On Africa

Thank you for spotlighting the work that Dr. Robert Swap and his colleagues are doing in southern Africa. I have had the privilege to work with Professor Swap for the past five years, both as a teaching assistant for the study abroad class and as a visiting researcher at the University of Venda in South Africa.

There are several merits to this undergraduate study abroad program. First, more than half of the program’s applicants each year are women. In 2004, the program had the highest percentage of minority student enrollment of any UVA-sponsored program. Between a quarter and a third of the program’s participants each year are students from southern African universities. Each year, funds are organized from a variety of sources to support students who could not otherwise afford the program. The program embodies the spirit of UVA’s commitment to diversity, both in its participants and in the experiences they have in South Africa.

Second, the program encourages students to deconstruct the images of a homogeneous Africa presented in the popular press—a “wild” Africa full of lions and elephants or the “suffering” Africa of emaciated children with swollen bellies. Students cross an international border between South Africa and Mozambique, where their attention is repeatedly drawn to the countries’ contrasting histories, geography and current circumstances. The continent stops being a single amorphous place and begins to break down into specific countries, provinces and villages.

Third, the program exposes students to South Africans and Mozambiquans working on their own behalf. The students spend their first week in intensive courses and study visits around Johannesburg, absorbing the human and historical environmental circumstances that give rise to today’s situations. With this knowledge, they visit many individuals and groups striving to improve their lives and their communities within those circumstances.

After this course, Africa is no longer just Africa. “The Africans” are no longer a group of lost people dependent on handouts from the West. Instead, “the Africans” are colleagues, friends and individuals living diverse lives across the tip of the continent—and our students are rethinking their lives, their goals and their responsibilities as global citizens.

Clare M. Terni (Grad ’03,’08)
Charlottesville, Va.

 

The [winter 2006] cover with the African scene led me immediately to read the article “Lessons for a New Generation” first. It gives me a sense of pride that UVA students are traveling halfway around the world to visit South Africa to gain insights from our unique history. It was an interesting and well-balanced article.

When I was at the University in the ’80s, apartheid was in its heyday back home and this led to many interesting interactions. One occurred on a UVA bus when I spoke to the driver; another passenger recognized my accent and asked where I was from. Having told him I was from Cape Town, he eventually (and reluctantly) told me that he was from Johannesburg, but was a refugee who had fled through Botswana and was at UVA on U.N. papers. He was black and I am white. He was naturally very suspicious of me, and feared the worst. Nonetheless, we chatted and I climbed off at his stop. He invited me over to supper that night.

We had a wonderful meal at his apartment, listened to “township music,” jived a bit and shared nostalgic stories of our homeland. I didn’t see him again and I wonder if he’s back here, maybe in some high government position now.

It was a particular pleasure to host Professor Susan Mintz from the education school this past year when she came out to do some research in three local schools. I was able to set up her itinerary and renew my ties with UVA in a tangible way—it was a great honor and pleasure.

John Broster (Educ ’84)
Cape Town, South Africa

 

I came home on Nov. 13 to find my picture plastered on the front cover of the winter edition of the UVA Magazine. I am depicted striding along a dirt road, holding the hand of an anonymous African child who looks up curiously at my conspicuously white face. The picture was taken this past summer, during the study abroad trip to South Africa led by Professor Bob Swap. As a graduate student studying in the region, I had joined the group informally for the educational experience it would offer. I am pleased that the alumni magazine chose to recognize Professor Swap’s work so centrally. Unfortunately, I believe that the article misses what is most important and unique about his vision, namely, to couple the insights of environmental science to those of anthropology in exposing students to a very unique set of historical conditions. This was completely drowned out by the romantic and essentializing timbre of the piece.

To put it plainly, the appropriation of my image for this article offends and infuriates me profoundly. If given a say in the matter, I would have objected most vehemently to the nature of this visual representation as well its accompanying article. I find both to be problematic, unfortunate emblems of a longstanding Western pathology in representing Africa and Africans.

