Readers’ Letters, Fall 2017

SUPPORT FOR VULNERABILITY

With curiosity and gratitude I read about Vanderbilt’s initiatives to offer outreach, dialogue and support for students’ mental health [“Going There,” Campus News, Spring 2017]. In the summer issue, I also read Dr. Paul Berner’s response to this initiative, where he expressed his concerns about this program’s use of coloring books, desk yoga and therapy dogs and how it might hinder, rather than support, students’ emotional development.

This topic is one that moves me, both in reflecting upon my own experiences as a Vanderbilt undergrad and the work I do now—helping men and women heal the emotional roots of eating disorders.

As an undergraduate I was a Vanderbilt success story: I was immersed in various activities, groups and clubs; I was an editor at the Hustler; I graduated magna cum laude with one of four Founder’s Medals awarded to graduating seniors; and I was already accruing valuable work experience, writing freelance for various national magazines and Nashville’s newspaper, The Tennessean.

My achievements are not unique: Our school is filled with students and alumni such as these.

What perhaps was not so obvious was the pain that loomed under the surface of my success. I had experienced a crippling incident of depression the beginning of my sophomore year that trailed me for my remaining time at Vanderbilt. I was chronically lonely and did not feel like I fit in to campus life and its expectations—especially the expectations for young women and its fixation on physical beauty and appearance. I also was bulimic for my entire four years at school, constantly dieting, and obsessed with achieving the thin body that I believed would procure the belonging that I so desired.

Food and the pursuit of various forms of success—academic success, vocational success, body success—were how I soothed my loneliness and pain. They were my home and my primary sources of comfort, solace and support.

When I look back on my 17-, 19-, 21-year-old self, I feel tremendous compassion for the ways she did not feel enough, and the ways she felt so driven to achieve the “enoughness” she did not believe she had. And I also understand why she did not feel comfortable reaching out for support. In an environment where success was so emulated, and where a struggling woman often was labeled “psycho” by fellow students, it’s no wonder that I did not come forward, but struggled alone, in silence.

I can’t help but wonder, if the campus environment would’ve felt more accepting toward mental health and imperfection, how might I—and so many other students whose pain also rumbled underneath the surface—have fared differently?

My desire for current students to receive greater support, and my yearning for greater connection around our vulnerability as a whole, is why I feel such gratitude that these topics are being brought into the open [today] in the Vanderbilt community.

When human pain is silenced, shamed or hidden, not only do individuals themselves suffer, but the surrounding community itself also suffers—for it loses a valuable opportunity to deepen its human courage and caring by coming alongside those who are hurting. One of my mentors, Canadian elder and author Stephen Jenkinson, writes that “we are tutored by the frailties of others.” It is in supporting others in their fallible or vulnerable moments that we gain the courage and capacity to walk through our own challenges and heartaches, when the wolf comes to call at our own door.

Witnessing the suffering of others softens our hearts and grows our capacity to offer ourselves compassion when it’s our turn. Without this softening we may treat ourselves with the same fear, condemnation or criticism that we harbor toward others’ weaknesses—even if this judgment merely appears as a subtle inner whisper of, “I should be doing better” or “I should be able to top this.”

It is a mysterious irony that an acceptance of our failures is the very path to the greatness of heart—the strength, resilience and emotional maturity—that I hear is important to Dr. Berner, and that I imagine we all want for our fellow Vanderbilt students.

I have four children of my own now, several of whom are nearing an age of matriculation into universities. When I reflect upon my wishes for them and the kind of education I might want for them, I not only long for their capacity to think critically, to expand their mental and emotional and physical horizons, and to contemplate and reflect upon their world—classic aims of a liberal arts education—I also long for a deepened sincerity, where they can meet the humanity of others and of themselves with courage, compassion and strength.

May Vanderbilt continue to create a supportive environment where human vulnerability, fallibility and neediness can be witnessed, welcomed and expressed.

