New Story Suggests Sylvia Plath’s Fascination with Holocaust Began Long Before “Daddy”

Sylvia Plath. PHOTO CREDIT: Smith College Archives.

Sylvia Plath. PHOTO CREDIT: Smith College Archives.

Sylvia Plath released her newest story this spring. It was written in 1952. If the reviews are any indication, “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom” will be taught as metaphor for her own tragic fate, the poet committing suicide at age 30. But the real impact of the short story on scholarship is the revelation that Plath was thinking about the Holocaust as a young woman.

In 1952, Plath was a college sophomore. This was the same year Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl would be published in English, though Plath had yet to read it. It was nearly a decade before the film “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

With this new story, we now know the Holocaust was on Plath’s mind as early as her time at Smith College. “Mary Ventura,” which Plath unsuccessfully tried to publish in the mainstream Mademoiselle magazine, attempts to identify with its victims by imagining the Holocaust happening to a young American woman.

Plath, herself a Unitarian, was a first-generation German-American on her father’s side and a second-generation German-American on her mother’s. Her 1962 poem “Daddy,” written in the months leading up to her suicide, relies on the extended metaphor that the speaker is the Jew to her father’s Nazi.

The poem is essentially a daughter’s Dear John letter to her dead German father. The speaker blames Daddy for her suicide attempt and her doomed relationship with a man “with a Meinkampf look.” The speaker goes as far as to compare her life to that of a Holocaust victim, “An engine, an engine / Chuffing me off like a Jew. / A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. / I began to talk like a Jew. / I think I may well be a Jew.”

Plath attempted to separate herself from her poem’s speaker; Plath’s father died when she was 8, the speaker’s at 10. Plath was historically unsuccessful. “Daddy” is the reason many of my poetry-loving peers at Sarah Lawrence refuse to read Plath. It is cultural appropriation, they tell me.

“Mary Ventura” may change that. The new short story, which debuted in softback in January, revolves around a young woman named Mary Ventura. In the beginning, her parents put her on a train to the country; the station bears the name Ninth Kingdom on her black ticket in red letters. The father in this story is nowhere near the brute in “Daddy,” though he is described as “anonymous,” as if he was “traveling incognito.”

In addition to the Holocaust, “Mary Ventura” makes allusions to The Wizard of Oz and Dante’s Inferno. Once on the train, Mary makes friends with her seatmate, who shows Mary the glamour of the smoker and the dining cars while reminding her, “You pay for it all in the end.” The story takes a turn when Mary witnesses the horror of a woman being roughed up, and then forced off the train by the conductor.

Mary’s fate is tied to this ejected woman’s, as Mary learns, she is unable to change her ticket or make a return trip. The story ends with Mary running off the train, being chased by conductors, who say to each other, “The boss’ll fire us if we lose a soul this trip!”

The premise of “Mary Ventura” is rooted in a holocaust. As Mary makes her way to the train at the beginning of the story, Plath writes, “Extra, extra,’ newsboys were crying out headlines, selling papers at the doors of the train. ‘Extra . . . ten thousand people sentenced . . . ten thousand more people . . .” There are no other references to these people, except that Mary is told that, like Jews under the Nazi regime, her train is taking her to her death. As Plath writes, “Once you get to the ninth kingdom, there is no going back. It is the kingdom of negation, of the frozen will. It has many names.” Readers can’t help but imagine to Plath they are Dachau, Auschwitz and Belsen.

Jamie Jordan ‘19


SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Sarah Lawrence Is Never In Retrograde

The infamous astrology blackboard featured in the Teahaus. Credit: Zoe Patterson

The infamous astrology blackboard featured in the Teahaus. Credit: Zoe Patterson

Nestled besides the leaf-filled mason jars in the back of the Teahaus stands a miniature blackboard, always with two bits of information written on it: the conditions of the sun and the moon--that is, whichever astrological signs the two are in on any given day.  The Teahaus is no stranger to discussions of astrology. I’ve found myself in several star-related conversations in the space, including one in which I first learned how to complete my astrological birth chart--a map of personality and general life movement based on the exact moment of one’s birth.  Astrology, however, does not exist only within the confines of the Teahaus; rather, it has established a place among the larger Sarah Lawrence community.

Astrology is a belief system based around the idea that celestial bodies have the power to determine our personalities and lives.  Each individual has an array of astrological signs based upon when they were born, with the three major aspects of Sun, Moon, and Ascendant, plus an array of more specialized aspects.  These various signs denote different personality traits and aspects of the self. Astrological events, such as the positions of the sun and eclipses, affect each individual differently based upon their unique astrological identities.

Astrology has been growing in popularity at SLC.  I’ve observed it both online and off -- from speculations on the signs of peers and professors to debates on different astrological topics (are “cusps” real?  Are we all being unfair to Geminis?), the conversation appears to be picking up among SLC students. No time does this fact become more evident than when ‘Mercury is in retrograde,’ an apparent signal for disaster. Regardless of the validity of astrological beliefs, I believe astrology’s role among the SLC community is something to celebrate.

An anonymous poll of sixty-two Sarah Lawrence undergraduate students shows that the stars have at least made themselves known on campus.  When asked to rate their personal interest in astrology on a scale of one to five (one being nonexistent interest and five being high interest), 75.8 percent of respondents rated their interest as a three or higher.  When asked the same question regarding their social circle’s interest in astrology, 69.4 percent answered with a three or higher.  

Astrology might just be another fad, but it’s a fad with a positive impact on its participants.  The universality of astrology allows anyone to engage in conversation about it. I’ve found myself pulled into conversations with peers to whom I wouldn’t normally talk because the topic of astrology comes up.  Small talk gets an upgrade when instead of complaining about the weather, people are complaining about Mercury in retrograde. The complexity of astrology renders a healthy enthusiasm in discussions of it, and it’s an enthusiasm that can bring people together.  

The study of the stars is a fairly accessible topic -- the only thing one needs to become a zodiac expert is an internet connection.   You may not be able to bond with your friends over an expensive trip into the city, but you can bond with them over an astrology conversation.

Astrology is not only a positive thing for the community, but for the individual as well.  If your horoscope says you’re going to have a great day, you might approach the day with a more positive mindset.  If you recognize one of the flaws associated with your sign in yourself, you may be more motivated to work on improving that flaw.  

The college experience comes with many burdens: academic challenges, social strife, the impending threat of entering “the real world”.  While it posits itself as a serious science, astrology manifests itself among the SLC community as lighthearted, fun, and harmless. The stars can provide a little light to a community that embraces them, even on the most superficial level.

Zoe Patterson ‘20

The Need for Accountability in Journalism

Credit: Zoe Patterson

Credit: Zoe Patterson

An utterance of the phrase “free speech” in the modern-day United States typically elicits images of protests and think-pieces regarding bigoted and controversial campus speakers and safe spaces.  Typically, these discussions are not solely centered around the speakers or student facilitators of safe spaces themselves, but rather extend to the larger college communities and administrations that facilitate them.  Calls are either for a college to disinvite these bigoted speakers and allow for student safe spaces, or to do the exact opposite in the name of “free speech.”

While I am on the “don’t let bigots speak on campus and give marginalized students a safe space” side of the argument, I don’t intend to speak to those specific situations right now.  Rather, in this issue of college campus “free speech,” I see a connection to a question that extends not only to educational environments of all levels, but to the populace at large.  Like the college campus “free speech” issue, this also comes down to the roles and responsibilities of institutions.

Where do we, as journalists, editors, and all who work in the realm of media, come to the ethical point of no return in terms of what beliefs we choose to publish?

The New York Times, for example, has published multiple opinions that have spurred considerable backlash for expressing views unkind to marginalized groups.  Mayim Bialik, a cast member of CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory”, penned a piece entitled “Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World” where she places the onus of avoiding sexual assault on women by encouraging them to dress and act modestly, thus adding to the larger narrative of victim blaming ingrained in our toxic culture of sexual assault.  Bialik posits herself as wiser than other actresses in her dealings with men and indirectly blames survivors of sexual violence, writing, “I still make choices every day as a 41-year-old actress that I think of as self-protecting and wise. I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.”  Back in August, The New York Times also published a piece by James Kirchick, entitled “When Transgender Trumps Treachery” in which he attacks Chelsea Manning and implies that being transgender is a privilege that shelters one from punishment (i.e. asserting that liberals only like Manning because she’s trans).  Based upon the actual widespread legislative and cultural discrimination against the trans community, however, one can see that Kirchick’s “reality” of trans privilege doesn’t reflect actual reality at all.  

Obviously, we need to hold the writers of these pieces and other pieces like them accountable for their words -- everyone has responsibility for what they write.  However, these opinion pieces were not simply posted by their authors to a personal Facebook page or blog; rather, these were reviewed and approved by other staff members at the publication.  When we consider a work of writing and its impact, we must not only hold accountable the writer, but those involved in approving and publishing the work itself, just as we would hold a college accountable for inviting a certain speaker.

Speaking for myself, as both a writer and The Phoenix’s Opinions editor, I believe there is a point at which it is irresponsible to publish a piece, and that it when it reaches the point where it either condones or calls for violence towards a marginalized community.

Bialik’s piece, for example, adds fuel to the fires of an epidemic of sexual violence -- victim blaming only hurts survivors and puts others at higher risk of assault and harassment.  Kirchick both erases the violence and discrimination trans people already face and creates even more hostility towards trans people.  The words of Bialik and Kirchick push, respectively, misogynistic and transphobic views that, when spread on a substantive scale, put marginalized communities at an even greater risk for violence.

Publications as a whole might not condone every viewpoint they publish; however, to facilitate the spread of violent viewpoints is to be complicit.  Maybe one would like to showcase how ridiculous a bigoted belief is.  Simply publishing this belief, however, and providing no context, explanation of why this view is violent, or providing no space in the immediate vicinity of the piece for a response from a marginalized individual is naive.  If one’s goal is to expose a bigoted belief by giving a bigot a platform, consultation of individuals of the targeted group or identity should be substantially involved in the process.  

One cannot expect every reader to understand one’s intentions and not take the bigoted words as truth when one “exposes” it wholly uncontextualized.  One disrespects one’s readers when one passes off their actual lives and safety as simple, harmless debate topics for the most privileged of our society.  