The picture calls to mind the images of Madonna’s recent adoption of an African child, which was surrounded by a fever-pitch of media enthusiasm. The theme is the same in each: white benefactors surrounded by nameless—and placeless—African children. I cringed each time a news clip focused on the story to laud Madonna’s compassionate altruism, her enduring concern for the “poverty-stricken” and “suffering” people of Africa. As she publicly encouraged other Americans to follow her lead, I grieved for the power differential that became so poignantly evident: the wealthy, white, mother-savior of the dark, teeming, hopeless masses. The American media’s shameless depiction of Africa makes the place and its people seem so pathetic, so dispensable. Africans become, in the American popular imagination, objects of pity, bereft of human dignity and devoid of any agency at all.

The article in question, romantically titled “Into Africa,” is perhaps not as striking as the Madonna episode has been. But the parallel is nonetheless clear. The text of the article makes use of every tired cliché that plagues neocolonial representations of Africa. In sticking to tradition, the article keeps its images of Africa romantic and evocative, everything a reader expects to hear about the “Dark Continent.”

The photographic spreads in the article are every bit as maddening. Ironically, the two frontispiece pictures both depict representation in action: the physical act of photography. The first shows a student photographing a wild elephant across the savanna; the second shows a row of students standing at the front of a classroom in what we are told is a “poor rural village,” unabashedly taking pictures of the “impoverished” little black children sitting quietly before them. It is hard to conceive of a more flagrant illustration of the power that the West wields in representing Africa for its own purposes.

In the Western imagination, Africa and Africans have always occupied the “savage” slot, serving as a foil for our own sense of civilization and modernity. Africa never fails to be cast as primitive, as primordial, and saddled with poverty and despair. Moreover, the context for these latter social lesions is always conveniently ignored, the West’s own complicity in the suffering of Africa’s people—from colonialism through “free” trade—always erased, implying that Africa’s dislocations follow naturally from its incapacity for civilization.

As an anthropologist and a graduate student at UVA who has been taught to be critical of received wisdom about the “Other,” I reject this facile representation of Africa. Surely as a university we can do better than reproduce such arrogant and unthinking tropes. This problematic image of Africa is precisely what the study abroad trip to South Africa and Mozambique was attempting to upend. As a community of scholars, would that we be more judicious in our selection of words and images in inscribing Africa into the documents that represent us to the public.

Jason Hickel (Grad ’08)
Charlottesville, Va.


Memory Lanes

The winter 2006 edition brought back memories of more than 60 years ago when I attended UVA as an engineering student in the Navy V-12 unit. Those days have faded over the years. The dreams of youth, however, never faded. This remembrance is included in a book of poetry I recently had printed. It perhaps spells out the hopes of others who have now passed their prime.

“THE YEARS HAVE TAKEN FLIGHT”
I tread no longer the old brick walks
Or look at the columns of white.
The days have come and days have gone
And the years have taken flight
Since first I gazed at the ancient bust
of Jefferson done in bronze
Or at the Rotunda in the night’s blush
Overlooking the green grass Lawn.

I sing no longer songs of the school
Refraining to Auld Lang Syne
Or give the yell for old Wahoo
As done since the start of time.
I amble no longer down Rugby Road
Or linger at Madison Hall,
Nor yet at Commons where I took my board
Can’t climb that staggering wall.

I’ll room no longer at ten west Lawn
For the sun soon sets on my face.
Ere longer I’ll forever be gone
To look no more at that place.
But, on the horizon there looms a new dawn.
How my sons will renew my delight
In days that will come for days that have gone
For the years that have taken flight.

Ed Moorer (Engr ’48)
Roanoke, Va.

 

I read with interest the letter from Dr. Harrison Warner (“Memories of Busing”) in which he tells of meeting his wife at the University. I also met my wife at UVA, as did probably thousands of others in the last 187 years. My wife, Carol Myers (Arch ’44), was the third female to graduate from the architecture school. Dean Edmund Campbell didn’t want women in architecture, but the crusty old boy softened up enough to give my wife one of his paintings for a wedding present.

