurance industry work?
But finally, where, oh where, is there a dance club that comes
even close to the benign yet delirious sexiness of the ’Sco?
My 10th reunion felt like the continuation of a beautiful friendship.
And as with all friendships, along with the support and celebration
of the good things, some hard questions need to be asked: Why,
for instance, has Oberlin invested close to $50 million in new
science buildings and next to nil in humanities facilities? Why
wasn’t the new science building built according to any
of the amazingly progressive principles that governed the construction
of the Center for Environmental Studies? And finally, why didn’t
more alums of color show up to our cluster reunion? This question
may not seem fair, since perhaps it doesn’t reflect the
current policies and climate on campus. But isn’t this
kind of thing a two-way street? People are invited to the party,
but how welcome and comfortable they’ll feel once they
get there plays a big role in deciding whether or not to go.
One thing for which I am incredibly grateful to Oberlin is the
diversity—cultural, sexual, and socioeconomic—that
I experienced during my four years there.
I hope that diversity
remains a top priority for Oberlin, and that I hear more positive
things from young alums of color about
their Oberlin experience. And speaking of young alums, would
some of you enterprising grads please franchise out the ’Sco
and open up your first location in Western Mass?
Oberlin Alumni Magazine welcomes mail from readers.
Please address your comments to:
Oberlin Alumni Magazine
145 W. Lorain St.
Oberlin, OH 44074-1089
The editor reserves the right to edit for clarity and space.