Having Choices, and Making Wise Ones

I am writing in response to Julia Yue Zhou’s essay “The Times and the Times” [“Notes from the Undergrad,” Jan/Feb]. As a 1966 College for Women graduate of Penn, I considered myself in between the “mothers-who-didn’t-work-when-their-children-were-young” generation and the feminist generation, so I taught high school until my son was born in 1970, quit, and then had the luxury of working only very part-time until my son and daughter were seven and five, respectively. Then I went to law school part time (it still irks me that Penn doesn’t have a part-time day law-school program) and have practiced law in various capacities for the last 22 years.

Did I choose to “opt out?” Yes, for a period of time, I did, in order to raise my children during their formative years, but I didn’t throw away my educational investment forever. And what about my daughter, Elizabeth Sarah Goldman C’94? She took off a year between Penn and medical school to work on an Indian reservation and in Tanzania, is now married with an 18-month-old son, and is a psychiatrist with a very busy three-day a week private practice. I believe she had more choices than I, and she made wise ones. She and her teacher-husband balance work and family without making a big deal about gender equality or whether they are making a political statement or not. They make a good living, they have figured out the balance for them between career and family, and I am proud of both of them.

And that is what I hope that undergraduates like Zhou can learn to appreciate. You do not have to choose between the fast career-track and opting out. You just cannot have it all at the same time, and that is OK!

Deborah Goldstein Goldman CW’66 Merion Station, PA

 

Babies Look for Mommy

Although it is possible to be a wife, mother, and career person, it is not easy, and it does not come without compromise. In 1989, I graduated from Penn’s School of Dental Medicine, a new doctor and new wife. I had a million ideas of how great I was going to be—how I’d work, excel at my career, keep a clean house, and have Sunday dinner on the table. And that worked great until I became a mom.

Despite all the articles I’d read regarding how you could dump your kids at daycare from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. and they’d still turn out all right, I couldn’t do it. Becoming a mother was foreign—so much so that the only thing I could go back to were memories of my own childhood and how my mom was there for me. The sacrifices she made resulted in happy, confident, grounded children.

How would I do the same for my kids? Did I give up my profession? Of course not!! But, working three-and-a-half days a week, juggling my schedule with my dentist-partner husband seemed to do the trick. We are lucky to have that flexibility. (I am blessed to have such a supportive husband.)

I look at my 14-year-old daughter and wonder if I’m advising her the right way. I know exactly what she will be facing and it isn’t easy. We’re looking at colleges, discussing career choices, shooting for the moon. But with a warning: Babies look for Mommy when they are sick or tired. They could care less about your “important” work schedule. Little children do remember if you miss a “Mother’s Day Tea” at preschool and send Grandma because you had a patient emergency. They still remind you 10 years later. Teenagers are even more unforgiving.

Good luck to all you intelligent, hopeful young ladies! Just remember, your career as a mother and wife is no less important or satisfying than the career you chose at Penn.

Teresa DeStefano-Raziano D’89 Branchburg, NJ

 

Stay in the Work Force, Stay Vocal,
and Continue the Progress

I am a 1991 Penn grad and a 1998 Georgetown Law grad, with a husband who has a career that he cares deeply about, three kids (ages 7, 5 and 3), and “part-time” work as a senior associate at a well-known Washington law firm.

My biggest fear in reading the Times articles by Lisa Belkin and Louise Story referred to in Julia Yue Zhou’s essay (as well as much of the other propaganda out there) is that it will discourage college women and make them believe that what those women have written is true.

When I was at Penn, I also wanted to believe that the feminist fight had been won. I thought of the “mommy-track” problem as a piece of history, not current events. But these issues are still very much alive, and it is vitally important that we stay in the work force, stay vocal, and continue the progress, even though it seems to be baby steps toward change.