Paul Hunter (Engr ’44)
Newport News, Va.


White Male Bashing

After being bombarded by the themes of a racist honor system (“Another Perspective on Honor”); the purity and goodness of African culture (“Into Africa”); whitewashing black history (“Scripting History”); Jefferson’s failure to solve the problem of slavery (“Monticello: The bad with the good”); and the need for a black perspective in the University Guides program (“A Tour With More”), I concluded the liberal viewpoint is alive and well within your staff and the bashing of white male leaders of the past still a popular pastime for some. I find it offensive and one-sided. This issue goes directly into the trash.

W. F. Garner Jr. (Col ’73)
Orlando, Fla.


The Single Sanction

The letter in the winter issue from Sam Leven (Col ’07) misses the point of the single sanction rationale. The Honor System serves as a higher authority from which University students are able to enhance their critical moral values and carry such traits beyond Grounds. Without the single sanction, the Honor System would be so radically changed that it would no longer effectively serve the purpose for which it has stood since 1842.

With a broader infusion of cultures and values, the Honor System with its single sanction is needed more than ever. The Honor System has adequate safeguards to prevent unfair outcomes, e.g., the 24-hour retraction rule. Furthermore, being expelled from the University should have a demonstrative remedial effect on the honor violator and will likely assist such an individual in adjusting and improving his or her moral approach to life.

I cannot say I agree completely with Mr. Leven’s statistical assertion regarding higher probability of being charged with an honor violation. Worse, however, is his characterization, by implication, that the Honor System is racist.

Harry R. Marshall Jr. (Col. ’61)
Chevy Chase, Md.


Graebner Speech

Thank you for the podcast of Norman Graebner’s Sept. 29 lecture at UVA. It was wonderful to hear this former teacher of mine in his true form once again, and this time sharing his wisdom with a new generation who did not have the pleasure of studying under him. He sat on my dissertation defense committee in 1971 and has inspired my own teaching career ever since.

Norman G. Raiford (Grad ’69, ’74)
Greenville, S.C.


Intelligent Design

It was with dismay that I read the letters from alumni in the winter 2006 issue arguing that the UVA biology faculty ought to teach intelligent design alongside evolution. An attentive reader would have noted, however, that the authors held degrees from the schools of engineering, law, architecture and commerce. Perhaps our faculty should view these letters as a reason to push for a more rigorous core curriculum in critical thinking across the University. This would not only help our graduates learn to distinguish science and religion, but would also expose the fallacy of using Jefferson’s words to argue for intelligent design, as he died five years before Darwin ever set foot on the Beagle.

Anna George (Col ’00)
Chattanooga, Tenn.

 

It is encouraging to see that several people wrote in about the letter signed by the biochemistry department. This group of scientists is using faulty reasoning to buttress a political argument. They are not exercising their scientific skills in determining the truth of either evolution or intelligent design.

The biologists assert that the bacterial flagellum is evolutionarily descended from the bacterial type 3 secretion system. I am willing to provisionally accept this without proof for the sake of argument. However, the secretion system is very nearly as complicated a mechanism and probably could not have spontaneously evolved in its entirety from the primordial ooze. The biologists’ argument is not only ridiculous but false. They have simply pushed one irreducibly complex mechanism back in time while simultaneously overlooking the evolutionary path by which the secretion system could become a flagella.

The true scientist—that is, one who is telling only the truth as he knows it—would attempt to offer an evolutionary path from the environment of early earth to the secretion system in question. The politician, on the other hand, would simply lambaste his opponents from his bully pulpit.

The biologists offer the absurd argument that intelligent design could not be true because, if so, it has resulted in the design of pathogens that kill “millions of children every year.” We will tentatively accept the implied corollary that it’s OK for these pathogens to kill millions of adults every year. However, not only do the biologists confuse what is with what should be, they also implicitly assume that because most of us agree with their premise of reducing childhood death, we will also agree with the rest of their evolutionary viewpoint. It is easy to reduce their argument to absurdity. Suppose pathogens were in fact created at random and evolved to their current state. Then we would have exactly the current observable situation. This is no different from supposing an intelligent designer created pathogens. Their argument answers nothing and proves nothing.

