Letters to the Editor

vjournalHealth Care, Society and Personal Responsibility

I very much enjoyed reading “Invisible Nation” by Dr. John Sergent, BA’63, MD’66 [Spring 2009 issue, VJournal]. The doctor argues that “decent health care is a right of citizenship” and compares, as moral equivalents, segregation based on race with denial of health care due to poverty. The doctor’s position is that everyone should be treated as if we have the same amount of money in the bank, which has far different implications than treating everyone as if we had the same amount of melanin in the skin. The doctor may choose to deliver his services to the poor and thereby deny his services to the rich. But a line is crossed when the doctor instructs me to pay for the poor and thereby limit the health care I can provide for my family.

And what about us attorneys? Shouldn’t the poor have access to all manner of legal services? Imagine if attorneys paid doctors to treat the poor and doctors paid attorneys to represent the poor?

While we ponder the morality of the poor’s limited access to health care, let us not lose sight of the moral implications of excessive taxation. What would the world look like if the state took all our wealth and gave us back what was left after the needs of the poor were met? Is any political body wise enough to undertake such a task or foolish enough to think that it could?

James C. McClendon II, BA’83
Lake Wales, Fla.


I am a retired R.N./B.S.N. and the mother of a Vandy graduate. The article “Invisible Nation” is excellent and right to the point both morally and socially. I have not heard it voiced more eloquently. Thank you, Dr. Sergent. I intend to send a copy of the article to every nurse, nursing institution and hospital I can think of.

Eleanor Schofield
Cranbury, N.J.


I was interested and very pleased to read “Invisible Nation,” and it provoked a line of thinking that I had not quite fully considered. My studies at Peabody College brought me into contact with displaced, voiceless, yet fully capable people. I spent an entire year learning how to “hear” their stories, as opposed to just listening to them. Sergent’s article brought to the fore an important issue in this regard: framing.

As a society, and as cognitive beings, we receive all our information through what George Lakoff calls “frames,” or amalgams of images, connotations and related ideas. Sergent’s reframing of the plight of the uninsured through the lens of the civil rights struggle moved me beyond my normal thinking—away from summaries of benefits and anti-selection risk, to see those who walk among us without health insurance as human beings in need of a fundamental right.

Reframing our thinking on health and well-being in this country should be a primary task of advocates and policymakers. For too long we’ve looked at the uninsured and automatically seen the undeserving uninsured. This automaton response has blinded us to contextual and cultural barriers to care. Dr. Sergent has removed those blinders and has asked us to reconsider and speak on behalf of the “invisible nation.”

Jesse Chandler, BA’05, MEd’06
Spring Hill, Tenn.


I believe that I understand Dr. Sergent’s point that the real issue with the uninsured problem is a complex one, and that claiming it is too big to solve or that the uninsured are somehow responsible for their problem doesn’t quite do the problem justice. But what exactly does he suggest we do, either as individuals or a society? As a physician myself, I see a great deal of uninsured patients who have no hope of paying for the services I provide them. I don’t expect to be paid. That is my moral—to use his word—responsibility, and something I expected to do from the first moment I wanted to practice medicine.

However, I also make it a point not to care about a patient’s health more than they do. I tell this to my patients, and more often than not, they understand. Uninsured adults are largely responsible for their predicament. Obviously, there will be countless cases similar to Dr. Sergent’s “Jenny,” but for every one like her, there are at least 10 obese, hypertensive, diabetic smokers who refuse to change their lifestyle one iota. Sure, these 46 million invisible people need our help, but they also must begin to help themselves and meet us halfway.

Dr. Jay U. Howington, BA’92
Savannah, Ga.

apovBeat This, Greenies

Regarding “Green Planet Blues” [Spring 2009 issue, A.P.O.V.], Ellen Pearson, BA’63, says her average electric consumption is now 28 kilowatt hours per day. My latest electric bill says that over a 27-day billing cycle, I consumed 393 kwh, for an average daily consumption of 14.56 kwh. I heat with wood and dry my clothes on a clothesline (or rack in winter).

David Katahn, BE’89, BMus’95
Centerville, Tenn.

[Editor’s Note: Reader Katahn mailed his letter to us on the backside of a page of sheet music for J.S. Bach’s Lute Suite BWV 997.]