In the end, the choice of which voices to publish lies with individual publications.  I believe in this choice; however, I also believe in my choice and the choice of other readers to criticize a publication, stop reading a publication, and stop giving money to a publication.  The First Amendment does not protect a publication from scorn or economic failure as a result of its editorial decisions.  I encourage readers to be conscious of how the publications they choose to read handle issues of bigotry and marginalization, and make their decisions accordingly.   

One of the reasons I am a writer is my love for words and language.  Language has immense power, for words are not simply sounds or ink on a page but forces that may drive one into action or spur one into tears.  Oftentimes, this power is a beautiful thing, but it is a power of which we must always be aware.  We must not just be mindful of the impact of our own words, but also the words of others to which we choose to give a platform.  It is up to individual publications to decide whether they want to give in to popular misinterpretation of the First Amendment and put safety at risk for the sake of debate, or to become a defender of justice and marginalized lives in the face of bigotry.

Zoe Patterson '20

On Dressing Like a Skinhead

Dorset Estate  just off Hackney Road in London. Photo taken from Flickr Creative Commons, user Duncan C.

Dorset Estate just off Hackney Road in London. Photo taken from Flickr Creative Commons, user Duncan C.

The look of the skinhead is distinctive, intimidating, and for the last few years at least, on the rise. A skinhead’s style, in case you were unclear, looks like this: shaved heads, trench coats, suspenders, high-ankle straight-leg jeans, simple button-up shirts, and combat boots, usually Doc Martens. Over the last decade, high fashion brands as varied as Givenchy, Dsquared2, Gosha Rubchinskiy and Dries van Noten have sent out collections influenced by the provocative appeal of this aggressive, hyper-masculine image. Skinhead fashion is on the runway, on magazines, and, having trickled down to the streets, on campus.

On one level, it could be said to be beautiful in its blunt simplicity. On another - the political, because fashion is always tied with power - the term skinhead has immediate associations with white supremacism for many people. And for Jewish people and people of color, the question of whether their fellow students are broadcasting their political affiliations through their clothes or just in it for the aesthetic is one they have every right to be concerned about.

To try to answer this, a little history is probably useful.

Here’s a rundown: the subculture was born in London, England in the 1960s and gradually spread beyond Britain and continental Europe into the U.S. Originally, skinheads were themselves a marginalized group who rallied among a common sense of social alienation and working class solidarity. They formed a subculture out of a shared air of rebellion, distinctive style and interest in music such as dub, ska, reggae and African soul music. Significantly, they were also multicultural and multiracial, adopting elements of their style from the parallel movement of rude boys formed by Jamaican British and Jamaican immigrant youth. Whether this was an interactive relationship or identity theft is still a matter of debate, although it’s arguable that cross-pollination and tasteful appropriation has always been necessary to fashion. At its start and at its purest, though, skinhead culture was apolitical.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that a fringe movement of skinheads who supported the white supremacist agenda co-opted the culture from those who were traditionally apolitical. Explicitly anti-racist and left-wing skinhead groups put up some resistance, but skinhead culture had been effectively overtaken. And the image of skinheads as angry but apolitical, provocative but not intolerant, became corrupted in the popular imagination. Some skinheads carried on dressing like they always did, maintaining that their stance was apolitical, but for the most part skinhead fashion was mostly worn by white supremacists. Then over time, the popularity, mainstream and otherwise, of the style dwindled until its resurgence today.

Which leaves us with two questions: why are people now choosing to embrace the skinhead aesthetic? And why have white supremacists (largely) abandoned it in the first place?

There’s no data on this, but speculation tends to head this way: today, many young people who dress like skinheads are neither working class nor white supremacists. They have had no personal history nor encounters with skinheads. They adopt the skinhead aesthetic for the visual impact, without intending any associations with ideology or history. Just as the similar subculture of punk has been commercialized and integrated into the mainstream, skinhead fashion has gradually been stripped of its deeper meaning. Or people have tried to make it so anyway, by rebranding it as “industrial punk” for example. Real subcultures, in the sense of the communities of punks and skinheads, died long ago. What’s left are lookbooks and style starter packs.

This may explain why skinhead fashion has grown increasingly obsolete as a mode of expression for white supremacists. In the peak of skinhead’s cultural crisis, there were set uniforms, set codes of behavior. Apolitical skins wore their boots with white laces, and racist extremists tied theirs with red. This kind of us-versus-them dynamic seems like something from a simpler time, totally incongruous with the chaos and blurred lines of the moment.

Today’s Neo-Nazis choose not to stand out from the crowd. In Charlottesville, they wore the banal business-casual attire of polos and khakis, the most ordinary clothes you could imagine. This was done very deliberately. It was to send the message that white supremacy isn’t on the sidelines anymore: to normalize their bigotry. Supporting white supremacy doesn’t make you a pathetic outsider or a monster - on the contrary, you can comfortably identify yourself with ordinary, upright white citizens. In comparison, the flashy display of white supremacist skinheads seems almost cartoonish. This is not to say that it is any less frightening and wrong, but simply that the context around the aesthetic is changing. Image is still important, but codes of dress - now mostly followed by teenagers - and the color of one’s laces seem trivial compared to the real issues.

Can skinhead fashion be re-claimed as apolitical? High fashion will no doubt continue to adopt and repurpose elements of the style, treating it with irony or simply choosing to focus on its inoffensive origins, as will many consumers. It’s still debatable whether casual adoption and proliferation of the style can nullify its problematic past.

Maybe it can, and that would be a win for original skinheads and for young people who just want to have the freedom to dress however they want. But even if this were possible, the process of getting there would still be painful. Tainted associations linger, and knowledge about the full history of skinheads is hardly commonplace. Is the aesthetic worth the fear and uncertainty a Jewish person or person of color feels in your presence? You have to wonder.

Chelsea Liu '21

SLC Lags Behind in Local Politics

Photo Credit:  nodigio  via Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo Credit: nodigio via Flickr Creative Commons.

About a year ago, three friends and I attended a political debate in Reisinger.  No, it wasn’t about the presidential election -- rather, it was part of the race for a seat in the New York State Senate, between Democratic incumbent George Latimer and Republican challenger Julie Killian.  While this wasn’t for a national race, the debate covered issues that affect the whole nation, not just New York State, such as climate change and policing.  The debate itself allowed for connection between the community and the candidates -- both candidates took audience questions, and my friends and I even managed to approach Killian after the debate and express our disagreement with some of the points she had made. 

Surely, an event of this nature on campus was a great resource for students.  It provided an accessible venue for SLC students to learn about a competitive race happening in the surrounding area’s political district, an opportunity for students to meet and learn about the candidates, and get a sense of what kinds of issues with which the Yonkers and Bronxville communities were concerned.  Since SLC is such a politically aware school, students must have packed Reisinger that night, right?

Besides the three friends with whom I attended the debate, I did not personally see any other SLC students in the crowd that night.  To my knowledge (and I have gone back and checked), this event was only advertised to SLC students via Facebook.  The event page lists only three students (myself being one) marked as “went”, and only ten marked as “interested”.  This debate, which drew many non-SLC community members, was not listed on GryphonLink or advertised via email.  The event, to my understanding, was only advertised by SLC Democrats, an organization which no longer exists, and not at all promoted by the school’s administration. 

This is my second year at SLC and my thirteenth year as a resident of Westchester County, and so far, the participation I have seen from the SLC community in Westchester County politics has been sparse.  Every now and then, there are events hosted by individual students, generally advertised only via social media.  While there are many student organizations dedicated to specific political issues, there are no current student organizations affiliated with any political party or specifically dedicated to local Yonkers/Westchester politics that are patently active on campus. 

The school itself has made minimal efforts in this area.  Student Affairs and Public Safety ran shuttles to the polls for students last year, and will be doing so again this year.  However, has the administration done anything further this year to get students engaged in Westchester politics?  Last semester, for example, the school hosted a Yonkers Panel where students could interact with local officials.  If we can have an event like that in an election-free semester, why can’t we have one in a semester WITH an election?

SLC created no obvious advertisement for last year’s state senate debate, held on campus.  On Monday, October. 23rd, there was a debate for Westchester County Legislature and Yonkers City Council President also held on campus in Reisinger.  No email for this on-campus political event was sent out, nor was it posted to Corq.  My only knowledge of this event came from a Westchester politics Facebook group that is not affiliated with SLC. 

Moreover, even though SLC is providing vans to the polls, they have not released any clear and accessible information to students regarding what races are happening and who’s running.  Primary elections for this year were held on September 12th, and the school did nothing to alert students of this.  Plenty of local, off-campus political events have been occurring throughout this election cycle, including debates, fundraisers, and rallies.  SLC hasn’t advertised these, and if they’ve provided transportation to them, they haven’t done anything to make that widely known. 

Like many students, if you’re not registered here, why should you care that SLC lacks local political involvement?  Even if you can’t vote here, you’re still impacted by the decisions of these elected officials.  You can still attend events, phone bank, canvass, and encourage your friends to vote and get involved. 

I would love to see SLC’s administration, one that advertises itself as “progressive”, start putting a proactive effort towards getting the majority of SLC students substantially engaged in Westchester politics, registered here or not.  Moreover, I encourage my fellow students to go beyond marking themselves as “interested” on Facebook events, and applaud those who have already taken substantive action.  SLC needs an active organization(s) with a blanket focus on our area’s politics, and these efforts must be supported by the administration.  Engagement in electoral politics certainly did not become outdated after our last presidential election.

Election day is on Nov.  7.  Please remember to vote, research who is on your ballot ahead of time, and get involved.   

Zoe Patterson (‘20)

Interfaith Union: The Importance of Religion in Activism

INTERFAITH Union board members and spiritual leaders at the community unity dinner. Photo credit: candela gonzález '17

INTERFAITH Union board members and spiritual leaders at the community unity dinner. Photo credit: candela gonzález '17

During my four years at Sarah Lawrence College, I have undertaken a lot of responsibility with clubs. From the Phoenix to Hillel, Peer Health Education to Student Senate, my schedule has always been jam-packed. But I think one of the most rewarding experiences is my work with Interfaith Union, a group I co-founded and co-chair.