But at the end of the day, putting aside the political battle and tuning everyone else out, I know in my heart that my working makes me happy on many levels. It makes my marriage better, and therefore it benefits my kids. The big question working mothers ask themselves is: “Even if I didn’t need the money, would I work?” (We even ask this if, technically, we don’t need the money.) And my resounding answer is Yes!

It may take time and determination to become completely comfortable with the decision not to opt-out. My advice to the author would be to be true to yourself and your family, but don’t stop participating in the political debate. Our sons and daughters will find an improved working world as a result.

Justine Fitzgerald C’91 W’91 Falls Church, VA

 

Sexist or Ignorant?

All those articles the author refers to hit me right in the heart also. I’ve made my choice and held to my convictions, but I still hesitate; too often people challenge my decision. I have professional training and experience but chose to stay home to raise our children. I am easing back into the work force, part-time for now, and thinking hard about my future in regard to a career. The author is right to wonder; this is an unsolved problem.

What particularly offends me in this essay, however, is the powerful sexist remark made by the male expert, Dr. Jerry Jacobs: “How can you justify investing hundreds of thousands of dollars [in education] on women if they’re not going to work?” And actually, I’m not sure if the remark is sexist or ignorant. Is education irrelevant to child rearing? That anyone thinks so has always confused me.

Amy Wilmerding Manny C’82 Millbrook, NY

 

First and Foremost a Mother

I’m not a Penn graduate myself, but two of my three sons currently attend the University. (My youngest is a freshman in high school.) I came of age during the women’s movement, and believe strongly in equality for both sexes. I am ambitious, I am successful. However, I am first and foremost a mother.

I have had to make decisions that enabled me to be at home with my children, bypassing full-time positions in favor of part-time work. Have I ever made a six-digit salary? No. Am I still paying off loans from my most recent degree? Yes. Are my sons’ present tuition bills financially challenging? Sure.

I would like to offer my reassurance to the author. You can “have it all.” Just don’t be surprised when your idea of “it all” changes. For me, no amount of ambition or success could take me away from my children. Being witness and partner to their growth and development has been a privilege. I am grateful that I, together with my husband-attorney who also chose family over an 80-hour-a-week career, truly “have it all.”

Regina D. Cassidy, parent Staten Island, NY

 

Disheartening Conclusions

I think that the author has put a lot of thought into this subject and her views are extremely valuable. However, her conclusion left me disheartened. I am a Penn grad who is a published author, has worked in public relations, the software industry, and the auction business. I have served as a Peace Corps volunteer and traveled the world. I value my education and believe I have used it to project myself into interesting and fulfilling career options. But when the time comes, I would like to take the time to focus on my family, probably through working part-time.

The idea that we “cannot choose to opt out” takes parenting and the importance of family for granted. It also undermines what I believe feminists have fought for throughout this century: the right to choose. I do not believe they were specifically fighting for the right for a woman to choose between being a lawyer and being a doctor, but the right to choose whatever path she decides is fitting for her.

Zhou chooses to end her article with a sad quote that education cannot be justified for women who do not choose to work. If I choose to focus on my family, why is my mind not worth educating? Should mothers and fathers who do not focus on careers be ignorant people?

I prefer to think of work as a fulfilling activity I do to fuel my personal life, not the sole purpose of my life. And the purpose of education is to expand my mind and give me options. Not to limit myself to work. Life is too short for this type of pessimism.

Finally, I think we should focus on the more pressing issue, which is that so many men and women have to work and cannot choose to be with their families.

Cristina Lopez O’Keeffe C’97 Douglaston, NY

 

Cover No Honor

For the Gazette issue honoring Ben Franklin’s tercentenary, why on earth would you use for the cover a poorly reproduced image of the man and then cover the page with childish graffiti?

Oliver Ford G’62 GAr’65 Philadelphia

 

Open Mind a Hallmark of Greatness

In Amy Gutmann’s Ben Franklin tribute [“From College Hall,” Jan/Feb], Franklin’s slave ownership is mentioned only parenthetically. If anything, the fact that he once owned slaves, but later reversed position and vigorously championed abolition, should be highlighted. Genuine open-mindedness is a hallmark of greatness.