We are all the better for it.

KARLY RANDOLPH PITMAN, BS’96

Austin, Texas

Founder of growinghumankindness.com


SOLDIER’S STORY

Thank you so much for printing the letters home from soldier John Manchester [“Schoolboy to Helldiver,” Summer 2017]. I got choked up at the end, even though I don’t know the Manchesters and this all happened 70 years ago. This was the best piece I’ve read in Vanderbilt Magazine in quite some time.

JAY YODER, MBA’83

Reidsville, North Carolina


I just read “Schoolboy to Helldiver” in the summer edition of Vanderbilt Magazine. I am gratified that Vanderbilt Magazine honored the memory of John Manchester and his service and sacrifice in this article.

My mother’s (Virginia Trotter, BA’42) nickname at Vanderbilt was Li’l Duck. She was in love with Sid Hicks, ’41, of Gallatin, Tennessee. He served as the captain of PT 108 in the Solomon Islands. She knew Willie Cornelius, BA’42, who also was killed in the Pacific Theater. Ironically, on page 120 of the 1941 Commodore yearbook, Sid and Willie are pictured together as editor and business manager of the Hustler. It would be ideal if the stories of all the Vanderbilt men and women who died in World War II could be told.

Best wishes and keep up the good work!

ROB HAMMOND, BA’71

Mentone, Alabama

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author has written several articles for Vanderbilt Magazine, including pieces about his mother, L’il Duck, and John F. Kennedy’s 1963 visit to Vanderbilt.


CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS?

I just received my Summer 2017 copy of Vanderbilt Magazine. I flipped through it, as I always do, for articles that catch my eye. I settled on the interview with Professor Ganesh Sitaraman [Q&A, “Constitutional Crisis”]. I read it and enjoyed the article; however, I would love to see an article from the opposite viewpoint.

Sitaraman stated that his influence for the book began as a student of Elizabeth Warren and then as an adviser to her as senator. These are great credentials, but hardly a moderate mentor. Sen. Warren is about as far on the radical left as one can get. Now that the article on Sitaraman’s book has appeared, why don’t you interview a constitutionalist author? I would love to hear both opinions. Contrary to popular belief, there are at least a few conservative graduates of Vanderbilt University.

ERIC R. SNYDER, BE’88

Nashville


I was distressed to read the article touting [Ganesh] Sitaraman’s opinion that “rising economic inequality” is a “constitutional crisis.” He then proposes that the answer is by “checking the growing concentration of economic power through antitrust laws and also by making sure that the people who are struggling have a better shot up through improved wages and educational opportunities … [and] campaign finance regulation and [ominously, in my opinion] a more representative electoral system.” Does he mean to say we should abolish the electoral college just because his candidate lost?

He implies or even states that the founding fathers would have been concerned about “income inequality.” Hogwash. They would have been more concerned about the rise of a more powerful federal government, which is what he seems to be advocating with most of the listed proposals. No, thank you. They were the ones who came up with the motto of “Don’t tread on me,” and I wholeheartedly concur.

DR. CHRISTINE CHILDERS HARTER, BS’80

Phoenix


CORRECTION

In the Readers’ Letters section of the Summer 2017 issue, the former student chairmen of Vanderbilt’s first five Impact symposia collectively published a response to the spring issue’s Collective Memory article, “Speak Up,” adding details about the evolution of the iconic annual student-run series in those early years. Unfortunately, Bob Eager, BA’67, of Potomac, Maryland—former Hustler editor and chairman of Impact ’67—was omitted from the list of the letter’s authors. Vanderbilt Magazine regrets the error.

We welcome your letters in response to contents of the magazine. We reserve the right to edit for length, style and clarity. Mail signed letters to Ryan Underwood, editor, Vanderbilt Magazine, PMB 357737, 2301 Vanderbilt Place, Nashville, TN 37235-7737; or send email to vanderbiltmagazine@vanderbilt.edu.



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