As the head of Hillel, the Jewish organization, I have experienced my fair share of anti-Semitic incidents on campus, from a student doing a heil Hitler salute during the national anthem at homecoming to Facebook pages calling for a destruction of Hillel by destroying it from the inside out. Feeling ostracized and unsafe on the campus, I reached out to my fellow religious and spiritual groups for support. Other groups explained how they have felt similar isolation from the rest of campus. It was through this exchange of experiences and focus on open-dialogue that the idea of Interfaith Union came to fruition. 
The organization, which is a conglomerate of Assorted Pagan Association, Christian Union, Dhammah Club, Hillel, MSA, Spiritual Space and UUreka, primarily puts on dinners that revolve around a certain theme. These alliances represent the possibilities for other students involved in different interest groups to work with other organizations, pull in resources and make real change stemming from our campus.
Past dinner themes have included Interfaith Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day and Women in Religion. Our most recent dinner, and my last Interfaith Union event, was Community Unity Dinner on April 26, where each faith group has invited spiritual leaders and congregates from the outside cities. By bringing the outside in, we not only learned from various groups, but also transmitted our knowledge of interfaith so that they can continue in their communities.

The mission behind the dinners is that as we share food, a need for physical survival, we exchange ideas, a need for the spirit and mind’s survival. As noted on the six-point mission statement of Interfaith Union, a poster that can be seen around campus, the most important aspect to these events is that we have faith in each other. The other five points are: Interfaith Union is a group of student-based spiritual organizations, it provides a community that accepts all faith and spiritual backgrounds, events are an informal sanctuary for students to express their faiths, when one group is targeted by religious prejudice, Interfaith Union will stand in solidarity and support, and interfaith is a form of resistance to hate by being an expression of love. 

Interfaith Union's mission poster . 

Interfaith Union's mission poster . 

In today’s world, there is so much hate rooted in religion, a sentiment that ironically religious doctrines are against. By providing a space that fosters communication between various religious backgrounds, we can promote understanding and, in turn, respect. Although Sarah Lawrence is a relatively insular and safe community, religion is not a part of a regular conversation. This means that when we leave this campus and become active citizens within our communities, religion and its interface with everyday issues will not be on our radar.
There are so many progressive issues that need to be discussed: LGBTQIA and women’s rights, environmental sustainability, immigration and more. It makes sense that religion could be swept under the rug within our daily activism. But if we look at most, if not all those issues, religion plays a heavy hand in their current realities. If we just dismiss religion as archaic and backward, then we not only miss a fundamental component to important issues, but we also exclude a good majority of the people who value religion in their lives. If we want to leave this academic institution and effect real impact in the world, we have to include religion and interreligious dynamics within our conversations.
I have personally been struggling with my religious identity for several years. I grew up as a Lubaviture Orthodox Jew. I left the Hassidic community when I was 13-years-old, because I found that my progressive values and the stringent dogma were incompatible. Since leaving that community, I have been searching, a “wandering Jew” without a religious identity. But with interfaith works, I found that I could find spirituality and fulfillment within tangible forms of coming together with other spiritual groups and elevating religion to a progressive platform.
Finding ways to work with religion and to bring it into the contemporary lens will lead us to a larger acceptance of diversity. Through this process of solidarity building, we can also find empowering elements within the different religions we learn from. For example, during our Interfaith Women in Religion Dinner, we discussed important biblical and current women of faith and how religion can add to our feminism. We came to the consensus that it is the patriarchy, not religion that oppresses women. While there are some cringe-worthy sections of religious texts and throughout history, we have to find its positives and build off of them to evolve into the future we want.
Andrea Cantor (‘17)

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Has Emotional Intimacy Replaced Casual Sex as the New Taboo?

"American hookup: the new culture of sex on campus" by lisa wade.

"American hookup: the new culture of sex on campus" by lisa wade.

It’s practically the circle of life for every older generation to look on at the next generation with horror at their newfangled slang, technology, social customs and moral decay. In fourth century B.C., Plato questioned, “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” Even an inscription found in a 6000-year-old Egyptian tomb expressed concern for the state of its youth: “We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently inhabit taverns and have no self-control.”
An issue du jour concerning our youth that’s sending the media into a tizzy and the older generation into a moral panic: the changing romantic landscape and its “hookup culture”.
As much as the Baby Boomers tsk-tsk at the current hookup culture that the media reports as rampant on college campuses, college students don’t actually hook up all that much. According to a survey by Paula England that sampled more than 14,000 students from 19 colleges, on average about 80 percent of students hookup less than once per semester over the course of college. In fact, college students of today aren’t any more sexually active than the generations before them.
What the sexual liberation movement of the 60s and 70s did change for succeeding generations of women was reimagining the potential of their sexuality from merely a means of production to a source of pleasure: to be empowered to have sex and view sex in the same way men did.
But did the sexual liberation really liberate today’s women to enjoy sex as much as their male counterparts?
Recent research presented at the annual meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research tells us that the liberation hasn’t exactly resulted in equal opportunity of enjoyment for all genders. In a study led by Justin R. Garcia, out of 600 college students surveyed, women were twice as likely to reach orgasm from intercourse or oral sex in serious relationships as they were in hookups. Researchers also noted that while women do not like to say what they want and need, men rarely ask.
Women might have been liberated sexually in one sense, but in another sense, they are still trapped in the classic double standard alive in hookup culture. Women and girls are judged for being promiscuous, while men and boys “will be boys.”
There’s no current consensus on what hooking up actually means — hooking up could mean anything from kissing to sexual intercourse. This is symbolic of the wider ambiguousness surrounding the sexual and romantic landscape today: from analyzing the mixed signals of a text which said he didn’t want anything, but wants to hang out, to the ambiguous “hang out” as the new date.
But for all the ambiguity, there’s almost a social contract in hookup culture that the hookup be meaningless, or at least perceived to be meaningless. In an interview with NPR, Lisa Wade, a Sociologist at Occidental College, described this as an artificial binary between careless and careful sex: on the one hand, the idea that when we get into romantic relationships, we're supposed to be loving and kind, and on the other hand, our concept of casual sex is the opposite of that.
Convincing everyone that it was meaningless is not something that comes naturally. Instead, many college students ensure this meaningless by being drunk or appearing to be drunk when they hook up. Sober sex is very serious.
If casual sex was taboo before the sexual revolution, emotional intimacy has become taboo today. Neither party is permitted or willing to admit to emotional involvement, commitment or vulnerability. A sad takeaway from Wade’s book, “American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus,” is that men and women are free to have sex, but neither feels entirely free to love.
Though there are some men and women who genuinely enjoy and benefit from hookup culture, it’s obvious that not everyone benefits from it equally.
“It was one of the saddest realizations for me when I was writing the book just how powerfully hookup culture has convinced students that they should be embarrassed for having feelings and feel weak for wanting connection,” Wade said, because of course, having meaningful relationships and sexual experiences that are kind is something that all human beings want. In fact, according to Wade, men are more likely than women, by a few percentage points, to say that they wish they could be in a relationship.
We all desire intimacy, but there can’t be any kind of intimacy without vulnerability. To be fully engaged in an intimate relationship requires being vulnerable. To give and receive love fully, we need to be vulnerable to be open to it. To wear our heart on our sleeve — to tell someone how we feel about them — and to expose our raw, imperfect, flawed, messy selves, is scary. Perhaps then, the most radical change we can make in our culture today is not a sexual liberation, but an emotional one. 
Shane Tan ’20

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Why Public Education is Important

Secretary of EDUcation betsy devos, who was confirmed on february 7. photo courtesy of bloomberg news. 

Secretary of EDUcation betsy devos, who was confirmed on february 7. photo courtesy of bloomberg news. 

On November 23, 2016, Donald Trump named Betsy DeVos as his pick for Education Secretary. On February 7, 2017, she was confirmed and entered his cabinet. And while qualifications for cabinet positions come in many forms, I think everyone can agree that DeVos isn’t exactly what you would call qualified. 

Even Senate Republicans, who have the majority, were wary of her confirmation and she was only confirmed when Mike Pence used his power as President of the Senate, the only really interesting thing he gets to do while he waits for Trump to either die or get impeached so he can take office, to break the 50-50 tie. 

DeVos herself did not attend public school and she did not send her children to public school. She also firmly believes in school voucher programs and charter schools, things that pretty much undermine any progress public schools might make. And now she is in charge of public education. Because that makes sense.

Now I’m not trying to say that public schools are perfect. I went to public school, a fairly large one with about two thousand students. I’ve lived through PE classes with sixty people or more, English classes where there aren’t enough school copies of the assigned reading for the whole class, and a lot of standardized testing that never told me or my teachers anything remotely important.

The public school system is flawed, that’s not a new concept. But how can it get better with someone like DeVos, whose solution is to just move all the kids to charter schools? What good does that do us?

When I started kindergarten at Julia Morgan Elementary in Stockton, CA, there were about twenty kids in my class. I had a teacher, Mrs. Womack, and there were countless parent volunteers and school aides to keep us all alive and entertained. 

This year, at the same elementary school, my mom’s kindergarten class started with 22 kids and now has 24 kids because of overflow from other schools.Two more kids may not seem like a lot until you realize that she has a lot less help now too. She still has some parent volunteers and some high school kids in the ROP (Regional Occupational Program) class who help on most days but no school aides, not even for any autistic kids she might have. So on any given day, the ratio of her classroom is 24:1. This is a stark contrast to Mrs. Womack’s classroom, where the ratio was more like 12:2.

It’s no wonder the number of people deciding to be teachers is falling, no one in their right mind would become a teacher now, knowing that they could be put into a classroom with 24 kindergarteners and basically no help.

Fixing public schools isn’t going to be easy, national problems like these never are. If they were, no one would be living in poverty, everyone would go to college, and no one would be considering Trump’s wall. It’s going to take a lot of people to figure out how to fix what public education has become and, frankly, we could use as much help as we can get. 

However, the public education system needs people that are invested in that system. That doesn’t mean that every person who went to a private school is evil or unqualified. But even if they did go to private school, they need to acknowledge the fact that not everyone can have the opportunity they had and the smarter option, the better option, is to make public schools so great that school vouchers won’t be necessary. Can they be a temporary fix? Sure. But you don’t put a band aid on a broken dam. 

