Letters to the Editor

Deodorant: It’s a Good Thing

What were you thinking? It’s one thing to praise Luke Boehne for his environmental efforts [Summer 2009, “Big Ideas for a Small Planet”] and, perhaps, for his frugality—but do we need to know that he eschews deodorant? I teach two-year college students who all too often come to class reeking of body odor, weed, and whatever was on the floor they passed out onto the night before. The stench can be so overpowering that I must lecture from a remote corner of the room. One wishes Mr. Boehne well, but one also wishes that his questionable personal hygiene not be emulated by our undergraduates and that it not become his most enduring or odoriferous legacy.

Emory Reginald Abbott, PhD’92
Lithonia, Ga.

Peabody Deserved Better

I have been a recipient of your magazine for several years and read with interest items in your very, very slick publication. Of course it is extremely well done, to the point of journalistic elegance, while yet reflecting the spirit of Vanderbilt almost to a zealous mindset.

Hidden among the articles proclaiming the justified eminence of Vanderbilt accomplishments was a short item [Summer 2009, The Campus, “Top-Ranked Peabody Marks Anniversary with Chair Appointments”] about the 30th anniversary of Peabody College’s merger with Vanderbilt. That article led to my reflection that 2009 also is the 50th anniversary of my Ph.D. graduation from Peabody, then and now a most distinguished educational institution.

How droll that the chasm of 21st Avenue South still separates Vanderbilt from Peabody. Only in an almost parenthetical paragraph, following eight paragraphs of news about the well-deserved appointment of six named chairs at Peabody, is it mentioned that Peabody, ranked by U.S. News & World Report in April as the nation’s No. 1 graduate school of education, “is the first Vanderbilt graduate or professional school to receive the No.1 distinction in the history of U.S. News rankings.” Buried on page 16, no less. Vanderbilt has had no graduate schools ranked No. 1 until now, and Peabody gets that recognition?

The west side of the street seems in serious need of an attitude adjustment. But I’ve waited more than 50 years for that to happen, for recognition that George Peabody College is a crown jewel in its worthy and distinguished field of endeavor.

Curtis Paul Ramsey, PhD’59
Denton, Texas

Capitalism, Communism and Christianity

Peasants of Hungary, unite! Get out your pitchforks! Light up your torches! The son of Dr. Frankenstein is up at the old abandoned castle making monsters again.

After 70 years of V. Ulyanov, who allowed you all to be equally poor, you are about to experience V. Capitalism, which will allow you to be equally broke and homeless. Herr Wirth [Summer 2009, A.P.O.V., “Against All Odds”] is going to introduce to you the reverse mortgage, an innovative investment whereby you can put your home up as collateral toward what you hope will be a fairly rapid death, after which Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank and some mortgage company will inherit your property, not your children or grandchildren.

And what do you get for this rich exchange? English lessons, toys for the kiddies, and that postponed vacation in Dalmatia. (Didn’t Hungary once own it?)

Mr. Wirth best take heed lest he unleash a new horde of Magyars armed with knitting needles, walkers and karaoke machines to ravage Europe once again.

Bernard Barufaldi, MA’68
Plymouth, Mass.


I was disturbed by some of the readers’ letters that appeared in the Summer 2009 issue in response to “Invisible Nation” [Spring 2009, VJournal]. The lawyer and the doctor who wrote appeared to be more interested in continuing to ignore the health-system problem faced by the vast uninsured population in this country rather than figuring out a way to deal with it.

The lawyer wrote, “And what about us attorneys? Shouldn’t the poor have access to all manner of legal services?” Yes—lawyers in every state donate time to clients who cannot pay. It is called “pro bono,” and most bar associations have active drives to inspire their members to donate even more time to the poor. Working for free for someone who doesn’t have the power, prestige or persuasion to otherwise boost your bottom line may result in a smaller paycheck. However, the rewards are great simply because you have made someone’s world a bit better.

The lawyer also asked, “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?” As a lawyer myself, I would object to this question as assuming facts not in evidence. Dr. Sergent did not advocate taking away all our wealth and giving us back only what was left after the needs of the poor were met. Neither have proponents of health-care reform.

If the “state” took all our wealth and gave us back only what was left after the needs of the poor were met, then the world would look a lot like the early Christian church did. Christ’s disciples and the Apostle Paul all advocated that members of the early church should give their worldly belongings to the church. By doing so, the needs of everyone in the church, including the poor, the widows and the orphans, could be met and everyone would have what they needed.

The doctor who wrote, after applauding himself for providing care to poor people who can’t pay for it, then stated, “Uninsured adults are largely responsible for their predicament.” As a lawyer who often represents people who have been rendered poor and unemployable because of the injuries they suffered at the hands of negligent companies, I can tell you that many people are uninsured through no fault of their own.

So long as those of us in America who call ourselves Christians continue to look for excuses not to help the poor, the only corporate body that can step forward and take care of the poor is the government.

Keep publishing articles that make us think and provide us the opportunity for civil discourse about significant problems. Solutions are found in such a way.

Kenneth B. Cole Jr., BA’81, JD’84
Huntsville, Ala.

Jewish Rush in the Bible Belt

G. Marc Hamburger’s account of his days as a Jewish student during the 1960s [Summer 2009, Collective Memory, “Jewish Rush in the Bible Belt”] was of interest because I too was a Jewish student at Vandy, but in the 1950s. I appreciate Marc’s reference toward the end of his article that indeed there was another Jewish fraternity on campus other than ZBT. I was a member of AEPi, which, as I understand it, remains the only fraternity at Vanderbilt that still is primarily a Jewish fraternity.