Bart Vinik W’71 Worcester, MA

 

Glass is Transparent

I was appalled to read “Room with a View” [“Gazetteer,” Jan/Feb]. Not, however, that a student would dare to “subject another member of the Penn community to embarrassment and ridicule,” but that the engineering junior was the only one criticized. What about the two having sex in the window?

Didn’t they realize that glass is transparent? If they did not want to be the subject of embarrassment why did they choose the spot they did? Does no one have any sense of decency anymore?

Cherrie Odell, parent Ripley, NY

 

Misplaced Concern

Let me get this straight: A couple has intercourse on a number of occasions in front of a University dormitory window in plain view of passers by and they are offended when someone takes their picture and shares it via the Internet?! And the photographer is charged with sexual harassment?

Who is doing the harassing here? How about those offended by the imprudent, tasteless display of the exhibitionist couple in the window?

For the University to criticize “the wide dissemination of the intimate photos … causing embarrassment and ridicule” to the couple is disingenuous, to say the least. The couple’s aim was to titillate and if anyone should be censured it was they. They are the ones who should apologize for their outrageous behavior.

The University’s misplaced concern is a troubling sign of how out of touch the administration is with the values of the larger Penn community. I am reminded of the tune supposedly played by the British troops upon the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown—“The World Turned Upside Down.” Indeed! An apt metaphor for today.

Joseph Leaser SW’62 Oceanside, CA

 

Lesson Learned: Cut Your Losses

After the “water buffalo” affair, I decided to make no more donations to Penn. The University’s slavish adherence to political correctness made me ashamed of my alma mater. I had recently begun to reconsider, but in light of the ridiculous sexual-harassment charges in the recent dorm-window photo incident, it’s clear that little has changed at Penn.

True, the charges were dropped in a hurry when this absurd case reached the national media. So what has the University learned from the past? Only this, it seems: When publicly exposed as a laughingstock, cut your losses right away—don’t drag out the agony as in 1993. Of the intrinsic value of free expression (tasteless though it may be), and the threat to it from spurious harassment charges, Penn apparently still has no clue.

Richard M. Shoemaker C’67 Montreal, Canada

 

Bad Dream

I am saddened to see yet another corporate-style edifice for an important facility at an institution close to my heart. Or might I say, that the new Center for Advanced Medicine, described in “Dream(s) Come True for Penn Medicine” [“Gazetteer,” Jan/Feb] is, to this observer, a tasteless, showboating structure. Would a cancer-afflicted patient really be heartened by that monstrous “multi-story atrium”?

We have certainly strayed from the modest strength of those Quaker principles of the founders of Pennsylvania and, in turn, Philadelphia. Their architecture and cabinetry is celebrated today for its sensitivity of design and craftsmanship.

The University itself is such a wonderful source of precedents. The University Museum, Irvine Auditorium, the Furness Library, Franklin Field, and the Palestra needn’t be mimicked, but they are certainly great sources of principle. And of course, there is the pivotal and most important offering to architecture, Louis Kahn’s medical towers.

I think the decision-makers need to reexamine the message of the founders.

David H. Karp FA’59 Los Angeles

 

Give Credit to Crew

It was disappointing to read your litany of woe on the performance of Penn athletics and to find no mention of one Penn team that is excelling [“Sports,” Jan/Feb].

The Lightweight Men’s Crew under Coach Mike Irwin earned medals for the first time in several decades at the IRA Nationals last June. In October, they finished seventh at the Head of the Charles in Boston, first at the Head of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia, and first at the Princeton Chase. In Boston, they were also voted the team of the year by the ECAC Coaches and Mike Irwin was voted Coach of the Year.

On another front, the Lightweight Men’s Crew has been recognized two of the last three years as the athletic team with the highest grade-point average at the University.

These young men work hard all year to represent Penn and deserve some recognition.