Like most of Trump’s cabinet, Betsy DeVos isn’t going to help anyone. The public school system hasn’t made a whole lot of progress since it took a bad hit in the recession, but as the Secretary of Education she now has the power to undo years of progress that educators have made. Over the years education has become less and less of a priority for everyone, and DeVos’ confirmation is only a symptom of the apathy that is hurting millions of students every day.


SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Trying to Find my Place in the World

Author Shane Tan '20. 

Author Shane Tan '20. 

I didn’t feel at home in my family, or the country I was born in — Singapore. I dreamed about and anticipated the time when I would be able to leave home. Going to college abroad was the perfect opportunity for me to leave. I studied in Australia after secondary school, and while I was happy for the opportunity to get away, I knew that Australia wasn’t where I thought I wanted to end up eventually.
America was where I wanted to be.
I wanted to be here not just because of the liberal arts education America offered, but also because I identified with its culture. I thought I would belong, because of the “American Dream” and the ideals America proudly proclaimed were its assets, a nation of immigrants who came together to form a melting pot whose diverse cultures and talents made it uniquely great.
The stories about immigrants who arrived in America with only five dollars in their pocket and the clothes on their backs made you imagine a place that as long as you were willing, you would be able to make a life for yourself. It was a place full of possibilities and opportunities.
When I saw Asian-American actors on television, talk shows, broadcast news, and in films — however few and limited their presence and roles were — I saw a model of possibility for myself.
But nothing is perfect, and I see the cracks in the dreamland of the free. Some would argue that the American Dream is dead, or that it was always a myth — that it never existed at all.
During my first year in college in America I learned about the “perpetual foreigner” syndrome — the alienating experience of being Asian in America. Even the most culturally assimilated are not exempt. Flora Belle Jan, the young Chinese-American flapper wrote in a letter in 1925: “I know that I have penetrated more American homes than any other Chinese girl, and I have found many people cordial… But someone some time must make comments, and these do not fall gently on my ears.”
Every time someone expresses surprise and points out how well I speak English or when I have to explain why I speak so eloquently — I am reminded that I’m not seen in the same way as others. I don’t belong in the same way here.
As I learned more about the history of the United States, I have to come to terms with how marred America is by its ugly history, something it still struggles to acknowledge. That, in fact, it didn’t allow for a seat for everyone at the table. Ironically, America’s immigrant labor probably made the very table with no seats open to them. America was and still is an old, white boys club. 
Even though I’m at a prestigious liberal arts college, I’m still faced with the reality that the odds of America’s laws and policies are against me staying here after I graduate.
In a Vox essay, entitled “I spent the last 15 years trying to become an American. I've failed.,”
William Han, a lawyer who’s been in America for 15 years since he was 18 and holds two Ivy League degrees, discusses having spent all of his years in America legally. He followed all the immigration regulations, paid all his taxes, received not so much as a parking ticket, and yet, he tells us he is still on the verge of deportation. 
“Following the rules [in America] isn’t enough,” Han says.
A H1-B, a work visa, is  valid for three years and renewable only once. Hundreds of thousands apply for work visas, but the law only grants 85,000 of them—20,000 to those holding advanced degrees. The rest are turned away.
After graduation, I’ll have a year to find work with an employer willing to sponsor a visa for me. If not, I’ll have to leave this country. America is no longer the first choice for the best and brightest of immigrants.
As much as I want to love this country, it doesn’t seem like it wants to have me.
Does America have a place for me? If not, where do I belong?

Shane Tan ’20

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

TDoR 2016: Thoughts on Trans Rights After the Election

Protestors standing up against the election of Donald Trump in New York City. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

Protestors standing up against the election of Donald Trump in New York City. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

This is a time in history when many of us have seen a need for action, including the trans community. The Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience this year happened in the context of both increasing visibility and significant danger for trans and gender-nonconforming people. In July, GLAAD described 2016 as “the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States.” Political fights over access to public restrooms for trans people reached a height in North Carolina, reaching more national attention as part of larger debates over our legal rights. This year and the U.S. presidential campaign specifically was filled with argument over the civil rights of many marginalized groups. 

On November 8th, many people’s worst fears about this country were reinforced by a national election that enabled and seemed to validate many forms of bigotry and violence. Racism, xenophobia, and misogyny are becoming louder, and those who promote them are demanding power past the institutional oppression that was already present. What is happening is not new, but it seems to have worsened even as many have seen our society as continually progressing towards diversity and tolerance.

TDoR on November 20th carried even more weight than before. As a trans person, it felt like I might be mourning for the future as well as for those who had already been lost to us.

There is a long history of the most marginalized in our community, primarily trans women of color, doing the most for all of our rights and wellbeing. The Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria riots in the late 1960s, often considered the start of the modern trans and LGBTQIA+ rights movements, were mainly the work of trans women of color with few resources. Trans women of color also experience the worst effects of transphobia, combined with racism and misogyny. The wider trans community, and the LGBTQIA+ community, have a responsibility to do better at listening to the concerns of the most vulnerable people in our communities, and focus our work and resources accordingly. This has clearly not always been the case for us. The next few years may begin to lower our expectations even further, and to resist a dead-end future we have to resist the normalization of any oppression. Remembering our history and the potential of a world that is truly welcoming and safe for any of us is vital. 

We need those who can most afford to take risks to actually do so. Often in my conversations with cisgender people who consider themselves allies, or at least not enemies, we are still stuck working out the most basic forms of acceptance and respect like using the correct pronouns (sometimes called preferred pronouns; that does not mean they are optional). Instead of limiting ourselves to that, we need people who get it to address the systems of oppression they are not the targets of. As someone with relative privilege compared to the rest of the trans community, I include myself as one of the people who need to step up more than ever.

We have as much right to live our lives as anyone; no one should be made constant advocates for their basic humanity.

People who are not trans seem to find it easy to dismiss our concerns as irrelevant. This is not an equal loss for everyone who does not support Trump; marginalized people will get the worst of it. Even the fight for our basic legal rights has been treated like a joke; a recent attempt at a joke on SNL flippantly blamed the Democrats’ election loss on advocacy for trans rights, in an exhaustingly familiar example of victim-blaming. When we want this world and this country to change, we have to make sure we are fighting the right forces, not finding scapegoats.

Those who do recognize the validity of our rights can still dismiss the validity of our fears. Not one, but two people close to me, when I mentioned briefly the concern my friends and I had about traveling in more conservative parts of the country, told me I should stop worrying about it because there were surely more likely dangers anyway. My lived experience, even as someone who is relatively unnoticeable and often read as cis, was not once considered a reliable predictor of reality by anyone except other trans people. Trans people have been living in an unsafe world for a long time; we are the ones who know most clearly what we are facing.

For other trans people: It is ok to be scared. It is also ok to not always have the energy to fight; you shouldn’t have to. We should all be able to live our lives as whole lives, not as a war. At a time when the rest of the world is uncertain, we can still do our best to take care of each other and ourselves.

We do not have the time to be patient, by which people often mean quiet. We are already surviving what the world throws at us however we can. I think that when cisgender people tell us to slow down, what they mean is to not make them be aware of how slow they are going. They frame it as being about what we ask of other people, but really even our self-proclaimed allies are often afraid of being asked to share one piece of the tasks ahead of us. So they may deny that the work even needs to be done as it does. Everyone – including cisgender people – has the right to take care of themselves and not do what is impossible or truly unhealthy. But even corrections of pronoun use, or walking with someone to keep them safe, can go a long way.

There have been times in my life when the isolation of continued misgendering and harassment for my gender expression, the exhaustion of hypervigilance from the need to repeatedly defend myself verbally or physically, and fear for my friends and community all seemed like too much to carry for an entire life. That was the case long before this year. What helped was any reminder that the world is not limited to that. Being called the right pronouns for the first time all day once I met up with friends, or getting a compliment on my shorter haircut, could help. Even something not related to gender like a momentary undemanding smile from a stranger, or a text from a friend who had to share a bad pun, can bring back the reality that the world does not have to be a cold place.

After the Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience, after remembering who and what has been lost, we can also continue to celebrate and build our resilience. We are already whole people with whole lives. And we have the right to recognize that and expect other people to recognize that as well. When some people act like they want us to disappear, our survival and ability to live anyway is more meaningful than ever. When faced with transphobia, we do not have to be the bigger people about it, because we already are. 

We can support each other in ways that might seem small. Many of us, trans people and others, have already been doing that; checking in with each other, offering a cup of tea or a hug, sharing a spare meal swipe, being a listening ear. Those are ways we help grow our community and make the world a more welcoming place for everyone.

And sometimes we are moved to take political action; that does not have to be painful or very visible either. A phone call to a representative, or sharing news and petitions, or a small donation, has meaning and can help make a real difference.

There will always be inherent value in our existence, and always a future.

I can’t say it will be ok. The next few years will probably be painful, and there will be unacceptable losses. What I can say is that it might hurt less if we get through this together, and look out for each other.

J.M. Stewart '18

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Stories of an Immigrant

Photo of Bertha Glantzman and Abraham Glantzman. Courtesy of the McInnis family.

Photo of Bertha Glantzman and Abraham Glantzman. Courtesy of the McInnis family.

Much of what I know about Bubbie (Yiddish for great-grandmother), is rumor and mystery at best. I know she lived somewhere in Rural Russia. I know she watched two governments topple in the course of a decade. I do not know about her. I can’t fathom her experiences or loves or likes, because I never really knew her. That is why, by some godsend, I recently discovered a cassette tape. The only whisper of what is inside comes from the title: Mama’s Interview-Complete, as well as the date, 1963. It is well preserved, still shrouded in its clear plastic case, with a few notes scribbled in unintelligible cursive on the back. I was instantly gripped by excitement, and so I hastily bought a cassette player off amazon. 

She came to New York in 1910 on a cold winter. The boat rocked with the overflow of people coming in from the old-country. The great minarets and skyscrapers looked sullen and shrouded in fog; and among them as a beacon, was the Statue of Liberty, cloaked in green, with her arm outstretched towards the clouds. Never had a building seemed so tall and intimidating. It was new and exciting, she said, so unlike the squat, tense villages and snowy Russian cities. They had only a few cents and a suitcase. They had no shoes, and were seasick from ten days in the halls of a cramped and loud boat. 