What I remember most vividly about my introduction to Vandy fraternity life at that time (1950) was the gathering of all the men going through rush in Neely Auditorium for orientation. The very first announcement by the president of the Interfraternity Council was, “Will all the men being rushed by AEPi and ZBT meet with representatives of those fraternities in the outer lobby of this auditorium?”—whereupon all the Jewish men got up and walked to the rear to meet with AEPi and ZBT representatives. I was sitting with a number of my buddies from West End High School in Nashville and remember having to crawl over them to the aisle in order to meet with the guys from the two Jewish fraternities.

Although I had a number of fraternity brothers from the greater New York/New Jersey area, I also had brothers from Springfield, Mount Pleasant, Chattanooga and Shelbyville, Tenn., as well as from Memphis, Nashville, and other towns in the South.

Our rivalry with ZBT at times became fairly intense, but just to show my friends who were “Zebes” that there are no hard feelings after all these years, I will add that Marc failed to mention that one of my classmates from Chattanooga, Henry Diamond, BA’54, a ZBT, was elected Bachelor of Ugliness in 1954.

I treasure my days at Vandy, and I look forward to seeing at some time in the near future the Commodore basketball team in the Final Four and the baseball team in Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.

Bob Youngerman, BA’54
Brevard, N.C.


The article “Jewish Rush in the Bible Belt” should have been titled “A Ghetto at Vandy.” I entered Vanderbilt in 1954 having no idea that my parents’ religion would dictate which fraternities might be available to this then-atheist kid from Little Rock. I had been rushed that summer mainly by members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon attending Vandy. My roommate, who did pledge SAE, and I went together to pick up our rush invitations. He was handed an envelope bulging with invites while I only received overtures from two groups previously unknown to me. “Oh, you must be Jewish” was the reply from the girl at the desk when I asked for an explanation. Even the lowliest of the Gentile frats couldn’t or didn’t want to invite me. I never again want to feel as forlorn as I did that day and in the months to follow.

So I became a member of a group identified by many on campus then, and I’m confident in the ’60s also, as the “Zebe Hebes.” I reluctantly blended into the group, never volunteering my fraternity affiliation with any degree of pride. There was no highlight film of my four years at Vandy. I have never been back to the campus, nor have I supported what is otherwise a great university—a great university that tolerated a system of “distinction” that “was not at all offensive to” G. Marc Hamburger et al. They never gave it a “second thought”; they boycotted The Campus Grill, which later “was open for everyone,” but accepted being boycotted by the Gentile fraternities without a whimper. They had Roy Wilkins to lunch—how brave of the Jewish warriors! Did they have the chancellor over to discuss “The Challenges of the Outsider”?

I find it repugnant that this article was written with great pride.

Sandy Besser, BA’58
Santa Fe, N.M.

[Editor’s Note: Vanderbilt has long since ceased tracking its Greek population in terms of ethnicity or religion. An estimated 18 percent of the Class of 2012 is Jewish, although exact numbers are difficult to come by because students may choose not to self-identify on the basis of religion or ethnicity. Look for an update on Vanderbilt’s fraternities and sororities, and how they continue to play an important role in the lives of many students, in the Spring 2010 issue of Vanderbilt Magazine.]


G. Marc Hamburger’s article, “Jewish Rush in the Bible Belt,” in the Summer 2009 issue was very interesting. ZBT at Vanderbilt succeeded the Menorah Society, founded in 1915 for 16 Vanderbilt students, alumni and friends. In the fall of 1917, a group of students petitioned ZBT for a charter, which was granted May 29, 1918. The charter members were Sanford Rosenthal, Clarence Friedman, Keith Kahn, Dan May, Alfred Starr and Manuel Eskind. They went on to win the annual scholarship trophy from 1928 to 1933, and in 1932 were voted the outstanding ZBT chapter in the United States. The [Jewish Federation] Archives has a nice collection of ZBT information and photos.

Annette Levy Ratkin, BA’48, MLS’75
Archivist, Jewish Federation Archives

Far from the Madding Crowd

I have just finished reading Paul Conkin’s analysis of the Vanderbilt panty raids of the 1950s [Fall 2008, Collective Memory, “Boys Gone Wild”]. His last paragraph, referring to the 1959 event (just prior to winter exams) needs some correction. He states that this was “an unsuccessful attempt to gain entrance to one women’s dorm.” In the strictest sense that is incorrect, as one panty raider entered McTyeire Hall through the door at the end of the second-floor hallway.

I know this because it was I who gained entrance. My job was to run down the hall to the staircase and open the back door on the lower floor so the mobs could enter. Midway down the second-floor hall, I was accosted by hoards of coeds, each swinging a tennis racket with me as the target. I made it down the staircase but was prevented reaching the back door, again by tennis-happy coeds, so I escaped through the front door, my only way out. That was the end of the “panty raid.”

The next day I got a phone call from Dean Babbitt’s office. He invited me over, where I met with him and his assistant dean. My face and head displayed the cuts from the tennis rackets, which the dean knew all about. Upon admitting that I participated in the event, I was summarily suspended for a semester. Needless to say, my parents were rather upset about my activities—especially my father [Henry L. Stow], who was head of the classics department at Vanderbilt.

As for the motives that led to this “panty raid,” I recall that this was simply a way to release stress prior to finals, and that there had been several taunting phone calls from the coeds encouraging this insurrection. I do not recall any other underlying motives.

Steve Stow, BA’62
Knoxville, Tenn.

[Editor’s Note: Reader Stow, we are happy to report, overcame his academic setback and earned not only a B.A. in geology from Vanderbilt but also master’s and doctoral degrees in geochemistry from Rice University. He is the author of more than 50 research articles dealing with geosciences, waste management and resource issues.]

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