Flying Colors

The cover of the last issue [Spring 2009, “Sky’s the Limit”] was a delight to me, an old Nashvillian. It brought back many memories, including the War Memorial Building, scene of my high school (West End) graduation and other activities. Downtown has changed a lot since the ’40s.

June Brown Dooley, BS’45
Ridgely, Tenn.


The Nashville airport had a disaster drill April 9, and I was one of eight “victims” chosen to be LifeFlighted from the airport to Vanderbilt. I have a lot more respect for these people now that I’ve been in their hands. I was strapped to a board the whole time, but these guys were professional and quick. I could barely tell we were in the air—it was a very smooth ride.

Kudos to the entire crew of LifeFlight. I hope I never have to use their services in a real-life situation, but if I do, I know I will be in great hands.

Brenda Sheldon
Madison, Tenn.

A shanty in La Chureca before a nearby lagoon flooded during last fall’s rainy season, destroying some of the meager homes.
A shanty in La Chureca before a nearby lagoon flooded during last fall’s rainy season, destroying some of the meager homes.

A Fighting Chance

Manna Falls on La Chureca” [Spring 2009 issue] is an incredible article. I have been to this dump on a mission trip with several doctors and pastors and others. It is indeed like a picture of hell, but in hell there is no hope. I am so happy to read about what is being done by Vanderbilt students to show love and care to these people.

Dr. Adrian Bennett, MD’02

Hooked on Classics

Taylor Holliday’s article “Janus Rising” [Spring 2009 issue] is a fascinating history of the teaching of classics at Vanderbilt. It’s interesting to learn that many students who include Latin or Greek in their course of studies go on to careers in law, medicine, religion or business.

I was privileged to study Homeric Greek with Dr. Clyde Pharr in 1943–44 and to serve as his student secretary as he edited the first complete translation into English of the Theodosian Code. Later, in Vanderbilt Divinity School, I studied Koine Greek.

Language study has helped me across the years in the preparation of sermons and in the writing of articles and books. I’m really glad that Vanderbilt has offered classical studies from its very beginning in 1873.

Fred Cloud, BA’44, BDiv’47, DMin’90


Ecce! Magistri dixerunt verum! (Look! The teachers have spoken the truth!)

I’m glad we classicists are finally getting some good recognition.

John V. Blazic, Class of 2011
Classical languages major

Streamlined Obits: Two Thumbs Down

I look forward to your publication but am disappointed by your new look of the “In Memoriam” section. Why did you change it?

Alumni such as I, reading the magazine, are hungry for news of their classmates. When one passes away, we are anxious to find out what he had done after graduation, who his survivors are, etc. The Spring 2009 issue tells us very little of this. Please return to your previous format.

Thomas W. White, BA’63


On page 8 of the Spring 2009 issue, you claimed to be keeping alumni connected to Vanderbilt. If this is true, then go back to the format of “In Memoriam” that has been used in the past. The section in the spring issue is not satisfactory. Just listing where someone passed away is not enough. For example, just saying a member of the Board of Trust has passed, and only including that listing when knowledgeable people know that his father was treasurer of the university and that he served well for many years, makes your magazine look rather uninformed. Alumni like to know about their old friends even though they have passed away.

M. Carr Payne Jr., BA’49

The Last Word on Panty Raids

Regarding the panty-raid article, “Boys Gone Wild” [Fall 2008 issue, Collective Memory], I was appalled at the depiction of my classmates and felt compelled to come to their rescue. I lived on the campus three years during this time, in Mary Kirkland Hall (yes, that was the correct name at the time) and McTyeire Hall, and I was in McTyeire the spring of 1952. Author Paul Conkin apparently did not speak with anyone with another point of view and certainly did not experience anything firsthand as my friends and I did. How laughable that Vandy boys would attempt to climb six floors up a wall (spider-men?) and attack his friend. The entire article sounded as if the campus were the proverbial “den of iniquity.” My mother was extremely protective and would have removed me immediately had there been any thought of perceived violence.

We were busy with our studies and activities, and I actually managed to receive a chemistry degree during this “chaotic” time. Amazingly, we thought the entire episode was quite exciting.

That it may have gotten out of hand at a later date in other places is another matter entirely. I will not allow my Vanderbilt to be grouped with those who did not behave as well. It was certainly not “the most turbulent decade”!

Louise Parrish George, BA’54
Memphis, Tenn.

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