Ellis Island was crowded and dank with sweat. The tall ceiling of the main building gave the structure an atmosphere of rot and mold. When they settled in the Jewish quarter of the city with seven other children, the streets were lined with all sorts of vendors selling smoked fish and wares for the home. She talked of meeting new friends who shared her religion –there had only been four Jewish families in her village– and how she often weaved her lithe body through the raucous crowds and merchants, laughing with her newfound companions. Her mother made them dolls from tarp and leftover scraps to play with, and despite the smog and endless nights, they made a home. 

There was one bed in their apartment, and all the children either slept on the bed or the floors. It was stifling and clammy, but they always had food on their table and full stomachs. They always sat down for the sabbath, and prayed and gave thanks. 

In Russia, she described Christians, drunk and groggy men, who would abuse the Jewish families in town. She described a man who beat her mother, a stranger in the house. They hadn’t even known him, but one night he decided to break in the flimsy door of the house. They were scared, and when the Christian men came again, they were gone to Moscow. They went over a frozen river, and took a carriage into the city. Dark and cold, her father became a merchant, who sold various fruits and dried meats in order to scrape by. They went to the theater once and awhile for recreation, but had little money. Her father then decided to take what was left, and head off to America. He sometimes sent money from New York, and so they came one at a time, the oldest child first, until they had all arrived in the city. The relatives that were left, according to Bubbie, were killed in the oncoming war. 

Bubbie was married at twenty; her mother before her was forced into an arranged marriage at the behest of her father. Bubbie, of course, did not want the same fate; she did not want unhappiness. Yet through the second half of the interview, she struggled to find a moment in her life that was truly happy. I don’t know whether or not she ever found happiness, I never met her, but I hope she did somehow. 

The most important thing to take away from this, is the hardships of a migrant which are so important now more than ever. The East, despite its problems, has survived. But Islam is scapegoated, much like jews were and still are today. There is a similarity in prejudices, while different in their own respects, when someone says “all muslims are terrorists” or “all Jews are thieves.” Neither statement rings true in a world that is never so clear-cut. 

The same conditions which first appeared in Germany in the early 1930s are emerging once more into today’s world. The way in which Muslims are being targets, with talks of internment camps in the United States is not only saddening, but also reminiscent of the second world war. In conjunction, the rise of nationalism and neo-nazism is no less frightening than it was eighty years ago. 

With the spikes in hate crimes against Muslims that coincided with the conclusion of the election, people remain in denial about the root causes of extremism. Religion, whether Judaism or Islam, does not cause people to kill one another, other people do. Whatever your stance is on religion, at the core, it is a binding mold that unites all sorts of disparate groups in the name of peace. It is only when people misinterpret those fundamentals of peace and become that extremism exists. 

I believe great-grandmother’s story remains poignant in a time like this. She survived despite hatred and bigotry. She makes me remember that there have been times where things have seemed impossible and the sacrifices people have made to bring us the freedoms we have today. It will be a hard battle to retain such freedoms; people will most likely lose their lives along the way. We mustn’t diminish them, they must not be forgotten or lost to history. I remain, as we all should, optimistic. People unite in times of sorrow, and hopefully the same cords that bind us to each other will become even closer in the course of these events. I hope to see in the coming years people protecting one another. I hope to see people standing up for the rights of each other. I hope we can move forward and bring meaningful change to the world. 

And so I am reminded now of a famous quote from Anne Frank, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.” With all that has happened, remain strong, we will not be moved or shaken, and we will not give in. 

Zachary McInnis '20


SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Director Julius Powell on '52 Shades of Brown'

The  52 Shades of Brown  cast. Photo credit: Vanilla Kalai Anandam '19

The 52 Shades of Brown cast. Photo credit: Vanilla Kalai Anandam '19

Frequently, in the African-American community, much is left unsaid. When beginning the process of working with Monet Thibou on her play 52 Shades of Brown, I knew her words would begin a unique exploration of the Black Millennial on stage—something rare that distinguishes it from most student productions. Although the audience walks in on this intimate moment between seven Black college students, they are also welcomed. The arms of these characters are open in ways that are equally comfortable and uncomfortable. 52 invites its audience to open its eyes to the depths of experience faced by young Black people today, and those depths run deep. Here at Sarah Lawrence, particularly in the theatre department, we find ourselves walking through these depths and working to find ways that these narratives and stories can be presented to larger audiences. 
With 52, I knew that by saying yes to directing the piece, I was implicitly saying yes to so much more than that. I was saying yes to being the figurehead for a show that was asking for a lot—even though it wasn’t. As an African-American theatre maker, there is a pressure for perfection that is felt in all spaces that we occupy. You want every aspect of the audience experience to be one that is not only good, but also disruptive—and that, ultimately, is what 52 calls for. In directing the piece, I knew that I would have to face all of the challenges of putting on a non-traditional narrative, and the biggest challenge that I faced was getting brown bodies into the room. Our cast was not complete until 3 days prior to the beginning of rehearsal. It was the only show in the Fall season to face this issue and as a director, it is disheartening to know that you are responsible for making sure that such an important project like 52, is produced, and produced correctly (read: in the way that the playwright and community wants it to be produced). 

With that being said, in order for this show to be put on, as a director, my decision and conversation with the playwright would have to be based in “look”. This meant that the focus of the show would not only have to be about the story—but it would, most importantly, need seven black bodies on stage. I searched high and low, and was able to cast an ensemble of 7 actors. With that being said, sacrifices to aspects of the show had to be made—as with any piece of theatre—and given the time frame, I knew that more than actors that were the most experienced and versatile, that I needed everyone on my team to be willing to work hard and know that in 15 rehearsal days, less than 45 rehearsal hours, and 1 tech day we would need to have a finished product that communicated Monet’s story in the best way possible.

The Theatre Department is in a period of time where relations between the student body and its faculty/administration are reaching into the aforementioned depths. The pain of the lack of representative narratives has reached its breaking point, and we as a community are anxiously attempting to find ways in which discussion, proposals, group efforts, and projects can ultimately fix this problem. But the question is then asked: is there a real way to fix these problems? Is there somewhere to go, that we haven’t already? And though, ultimately, what we want as a student body is to be understood—the line between what we as students can do, and what our administration and faculty can do is becoming more and more grey—for better or worse. What Monet captures reflects this idea of uncertainty for next moves. Rather than answering all of the questions that may be asked about the Black millennial, we find that some questions simply can’t be answered—and if they can reach the point closest to the answer, then we have surpassed the plane of passive listening, and must be forced to face the ground level of the depth of the Black experience.

52 enters, downstage center, as the result of these difficult discussions, and, of what it means to navigate being a “brown” student at Sarah Lawrence and beyond. 

In our own lives, this creation of Browness/Blackness manifests in ways beyond our control. It affects the constraints of our relationships with each other, both romantically and platonically. It affects our academic endeavors. It irons out our words in predominantly white spaces. It polices our tone during periods of frustration and anger, and it continuously comforts the oppressor, even when the Black/Brown body has been displaced. 

Throughout the process of getting 52 on its feet, I’ve wondered: what has history left those of us Black 20-somethings who live in the 21st century? 52 Shades of Brown shares that in an age of continuous questioning of life worth, we are reminded that although lives in this community are lost—those that are still alive, forge on, leaving just enough space for the hope of a better tomorrow. 

52 Shades of Brown sold out in less than 7 hours. The student body wants to see works of different narratives. They wish to experience art outside of their comfort zone. The demand is there. It is now our school’s job to meet that demand. 52 is more than just a show—it is a reminder of the thoughts and words of millennials of color that are still left unsaid.

May we appreciate these bodies and their stories, be unafraid to laugh at their joy, be displaced by their choices, and ponder the unanswered and unsaid.

Julius Powell '17

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

When Accommodations are Less Than Accommodating

Dean of Disabilities Polly Waldman. photo credit: andrea cantor '17

Dean of Disabilities Polly Waldman. photo credit: andrea cantor '17

Throughout my time at Sarah Lawrence, three professors have denied my disability accommodation. As a student with Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), which in layman’s terms affects a person’s comprehension of verbal speech, I require subtitles on all audio/visual material. Three professors that incorporated audio/visual material within their course, however, claimed subtitles would not be beneficial for myself or other students. One professor even went on to add that subtitles “would ruin the movie experience for the other students.” When I asked him if I could watch the film on my own, he replied, “Then you would be missing the movie experience.” All three professors suggested that I watch the movie both in class without closed captioning and out of class with subtitles. Watching the films twice, while others only had to see it once, hardly seemed like an accommodation that would allow me to be on equal footing with the other abled-bodied students.

The first two incidents were during my first year at Sarah Lawrence College. After both instances, I went to Dean of Disabilities Polly Waldman, who works with students to write out accommodation letters tailored for each class. She offered to contact the professors. Fearing repercussions from my professors through grades or treatment in class, I refused the offer. Instead, I went to my screenings, realizing the true interruption to the movie experience was when I constantly asked the people next to me what was just said.  It appears that had my accommodation been accepted, as is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), then all the students would have had an accessible way to enjoy “the movie experience.”  

Fortunately, during my junior year, I took a class on health policy and activism with Sarah Wilcox. For the first time, I had a professor who made sure that all audio/visual had subtitles and if they were unavailable, she made sure I could watch the material on my own.

The point here is not to shame the professors who denied me and other students their accommodations. In most cases, the professors do not fully recognize that they are enforcing a discriminatory practice. In my case, the professor genuinely did not want me to miss “the movie experience.” What he failed to realize was that without closed captioning, my disability hindered my comprehension so I would assuredly miss it.

Other students have also faced similar situations with their professors. Leila Chediak ’17 has documented Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Her accommodations mainly consist of professors communicating any unforeseen changes in the syllabi and going over her drafts and outlines prior to deadlines. Yet as Chediak points out, the accommodations that a student works on with Dean Waldman are not always seriously handled by the professor. 

