Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Summer 2008 Vol. 103 No. 4 OAM Home | Oberlin Online


Fernando Arrojo

Emeritus Associate Professor of Spanish

January 28, 2008, marked the one-year anniversary of Fernando Arrojo’s death. A complex man, Fernando was difficult to categorize. Simultaneously Old World and modern, serious, and droll; a businessman and a dreamer; a loner and a superb host; a cosmopolite and a small-towner; an intellectual and a lover of simple pleasures; extremely Spanish yet perhaps most at home in the U.S.; Fernando often lived between worlds, as do so many émigrés.

Fernando was born in Madrid on August 7, 1932, and his experiences and stories of the Spanish Civil War were as much a part of his life as were the revolutionary ’60s and early ’70s in the U.S. He received the MA in teaching from the University of Hartford and his PhD in Spanish from the University of Connecticut.

A newcomer to Oberlin in 1976, he was for a while the only full-time member of the small Spanish section of the then Department of Romance Languages. The breadth of his teaching spanned from Spanish theater of the Golden Age to contemporary theater in Latin America, from the post-Civil War novel in Spain to the narrative of Jorge Luis Borges. Students especially celebrated his Spanish culture courses, in which he explored history, art, and civilization. Keen on introducing Spanish culture to the Oberlin curriculum, Fernando kicked off his first winter term by launching an interdepartmental lecture series with presentations on El Greco. In the years that followed, he continued this kind of cultural expansion by actively lecturing, introducing films, and inviting speakers who enlightened the Oberlin community on many aspects of Spanish life.

In Fernando’s multifaceted life, one element was constant: his love for the arts. A writer of short stories, Fernando called on the richness of his experience, his sharp observational skills, and his genuine interest in the human condition to fashion his tales. His first published story was The Émigré. Others followed, built on his diverse interests and experiences, such as his time in Liberia as a businessman, or his command of Spanish history. Rendered into English from the Spanish originals by translator, colleague, and friend Olga Markof-Belaeff, Fernando’s stories appeared in numerous American literary magazines and in various Latin American, Spanish, Indian, and French venues.

Along with his academic publications on Spanish writers such as Ignacio Aldecoa and Nobel laureate Camilo José Cela, are stories he lovingly edited up until his death, now published in a collection titled Enigmas.

A special aesthetic sensibility informed not just his fiction, but all of Fernando’s life. His art collection, the decor of his home (which friends said made them feel as if they had traveled continents away from Oberlin), the way he set his daily table, even the way he dressed in a town prone to casual fashion revealed not merely his sense of style, but more so his approach to life. He once said that by defying the notion of escape or grand gestures in search of change, "one can refashion oneself in a single room."

The contribution to Oberlin for which he will be remembered best is his creation of our study-abroad program in Córdoba, Spain, known as PRESHCO (Programa de Estudios Hispánicos en Córdoba). In this endeavor, Fernando integrated his personal knowledge of Spain, his business experience, his academic passions, and his international connections to mastermind one of the most successful and longest ongoing programs of study-abroad at Oberlin. Similarly, Fernando worked to secure the successful operation of a winter-term program in Guadalajara, Mexico, which he directed for many years.

Also to his credit is the establishment of the Comparative Literature Program. He repeatedly served as chair of comparative literature, working diligently and imaginatively to develop this major at Oberlin.

Alongside hard work, Fernando also prized humor and had a keen sense of the absurd. As one colleague observed, "He was often comically indignant about what he regarded as some insufferable cultural absurdity perpetrated by fools, usually Americans, who were not as Spanish as he in their attitude." What this fellow faculty member may not have seen was that Fernando was equally critical and even impatient with outdated aspects of Spanish culture and with arrogant Spaniards. He understood irony well.

His inability to suffer fools coincided with his ability to attract the more brilliant students in Spanish, who remember him fondly and who often understood Fernando better than did some of his own colleagues. Friends in Oberlin today recall his stories, his laughter, and his jokes at parties. They also remember his thoughtful meals, and his ability and readiness to dance a paso doble, a waltz, or a tango with a willing partner.

After his retirement from Oberlin in 1997 Fernando moved to Florida, where he happily and solitarily worked on his fiction, traveling occasionally and visiting his two daughters and grandchildren. Despite his struggle with cancer in his last years, he continued to "refashion" himself, remaining always elegant, and always lucid.

Ana C. Cara is a professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin. This Memorial Minute was adopted by a standing vote of the General Faculty of Oberlin College on February 20, 2008.

Barbara Seaman ’56

Writer and Women’s Health Advocate

Barbara Seaman, a writer and women’s health advocate who early on challenged the safety of the birth control pill and hormone replacement therapy, died February 27, 2008, at her home in New York City. Ms. Seaman, who once told OAM that she "drifted through writing courses at Oberlin and stalled at the sciences," wrote the 1969 groundbreaking book, The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill, which cautioned about the pill’s then little-known side effects, such as heart attacks, strokes, and depression. In 1975, she co-founded the National Women’s Health Network, an advocacy/watchdog group that fought to give women the right to information about medical treatments and alternatives. Her work led to congressional hearings in 1970 that resulted in warning labels and patient-information inserts for birth control pills.

Diagnosed with lung cancer last year, Ms. Seaman wrote the following statement with her doctor and friend, Diane Meier ’73, just four days before her death: "Barbara sought palliative care from Diane, whom she met in 1973 at Oberlin College. Palliative care allowed Barbara to remain at home, complete two books, send six boxes of archives on women’s health to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, and be comfortable and in total control of her time and life for many months. Barbara lived fully as herself and as an author to the end of her life, defined by herself, her family, and her work, and not by her illness."

Ms. Seaman is survived by two daughters, including Shira Seaman '83, a son, Noah '79, two sisters, and four grandchildren.