J. Francis Mahoney C’67 Philadelphia

 

Bulls Review Was Bull

As one of the students included in Nicole Ridgway’s book on the Wharton undergraduate recruiting experience, The Running of the Bulls, I looked forward to reading the Gazette’s review and expected to find a fair-minded, critical perspective. Therefore, I was extremely disappointed to find yet another trite, shallow rant by a former College student indicating from the beginning a disdain for the Wharton School and those who choose to study business at the undergraduate level.

In “Bullish Behavior,” [“All Things Ornamental,” Jan/Feb], reviewer Lisa Levenson seems to forget, despite her own reference to it, that the book concerns the recruiting process at Wharton. Ridgway’s aim was not to convey the entirety of the Wharton experience, the nature of our overall education at Penn, or the full details of the students’ social lives. So to ask whether there is “more to the Wharton education than just the job hunt” is to miss the point entirely. Yes, of course there is—but this is not what the book was meant to describe in great depth.

Levenson also fails severely in her attempt to understand virtually all the students in the book. She overlooks the complexity Ridgway conveyed about our motivations, backgrounds, and the thought underlying seemingly similar choices and chooses instead to simply divide us into bankers and non-bankers, driven people and people with friends. She ignores that Ridgway conveys that why many of the students were driven was that they were genuinely passionate about learning and performing academically. When we skipped social events or vacation time, it was usually out of a genuine love for what we were working on.

Levenson’s opinion could have been guessed by reading the review’s first paragraph explaining her background. She seems to believe what she wants to believe about the students. She fails to fairly evaluate the various data points presented by Ridgway and to consider the context of the book and the audience for whom it was intended. The review sadly reveals more about the tense, distrustful relationship between Wharton and the College than it does about the book. The stereotypes with which Levenson began are destructive to the great institution that is Penn.

The next time the Gazette publishes a review, I would much appreciate your starting with a less biased reviewer who will take a higher road and ask important critical questions about the work rather than take cheap shots at students about whom she has limited knowledge. As alumni, we should all expect more than this so that we can improve the quality of information in the media about our extraordinary university and critique works concerning it on an intellectual level, rather than divide like boys and girls at a sixth grade dance along the lines of College student and Wharton student.

(Name removed at writer's request.)

 

Winning Story

I read with interest your story on the documentary, “After Innocence,” made by a Penn grad [“Alumni Profiles,” Jan/Feb]. I was the attorney for Vincent Moto of Philadelphia, one of the men covered in the film who was released from prison thanks to DNA testing.

I had to fly to Philly five times over a two-year span to attain his release. This is one of my greatest victories.

Erika P. Kreisman CW’71 Pittsburgh

 

Different Boundaries Deserve Respect

Reading Wilson Bucher’s letter in the Jan/Feb issue about Paul Provenza and his film, The Aristocrats, I was surprised to learn that a mind “without boundaries” was a moral and/or philosophical equivalent to a mind “devoid of shame.” I was taught that a mind without boundaries is something to be envied; a highly prized component of higher education, certainly a Penn education.

No “trash” was published in the Gazette article. Applauded, maybe. But surely the members of Bucher’s community know the MPAA rating system, especially with their well-defined mores, so no one will accidentally see Provenza’s film—and Columbia, Pennsylvania, will be saved from collapse.

Of course, the First Amendment demands that all Americans defend—even at bayonet point—ideas that they find supremely objectionable as individuals, so you might want to give us a break and allow those of us with different boundaries to enjoy it.

Kim Story C’74 Burbank, CA

 

Correction

Dr. Alan Charles Kors—renowned history professor and well-known scourge of political correctness on campus—is no stranger to these pages, and yet we somehow managed to omit his first name and refer to him as Charles Kors in “Room with a View” in last issue’s “Gazetteer.” Our sincere apologies to Dr. Kors.



©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 8/31/10



Advice for the undergrad, and more.

MAR|APR 06 Contents
Gazette Home
Previous issue’s column