Many professors do not even realize that accommodations, which are addressed to them, are for them to keep. As Chediak stated, “Even if you have these letters about your accommodation, I feel that you have to be persistent to actually get your accommodations. It isn’t with all teachers, but it is with a lot of teachers.” Last year, Leila sent a section of her conference draft, a week in advance, to her professor. Understandably, the professor had a family emergency and was unable to go over her draft. However, while he said he would get back to Leila, he never communicated with her or offered an alternative accommodation.  “It felt uncomfortable. I am a student and he is a teacher so it was really stressful,” she recalled. Conversely, this year Chediak is taking a class with David Peritz, a professor who not only took her letter, but also reviewed it and emailed her with an acknowledgement. Chediak praised her other professor, Melissa Frazier, who encourages drafts from her students. Chediak said, “I didn't even feel like I had a disability.”

The student run group, Disability Alliance (DA), has been focusing on the student-teacher relationship in regards to ADA accommodations. Co-chair Rebecca Gross ’17 said, “It's something that comes up a lot in Disability Alliance meetings.” DA plans on implementing additional teacher training on ADA standards and providing students with more information via events and written material on the ADA. At Sarah Lawrence, Gross explained, “I personally believe that the vast majority of professors want to do the right thing.  They want to create a successful learning environment for all of their students, including those with disabilities.” However, Gross acknowledges the reality of those times where professors do not abide by the ADA, as she affirmed, “It is vitally important to go through the right channels [Dean Waldman] when you feel your rights as a student are being violated.”

In total, the number of reported professors breaking ADA rules has been relatively low. As Dean Waldman numbered, “There have been very few cases,” mentioning that she can count the amount of incidences on her hand. For the times that an alleged violation does occur, Dean Waldman explained the appeal process. First the professor must explain why the accommodation “fundamentally alters the objectives and the integrity of the class.” For example, if a person has a disability that interferes with their ability to write, an accommodation that says they do not have to write papers is not reasonable. However, if the course requires four papers, a possible accommodation could be that one of those papers is an oral report. Dean Waldman stresses the point that a student must be proactive. Students cannot work retroactively. If at the end of the semester, a student realizes that they needed an accommodation, unfortunately it is too late. After distinguishing between a reasonable and unreasonable accommodation, Dean Waldman can either reject the professor’s appeal or offer alternative accommodation. For instance, if you need note taking assistance, but the teacher rather not have the class taped, the student is still entitled to note taking assistance, such as getting another student’s or the professor’s notes. 

In conjunction with DA’s plans for this year, professors should be conscious of how they interact with students with disabilities. Although our school’s record of discriminatory practices in regards to disabilities has been low, even one student being unlawfully denied their accommodation is too many. The importance here is equality, but it is also important that students know their rights and faculty know the consequences. At any time a student may file a complaint through the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and potentially sue the school for discriminatory practices. Yet, Dean Waldman is a strong resource and she is able rectify many situations. As Dean Waldman suggested, “My advice is to come to me and we will work with the faculty member.”

My advice is to speak up if you face a discriminatory practice. There is undeniably a power dynamic between a student and a teacher, but that should not infringe upon your rights as a non-abled body. Learning how to be a self-advocate is just as important as any class you may take. 

Andrea Cantor '17


SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Confessions of a SLC Drag Queen

Thomas speta's drag show PERSONA  MOLLY poppins. courtesy of thomas speta. 

Thomas speta's drag show PERSONA  MOLLY poppins. courtesy of thomas speta. 

If there was ever one thing that Sarah Lawrence College is, it’s LGBTQ friendly. From the moment I discovered SLC, I knew that I had found a place to be myself and explore my sexuality. I grew up in a conservative city, and in an even more conservative household. My parents told me that if I was going to move so far away from them that I would need to hold to my religious beliefs, sexual repression included. But I knew that my going to college needed to be a journey where I could fully accept who I was as a queer person. Luckily, I was able to attend SLC for my first-year under the guise of a “Light for Christ,” a term my Mom and Dad used.

If New York wasn’t enough of an open-minded place, Sarah Lawrence was like nothing I had ever seen. There was no need to hide any longer. Students walked comfortably across campus, rocking their neon-colored hair and ripped fishnets. Before moving to New York, I had never even seen an open homosexual. Conversely, at SLC, no one even batted an eye at the idea of queerness. It was everywhere, and it was normal. Where the rest of the world was still struggling to understand gay marriage, Sarah Lawrence was breaking down concepts of gender and sexuality with a confident and colorful smile on its face. From that initial encounter, I knew this is where I would find my home.

Incidentally, by the end of the summer before my sophomore year, it really did become my home. My parents found out about my sexuality and kicked me out. They told me that the “dark path” I was on was not sustainable. I had gone from the support and care of a stable family to being completely on my own. The next month was rough, but through the chaos of this displacement, I had one clear goal in my mind: Come back to Sarah Lawrence. Nothing else mattered to me than to be back at the place where I had grown so much. I knew that the people and the support that I needed was at the school that had taught me to be happy with myself. Although I came back to SLC with a much heavier heart and a harder path to walk, I was welcomed with open arms. There were people expressing a type of love, caring, and acceptance that I had never felt before.

Molly poppins as the trophy presenter at 2016's slc reelies. COURTESY OF THOMAS SPETA.

Molly poppins as the trophy presenter at 2016's slc reelies. COURTESY OF THOMAS SPETA.

Then another obstacle presented itself. At the end of my sophomore year, I was unable to pay my tuition bill. I felt scared, and had to humble myself to ask for help. What I didn’t know was that my SLC family was willing to help me in every way they could. My GoFundMe goal was fulfilled in three days. Moreover, during that time, people expressed an outpouring of love that has changed my life forever.

Since then, I have grown so much stronger and more confident with who I am and who I was meant to be. I discovered drag, which has given me a mode of expression that I never knew I needed. I found my identity as Molly Poppins and now I look at drag as a piece of my heart. I would have never learned half the gay culture I know now without SLC’s influence. While I still have so much to learn about myself, I’m excited to use the tools that Sarah Lawrence has equipped me with. Not just the tools of academia, but also the tools of self-confidence and steadfastness that I needed to access a deeper part of who I am. What really mattered most to me however was that Sarah Lawrence never needed to show me that it was a safe space. It just was. There has never been a moment at SLC where I’ve felt different for being gay, or that the school wasn’t providing me with a sense of security.

The queer community can be a tough bunch, but to see so many people come together to create an environment like SLC, it is inspiring. When the Princeton Review ranked us #1 for being LGBTQ-friendly, it felt like a puzzle piece fitting perfectly into place. It reaffirmed what I already knew, that SLC will, and always will be, the place where I came into my own, and found the community that has become my family.

-Thomas Speta '17

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

You at Queer SLC

TÂM Nguyen. Photo Credit: Matt Wrubel

TÂM Nguyen. Photo Credit: Matt Wrubel

You are a queer kid and you are looking for a college to call home.           

You hear about Sarah Lawrence College. You hear about its liberal lineage and its radical makeup. You hear about the mostly feminine student body so queer you’ll be “queer in a year or your money back,” and you decide: you want to be a Sarah Lawrence student.       

You are a queer, trans Asian-­American girl, and you wanted to be a Sarah Lawrence student.                    

You write on your application, an essay about your racial and queer identity and becoming a person in the world that disenfranchised you. You add with that essay a sample of your academic writing where you analyze how your country’s laws dehumanize trans people, and therefore you. You get into Sarah Lawrence and you become, a Sarah Lawrence student.                  

You get to Sarah Lawrence and you assert your pronouns as she and hers. Although you haven’t started hormones, your peers and professors don’t linger on that fact and regardless your androgyny is allowed. It feels like the queer haven for you, which doesn’t demand of you anything you aren’t. You think about big universities you also applied to and you feel the sinking presence of historical repression all the way from your campus, where you are protected.

You go through your first year and amidst the courses on Marxist theory and Foucauldian discourse you recognize a strain of anxiety -­ a tinted loss.                

You unlearn heteronormativity as you wonder why you have only seen one queer couple before college and now you have seen an infinite amount and might still feel shocked ­- you stand before Westlands at #BLACKOUTSLC as friends and strangers disavow racialized aggressions on campus and how your school needs racial diversity ­- a friend of yours tells you they feel more comfortable with they/them pronouns and you revel in the fluidity of human experience -­ you look around the crowd in front of Westlands and you feel yourself washed away by the sea of white people.

You are nearing the end of your first year and in a conference project, you mention the quintessential Sarah Lawrence student in your mind. You close your eyes and you imagine a girl. A girl in all black ­- with a bob. A queer girl, studying literature and social sciences and art. A white girl ­- a pale white girl.     

You think about why you don’t imagine yourself. You think about the sacrifices you made in picking Sarah Lawrence. You remember learning how painfully white Sarah Lawrence is during your college research. Though most of your friends in high school had been people of color, you chose the playground for the queer intellectual. In high school you had started to understand the implications of historical and modern imperialism, but you still chose a school full of rich white people.

You understand that there were sacrifices but then you wonder why not even your own queerness feels observed at “queer in a year or your money back” SLC. You wonder why the student representing your own school in your own mind is a queer white girl.       

You then realize -­ your first mistake was trying to divide yourself into fragments. Regardless of what neoliberalism has tried to convince you, you knew your own understanding of your gender had always been informed by your racial otherness. Your sexuality was racialized because there is no other possibility when the world in your mind only knows the world your body lives in. Your queerness devours that which your Asianhood had digested from a terror regime of whiteness; the psychic symbiosis has constructed your being. You remember learning the history of your college ­and finding out that even after student sit-­ins in 1989, demanding resources for students of color and diversity, there wasn’t a proper safe space for them until 2005, and even in 2016 you keep wondering where the students of color they had demanded are. Your identity had been co-­opted by American liberalism but you understand that to be the racial other at your queer school means that even at your queer school you are the queer other.                 

You are now in your second year. You understand the sacrifices you made for spaces out of your hands’ reach. You hear on Facebook that your school listed as number one most LGBT-­friendly school in the US.                        

You rejoice in pride that your school was ranked by the Princeton Review as the most queer college, where you are the queer other.

Tâm Nguyen '19

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Navigating the Online Dating World: Swipe Right, Right?