The biologists make some pathetic arguments about Americans’ ignorance by quoting poll data. If the issue of evolution vs. intelligent design is to be decided by the use of polls, then it is clearly a political argument, not a scientific one.

Their opinions on the matter of intelligent design should be subject to scientific rigor. I’d like to read about the peer-reviewed repeatable experiment designed to find the designer.

John Fornaro (Arch ’76 ’79)
Charlottesville, Va.

 

We would like to respond to the assertion by a prominent intelligent design advocate, Casey Luskin, that we have repeated false claims by stating that “no peer-reviewed scientific studies in support of ID have ever been published in any major scientific journal.” Mr. Luskin refers to a 2004 paper in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington as a rebuttal to our assertion. Since most biologists have never heard of this journal, it raises questions as to whether this is a “major scientific journal.” The UVA library system currently has 52,192 subscriptions to different journals and newspapers. It is surprising that such a major scientific journal is not among these subscriptions. The most recent copy of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington to be found at UVA is from 1922.

More importantly, a look at the Web site of the Biological Society of Washington, D.C., has a disclaimer on the home page about the 2004 paper cited by Luskin. The disclaimer states, “Contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor; Sternberg [the former editor] handled the entire review process. The Council, which includes officers, elected councilors, and past presidents, and the associate editors would have deemed the paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings because the subject matter represents such a significant departure from the nearly purely systematic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 122-year history.”

It is thus revealing that the most prominent advocates of ID would call an obscure journal that cannot even be found in large research libraries a “major scientific journal,” and does not mention that the mechanism for the publication of this paper was exceptional. We think that such disingenuous moves have been part and parcel of the repackaging of Biblical creationism into a pseudo-scientific theory of ID. The debates and discussions clearly need to continue, but such conversations need to be rooted in evidence from fields ranging from geology to molecular biology.

Auble, David T. – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
Bauerle, Ronald H. – Department of Biology
Beyer, Ann L. – Department of Microbiology
Burke, Daniel J. – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
DeSimone, Douglas W. – Department of Cell Biology
Dutta, Anindya – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
Egelman, Edward H. – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
Fox, Jay W. – Department of Microbiology
Grigera, Pablo R. – Department of Microbiology
Gumbiner, Barry M. – Department of Cell Biology
Hamlin, Joyce L. – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
Kedes, Dean H. – Department of Microbiology
Khorasanizadeh, Sepideh – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
Kupfer, Gary M. – Department of Microbiology
Lannigan, Joanne A. – Department of Microbiology
Ley, Klaus – Department of Biomedical Engineering
Lindorfer, Margaret – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
Macara, Ian G. – Department of Microbiology
Macdonald, Timothy L. – Department of Chemistry
McDuffie, Marcia J. – Department of Microbiology
Menaker, Michael – Department of Biology
Minor, Wladek – Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics
Moskaluk, Christopher A. – Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics
Noramly, Selina – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
Osheim, Yvonne – Department of Microbiology
Rissman, Emilie – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
Schwartz, Martin A. – Department of Microbiology
Stukenberg, P. Todd – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
Tamm, Lukas K. – Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics
Taylor, Ronald P. – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
White, Judith M. – Department of Cell Biology
Wotton, David – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics

 

Behavioral instincts determine to a large degree what you and I believe. Three of these are major factors in our belief concerning evolution, as follows:

  1. Reason. We all have a drive to understand, to fit a group of related facts into a reasonable pattern of cause and effect.
  2. The supernatural. We all have a supernatural instinct that drives us to construct or accept a supernatural system, which fills in the gaps where reason cannot be satisfied.
  3. Power. We are driven to feel powerful among our personal associates and to feel our group (team, nation, religion, etc.) is superior to others. Evolution satisfies reason, but not supernatural or power drives. Intelligent design satisfies the supernatural. It also fulfills the desire to place ourselves at the center of the creation of life and in the mind and heart of the all-powerful creator. Each one of us believes, therefore, according to the strength of these innate drives and according to our exposure to the facts in our culture that are related to them.

