Saturday, April 26, 2008

At Columbia University

April 26

It was a very pure delight to be on campus yesterday sunny, cool. It made me at least partly want to be part of now, not to keep gasping over the old black and white photos of Ted Gold and J.J. and Rudd and all the rest. There were pink balloons all over campus, some kind of festival with food and games, people with little kids, all the lovely students tossing frisbees, showing their bodies off, playing baseball in the field with the red flag (which means you’re supposed to stay off the grass) Our graying group not the main event at all, and frankly, that is a good thing.

At the sundial, people reading off the deaths of all 90,000 victims so far of the Iraq war. They hit a gong for each death. This was all day, you’d come out to go to the next venue, and there were the pink balloons and the green lawns with frisbee players and some black and white antiwar banners waving in the breeze, people eating and strolling and the pink and granite buildings– and then the brass gong and softly amplified voices giving a date, “four American soldiers, one four year old Iraqi, in Fallujah...” And then five solemn gongs.

At the law school, across the plaza, that huge chunk of steel in front of Law– twisted horses and hammers--a whole plaza roofing over Amsterdam Avenue that didn't used to be there-- reminder of how the university dominates up there. There was a rather elegantly dressed black woman from a tenants’ organization from Harlem who was heckling Lee Bollinger at the Law panel. She shut up when she was promised to be the first speaker in the Q&A– and of course Bollinger didn’t stay to listen.

April 25, 2008

It’s late, and I’m back from Day 1 at the ‘68 - ‘08 events. The first panel I attended, the feminist one (Catherine Stimpson, Sharon Olds, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Grace Linda LeClair and more) and the law panel (Gus Reichenbach, Lee Bollinger, Ray Brown, Sam ??) were extremely interesting.

Speakers that were especially gripping to me included Grace Linda LeClair the “sex girl” of Barnard who got expelled for living with her boyfriend-- who did not, of course, get expelled from Columbia. She made front page news– and spoke about learning how that icon, “Linda LeClair the sex girl” was so unlike herself-- now a pleasant faced smiling woman with good speaking skills, a sense of humor, grown children, a career (I’m not sure what, but she has run capital campaigns, she says). Sharon Olds appears to be very nice, too– I think I’m looking forward to reading with her tonight.

At the law panel: Gus Reichbach I could have listened to a lot longer, telling about his struggle to stay in Law School, to get accepted by the bar. How nice that we have one of us as a Justice of the New York Supreme Court! Also Ray Brown, very handsome and beautifully dressed, talked about the fact that his cohort was the first (at Columbia College, anyhow) to have a reasonable number of black students– total of 70 or 75 not counting Barnard.

At the black studies panel Thulani Davis told a wonderful story about her father, which I wish Andy's father Howard Weinberger had been alive to her. The story is that her father, a light-skinned man, was studying for a Ph.D. at Columbia in the 1920's, I think. The professors, he said, seemed to be avoiding him, and he assumed it was old fashioned racism, but then one professor called him in to his office and said, “Davis, exactly what are you?”

To which Mr. Davis replied, “Why, I’m a Negro.”

And the professor said, “Well thank God! We thought you were a Jew!”

Andy’s dad always said how Columbia was incredibly anti-Semitic– and I never got it, because it seemed that everyone I knew there (my roommates, the SDS people) was Jewish.

There was, however, a little more to her story: Later, when her Dad was working on his thesis, he was told he should start over with a new subject (was this engineering? Chemistry? Not sure) because there was some German doing the same research, and they couldn’t have a Negro beating out or shaking the glory. So her Dad left Columbia, and we can all relax-- they were racist too.

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