The logo for the dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel.   Photo courtesy of Forbes

The logo for the dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel. Photo courtesy of Forbes

If you have dinner with someone you met online, and, after several drinks and hitting all your preplanned talking points, you go home with them, was it a date? Or was it a hookup? What if you met through a mutual friend instead? Let’s say you don’t spend the night together, and after two days of radio silence he texts you asking if you’d like to have drinks again? Is it just an invitation for a hookup? The list of scenarios and explanations is endless. The days of men courting women and asking fathers for a girl’s hand in marriage are over, and we are left confused and single with only our Tinder accounts to keep us company.

What is dating today? If you ask any millennial it is likely that they will either have a range of answers or they’ll have none. “Dating” sounds dated; what do we call it? Before smartphones and dating apps, before we were all so accessible to one another with a quick text, we actually had to verbally communicate with each other. We had to speak to someone’s face rather than a phone or computer screen, and we couldn’t take four hours to reply. To see someone and to date someone meant having to use a landline, make plans, and follow through with them. To break up with someone, regardless of whether or not it was done perfectly, a face-to-face confrontation (or at least a phone conversation) was inevitable because that was the only means of communication. This, I’m sure you know, is no longer the case.

After almost a year of trying multiple online dating websites and apps, I can’t help but wonder if in gaining convenience in forming relationships, we are losing an important part of how we forge connections and the work it takes to make them. When we can get a date at a moments notice and find a new best friend swiping through pictures of girls offering to share their wine and Sex and the City season one DVD collection, are we inadvertently sacrificing something? Has our reliance on the convenience of dating apps also led us to a kind of disconnection between each other? Technology has slipped itself into almost every aspect of our lives, so what does this mean to relationships in the twenty-first century? Human connections have always been forged organically– by chance, or through the connections we’ve made with others. 

As of Fall 2015, 54,250,000 Americans were single and 49,250,000 had tried online dating. Needless to say, the majority of us are okay with swiping left and right to get a date. I have tried the traditional and the millennial way, and I am confident in saying that there really is no difference; people suck whether you meet them at work, on the train, or through a dating app. Starting a relationship online is the same as starting a relationship the way we used to, except that instead of meeting first, you text. In some ways this can be a positive experience. Meeting someone online can take the anxiety and uncertainty out of the first date; you have the chance to get an idea of who your date is before putting yourself through an awkward afternoon cup of coffee. 

Does this mean that the quality of relationships can be improved as well? A study conducted by Stanford University found no difference in the success or strength of relationships that began online; dating is dating. Another study from the University of Chicago found that married couples who met using online dating services were much happier and less likely to be divorced than couples who didn’t. One theory as to why this is claims that people are more willing to be open and honest when talking online because the pressures of physical appearances do not exist. As a generation we already feel comfortable sharing the most trivial parts of our day on the Internet, and it appears that that same openness has followed us into our dating mentalities. 

Both men and women share a legitimate fear of the trending phenomenon– catfishing. When you can’t meet someone in person first, you run the risk of talking to someone other than who they claim to be. Some women are skeptical of online dating, saying that they’re afraid of meeting a serial murderer or a kleptomaniac. Although these are valid concerns, the chances of meeting a serial murder or kleptomaniac are slim, and further, are completely in your control; if you get a serial murderer vibe, you can block them immediately or choose to not meet them. If you want to argue that people can sometimes be deceptive and not reveal their collection of guns or stolen goods until the fifth date, I would counter with the fact that this is always a possibility regardless of how you meet them. Meeting your date through an app doesn’t raise your chances of meeting a weirdo; it can actually improve your chances of meeting the one. 

Although this hasn’t exactly been my experience with online dating, I haven’t met a kleptomaniac either. The popular dating app Coffee Meets Bagel matched me with the person who would give me one of the best first dates I’ve been on. It was a boozy Brooklyn Bridge in the summertime kind of perfect.  Yes, he turned out to be a hypersexual Brit with his fair share of commitment issues, but I had fun. Sometimes going on a date turns out to be just that, a date. But who’s to say that because something doesn’t lead to a relationship, it can’t be fun? Online dating has given me the power to choose the kind of date I want and the type of fun I want to have.

The online dating community is composed of millions of other singles looking for something in particular. There are hundreds of gender, fetish, age, sexuality, etc., specific dating websites that offer hundreds of dates tailored to what you are looking for, based on the answers you give when creating your profile. Because the dating pool grows significantly when using an online service, it becomes easier to skip through some (not all) of the bullshit that comes with traditional dating. You can form connections more quickly and have more control in choosing a date online. 

This brings us back to our original question: what is dating? Based on my background in Googling dating statistics and experience dating both the nice guy and the fuckwit, I still do not have an answer for you. But I can offer you some comfort when it comes to dating online: don’t be afraid, most of the people you’ll meet don’t bite. Unless you want them to, in which case, there’s an app for that.

Tessa Vela '16

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Why I Volunteer for the Sanders Campaign

The ‘Bernie Bus’ on campus last Sunday. 

The ‘Bernie Bus’ on campus last Sunday. 

On my first day with the Sanders campaign, we gathered around a wooden table with Bernie posters and Brooklyn Brewery beers scattered throughout the room, and began the long process of finding out what it means to be a campaign organizer.

We were asked to sit and reflect about a challenge we have faced in life, the choice we had to make when faced with it and the action that we took. We understood that what was being asked of us was serious; to tell a story that comes from within, to a room full of almost complete strangers. Ten minutes later, we all sat captivated by the narratives that were being told. 

For many of us, there were stories lots of people could relate to; bitter tales of being young and thinking racism, sexism and classism were a thing of the past, until you were faced with the realization as an adult that not only are these things still hugely present in America, they adversely affect millions and millions of peoples lives, and have done so for centuries. Stories of living in a place desecrated by one of the decades’ largest forest fires, only to watch as our government came in with a “post-fire logging project” to log 500 million board feet, the single largest proposed timber sale in modern times. Stories of being a Latino American and an LGBTQQ individual, and realizing the massive discrimination that people you identify with have experienced for so long in America, and experiencing it yourself. Stories of having friends graduate from college, and end up in unsafe circumstances because student debt is draining them and their families so badly they can’t do the things they need to do to get out of the massive hole they are in. Stories of watching your brother sit in prison, across from you in chains, and not being able to do anything to help him or anyone else wrongly or too-harshly imprisoned for petty crimes, first-time non-violent drug offenses, or for belonging to the race they belong to.

We went two hours over schedule that day, and no one said a word about it. After that, dedicating myself to the campaign was easy. I will never forget the atmosphere of that room. This is what a revolution looks like! It is everyone sitting together, empathizing with each others’ struggles, and resolving to take action. 

Bernie Sanders is a candidate of the people who has been honest and consistent for decades in his support for Americans of every walk of life and every segment of society. He is the candidate who has most actively opposed ableism in our society, having worked hard to ensure that people with disabilities are provided equal access to education, healthcare, and employment. He is the only candidate to oppose the dangerous and irresponsible practice of fracking, which threatens our water supplies and our planet. He is the only candidate whose feminism is truly intersectional, with a foreign policy which acknowledges the experiences of women across across the globe who are victims of American imperialism. As a disability rights advocate, an environmentalist, and an intersectional feminist, I believe there is no candidate more qualified to be President of the United States than Senator Bernie Sanders. 

But, he cannot make it without the dedicated support of millions of organizers, activists, and volunteers. He is only as great as we make him and he cannot make it alone. That is why I show up to campaign every week, and reach out to my friends to get involved. 

As for my Story of Self, you will have to email me at if you want to hear it, and learn more about volunteering. If not, please visit to learn more about where he stands on issues that may be of importance to you. 

As always, Feel the Bern and Long Live the Revolution, my friends.

Lily Ginsburg '19

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

The End of the Florence Program Signals Sarah Lawrence's Decline

Exploring the city of Florence and the surrounding region is a core part of the current program. Photo by  Kayley Shimmin '17

Exploring the city of Florence and the surrounding region is a core part of the current program. Photo by Kayley Shimmin '17

News of the closure of SLC Florence has prompted much discussion among those of us students now set to be the last that SLC Florence (at least in its current and, up until now, only incarnation) will see. Whether studying abroad on this program was a heavily weighed decision or, as in my case, was one of the primary reasons for attending Sarah Lawrence, both current students and alumni alike are looking for answers as to why Sarah Lawrence would put such an abrupt end to one of its most enduring and highly regarded international programs.

From the Board of Trustee’s email earlier this week, it’s clear that the reason is money. This comes as no surprise: it seems that for years now Sarah Lawrence has remained the “little engine that could” of prestigious liberal arts schools, that well-intentioned and poorly endowed refuge for independent thinkers and individualized curriculum, distanced against all odds from the increasingly corporate climate of American higher education. While that’s a very rough sketch of the college’s standing within the university world, the point still stands: Sarah Lawrence is strapped for cash, and we’re seeing serious changes because of it.

One can be sympathetic to the college’s practical needs. That is, that even as an institution which prides itself on academic liberty and egalitarian values, Sarah Lawrence has an inevitable need to function as a business and a brand (that much is at least evident by the infamous tuition price-tag). The question then is: in the interest of saving money, why should the longstanding Florence program be the first corner to cut? If the closing is strictly business, then it would appear Sarah Lawrence has a problem with business ethics; the news has come as a decree, abrupt and inflexible. Basta. For Sarah Lawrence to essentially deliver a pink-slip to the staff of SLC Florence, which has molded and organized the program since its inception almost thirty years ago, suggests a sort of callous disregard for livelihood that one might expect from a corporate juggernaut, but surely not from a small liberal arts college founded on humanistic virtues.

The problems of SLC Florence’s closure extend far beyond the issue of fairness. It is, of course, absurd that a college with such a vested interest in defending the study of the humanities would be so quick to sever ties with the birthplace of the Renaissance, a city noted for having the highest concentration of art in the world. Are we meant to accept the irony that the loss of a seat in a timeless city should be a response to changing educational priorities? In the eyes of our administration, why is Florence the dead weight on the budget plan? Why haven’t solutions been pursued?