Eugene D. Brand, M.D. (Col ’44)
Wicomico Church, Va.


History Telling

Scripting History” in the winter issue was very interesting, as it pointed out the great difficulty of dealing with many aspects of American history that preceded the abolition of slavery. Monticello and Mount Vernon do a very good job of dealing quite frankly and accurately with the slave labor that supported Jefferson and Washington, yet a cloud still hangs over both men in the culture of our current times.

It is even more difficult, yet more important, when the topic changes to the Civil War and, especially, the Confederacy. Several years ago, I became president and CEO of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. It is the oldest, largest and most important Civil War museum and research library in the country. The Civil War is one of, if not the most, important portions of American history that all Americans should understand, regardless of whether their ancestors fought in gray or in blue, or were still in India, Mexico or China. Yet the cloud of slavery hangs heavy over all things Confederate these days, and normally intelligent people would rather erase the memory than discuss it—more reminiscent of efforts in China, Russia, or Afghanistan to erase history than what we Americans are supposed to do.

Instead, Americans should work hard to understand the real history of why the Civil War came about, and how it was fought, and what its outcomes have been. That is particularly true of graduates of Mr. Jefferson’s University, which furnished twice as many officers for the Confederate army than any other school.

S. Waite Rawls III (GSBA ’75, Law ’75)
Richmond, Va.

 

Together with Eric Gable, Richard Handler published in 1997 a book about Colonial Williamsburg’s history-presenting operations that was even then outrageous. Their report was based on surveys made some six years before, and in no way updated. Six years is a long time in the course of a fledgling experimental program. The authors appear to have made no effort to furnish an afterword that would evaluate continuing efforts to find creative ways to address the difficulties that their critique identified.

It is more than outrageous that another nine years on, Handler is still repeating the same critique out of the same old data. He does not have to approve of the brave and persistent efforts of Colonial Williamsburg to address the institution of slavery sustained by Virginia’s prominent cohort of founding fathers; nor must he endorse the powerful dramas scripted by such talented museum educators as Christie Coleman to address the issue of miscegenation that Handler declared was a forbidden subject; nor even the latest strong initiative—the “Revolutionary City”—led by Rex Ellis. But Handler is deeply culpable if he either does not trouble to update his information about changing programs, or, knowing of them, chooses to suppress that knowledge in order to hang a whole condemnation on his report of the inconsistency between what one interpreter said outside the Raleigh Tavern and another said inside.

Rhys Isaac
Professor emeritus, LaTrobe University, Australia
Visiting distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va.

 

The article “Scripting History” states erroneously that Colonial Williamsburg was founded by John D. Rockefeller. The restoration of Colonial Williamsburg was done by John D. Rockefeller Jr., the son of the founder of Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller.

There is, by the way, a great deal of difference between writing and teaching history, and interpreting it for the general public. Colonial Williamsburg does provide top-drawer interpretation.

Charles A. Bradley (Law ’58)
Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.


Katrina’s Aftermath

Many thanks for publishing letters from Barry R. Plotnick and Elizabeth C. Gathright and the response from Christina Melton (“In Katrina’s Wake”), especially Ms. Gathright’s asking about “steps ... to reverse the loss of the marshlands so critical to the life of Louisiana and New Orleans.”

Melton speaks of the failure of Congress in her response but fails herself in not calling attention to the total failure of the local politicos to take any action (except negative pronouncements) regarding the washed-away wetlands. Obviously, they find it politically expedient to look the other way. This rampant irresponsibility—the hallmark of our local “leadership”—will devastate our national efforts and, as noted by Melton, “time is running out.” A real horror story.

Judge Peter Beer (Law ’86)
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana
New Orleans