The official response to these questions is that 1.) closing is inevitable, and 2.) SLC Florence will not actually be closed, but rather “redesigned” in partnership with Middlebury, a plan which comes across as little more than a way of maintaining a tenuous connection to the city. Among the casualties for this transition will be the prime location near Piazza Santa Croce, the staff, the homestay arrangements, and, of course, the Sarah Lawrence pedagogy. The fact that Middlebury’s most recent abroad program in Florence was attended by only four undergraduates, (in comparison to our current fifteen) only makes the merger all the more puzzling. Had this been the program format last year as I applied, I likely would have remained on campus in Bronxville for my junior year.

As for whatever “inevitability” has factored into the administration's rather clandestine decision-making, it’s worth examining whether “unsustainable” enrollment numbers really have so much to do with shifting student interests as they do with a laissez-faire attitude towards publicity and support. The email from the Board of Trustees claims that this closure comes despite “intense recruiting efforts.” Yet a careful reading of the college’s glossy admissions booklet finds no mention of the Florence program, and information on the web is scant and unpronounced. Indeed, the outrage generated in the wake of these recent announcements may very well be the largest boon to the program’s on-campus visibility in recent years. In any case, there is reason to believe that whatever rationale the administration has for closing SLC Florence was reached well before exhausting - or even pursuing - all other options. Too little, too late.

For a school that puts so much weight on uniqueness, it’s bizarre the immersion and educational rigor of the Florence program should be so overlooked. Many Italian abroad programs have greatly fallen in prestige and have garnered the reputation of being little more than school-sponsored vacations. Here we frequently see American students making no effort to speak Italian, even when ordering a caffe. Many now belong to programs of over two-hundred students and live in on-campus dormitory housing. With such superficial interaction with the city so common, it’s strange that Sarah Lawrence would not make more effort to showcase the novelties of our program: from almost daily Italian language class to the family homestays, and especially our courses - like Art History and Medieval History - in which we make daily, direct contact with our subject matter just outside the building.

This speaks to the issue of Sarah Lawrence being a school of “gems,” by which I mean a school of phenomenal academic offerings which often fly under the radar. For example, if Sarah Lawrence should be following Middlebury’s example on anything, it’s on foreign language study, not abroad programs. The Vermont liberal arts college is widely reputed for its emphasis on foreign language courses and the advantages at which they place students within the international job market. Speaking in the business terminology which has become so necessary these days, Middlebury has built its brand on it. Having studied Italian and French at Sarah Lawrence, I have always found it strange that the college has not adopted a similar attitude. In this area SLC offers intimate class sizes, conference meetings and projects conducted in the target language, and regular meetings with conversation tutors, some of whom I have remained in contact with even in Florence. In my experience, this has been the most effective and immersive approach available short of actually living where the language is spoken. But the language curriculum - like the Florence program itself - has remained a gem that has played practically no part in the Sarah Lawrence brand. It’s perplexing to me why the college, while grasping for an educational niche and more competitive name, seems so adverse to nurturing its most exceptional offerings.

If the eight-hundred or so alumni appeals serve to tell us anything in the wake of this apparently definitive decision, it’s that SLC Florence remains a cause of timeless value, well worth defending. Likewise, the lack of more statistically specific and transparent language in communications by the Sarah Lawrence administration - not to mention the triumphant announcement of over $100 million dollars raised in “quiet” campaigning just two days after the closure email from the Board - serves to tell us that there have likely always been options, they were just never put on the table. What’s missing is the prioritization of a program, twenty-nine years running, which has been an integral if not definitive moment in undergraduate careers at Sarah Lawrence. And so the real, long-term weight that this closure carries is not for the current students and alumni who have been so vocal in their opposition, nor for those who will lose their jobs after decades of service; it’s for the ethos of Sarah Lawrence itself. Ready to dispose of a renowned post in a city so connected to the ideal of the liberal arts, it’s becoming clear that Sarah Lawrence, at least as a pedagogical and philosophical idea, has entered into decline. 

by Frank Chlumsky '17

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

How Two First-Years Have Become The Most Outspoken, Vital Voices on Campus

Dolezal and Knight, co-founders of the podcast, "Double Antendre-i". Photo by Vanilla Kalai Anandam

Dolezal and Knight, co-founders of the podcast, "Double Antendre-i". Photo by Vanilla Kalai Anandam

Andrei Dolezal ’19 and Andre Knight ’19 do not claim to be high authorities or experts on the issues they discuss in their Soundcloud podcast titled “Double Antendre - i”. The two eighteen-year-old freshmen first tackled the societal issue of white washing on September 18th, 2015, garnering over 200 views within the first two days of release. Both hosts expressed their surprise as they simply wanted to do it for friends and family, inspired by each other and the film Dear White People. They aren’t voicing their progressive opinions as fact; they are offering a mode for open discourse and dialogue. After each post, Knight ’19 and Dolezal ’19 go through the comments and private messages they receive, learning and responding to listeners’ concerns and clarifications, often amending their own words, and growing. 

One topic leads to another, from white washing to racism, feminism and intersectionality, to the transgender experience and to sexual assault. While they have their own experiences to draw from, guests are also booked, for which both hosts try to include underrepresented voices as much as possible. Dolezal feels, “it is my responsibility to use the privilege I have [as a white man]” to increase awareness while Andre Knight adds, “as a black man, I have seen and experienced oppression,”  which made him want to start a channel to promote dialogue.

Their listenership has grown immensely since their start, with 1,300 plays and rising on Soundcloud as well as over 300 likes on their Facebook page. Although they identify themselves as “activists in training”, due to the rising attention being paid to their podcast, I could see that both of them feel the immense responsibility, with Dolezal revealing “the podcast has become steadily more exhausting and burdensome”, especially due to recent backlash about a piece on sexual assault. 

As always, negative feedback is expected when discussing controversial issues. Some students see Sarah Lawrence College as a school that’s politically liberal enough to the point where’s there’s no need for their podcast but Knight and Dolezal explain, “This campus is not immune to discrimination and ignorance.” One example they gave is professors not respecting students’ preferred gender pronouns. When I asked about the evolution of the criticism they’ve received, both Knight and Dolezal pointed out that “the negative feedback has been a lot more hate based recently” with students calling Dolezal derogatory terms over Yik Yak and writing “homo” on the promotional posters. Knight’s race has been more of a target as well with students making specific comments about him and tearing down the parts of the posters that feature him. Dolezal feels that these displays of hate “only prove [their] point” with Knight adding that, “this only goes to show how much work the school still needs to do”, particularly in light of the theatre department’s racially charged casting of Noon Day Sun.

Their mantra “Stay Loud” is more relevant to social justice issues and to their podcast than ever. Andre Knight’19 and Andrei Dolezal’19 still maintain that as long as people are interested and listening, they “feel a responsibility to go as long as [they] possibly can”. Go check out their podcast on Soundcloud under “Double Antendre - i”; it might be worth your while.

by Vanilla Kalai Anandam '19

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Old Friends, New Greta: SLC Lampoon's Next Chapter

New Greta performing at the Peoples Improv Theatre. Photo courtesy of the New Greta Facebook page.

New Greta performing at the Peoples Improv Theatre. Photo courtesy of the New Greta Facebook page.

On October 18, at the PIT (Performance Improv Theater) in Gramercy, the audience was overrun by Sarah Lawrence students as New Greta took to the stage. Assembled by seven former members of last year’s award winning Lampoon troupe, this new improv group of recent Sarah Lawrence alumni just recently started playing shows together in New York City. 

Maybe it’s because describing comedy to a secondhand audience is reductive, and can’t make you laugh in quite the same way bearing witness to it can, but I’m having a hard time putting words to the totally unique, dynamic chemistry that made last year’s iteration of Lampoon so successful. Of the seven members — plus two more who haven’t graduated Sarah Lawrence quite yet, and are, for now, ‘featured’ performers — each one brings a distinct personality and range to the table. Watching New Greta on Sunday night was a testament to how well these performers work together. It was also a hilarious reminder of the special things that happen when these guys get up on stage. But if you missed it, don’t worry. New Greta appear to be in this for the long haul.  

We all know that college is a transitory experience. We come, we stay a while, and then we’re gone, much sooner than we think. And yet, if we’re lucky, we meet a handful of people who, by the end of it all, are the kind of friends we’d like to keep for life. These are the people who make it hard for us to imagine that our lives might have taken a different turn, that we might never have ended up where we did. These are the people who make us feel like we ended up just where we were always meant to be. 

There was never any doubt on Sunday night that we were watching just those kinds of friends have the time of their lives together up onstage. A year removed from college, the fact that this group has managed to stick together and remain so good at doing what they love feels like a small miracle. Between reimagining a civil war reenactment as drag show, a funeral service wherein three of the attendants wonder how long to wait before hitting on the deceased’s wife, a deadly surf camp, and much, much more, there was no shortage of inventive material. 

But more than that, good improv — or maybe even ’great improv’ —it seems to me, is a function of how well its performers know each other. After all, we’re all hilarious when it’s just us hanging with our friends. But that kind of camaraderie — in improv and in life —  doesn’t just happen overnight. Sunday night was, in many ways, the culmination of years of hard work and goofing around. But in another sense, this wasn’t a culmination at all. It was the beginning of the next chapter.  

Between sketches New Greta employs musical interludes that allow its members some time to change costume, swap out for one another, or just plain catch their breath. There was one song that played, inexplicably, over and over again: Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson. At first, it seemed an odd choice, a cheesy relic of a bygone era, the kind of song you sing to yourself in the shower. And the interludes never seemed to reach the chorus, instead returning over and over again to the kind of dumb da da dum da da refrain that bookends the song.

But then, after the set ended, the whole cast of New Greta came back onstage for a bow. The chorus exploded, and then there was Maddie, Max, Sam, Mallory, Anna, Jacob, Patrick, Sessa, and Bucey; all shamelessly singing along to every word. Watching these old friends belt out the tune, arm in arm, hand in hand, that silly melody from way back in the day had suddenly put a lump in my throat. 

Comedy and sincerity don’t easily go together, but in that moment, New Greta proved themselves hilarious and heartwarming all at once. And back in the bar after the show, over a few well-deserved beers, it was easy to see that whenever the cast of New Greta get together, they always will be.

by Anthony Verone '17

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.