Bennington College - Comments and Student Experiences|
Do you remember how you felt when you came to Bennington and realized there was no one telling you what courses to take, what subjects to focus in, or how to design the projects that would electrify you and test your abilities? That it was your responsibility to challenge yourself, to make tough decisions, to fully and actively participate in your world?
Brendan Frank '94
That was not my experience at all. I was told to take all my freshman courses by a faculty counselor. I did manage to switch from Katherine Foster to Stanley Edgar Hyman for Lang and Lit.
I was steered away from dance to social studies again and again and was practically ordered to major in Anthropology. Too many dance majors, while all the other departments languished. Back then, I had no choices. The worst part was doing my senior paper research second semester of junior year and coming back to find, that Morton Klass, (a lovely man and great teacher who made anthropology enjoyable) had departed for a more prestigious and lucrative career at Barnard, and I got stuck with Nancy Munn, a really anal "expert" in Australian art, incredibly rigid. I bet she never made a friend with any Abo whose paintings she studied. She's the kind of anthropologist the natives see coming. She even changed my research idea and told me what my senior paper subject matter would be , which was something to please her, not me.
Of course, my first job upon graduating was dancing with the Ethel Butler Company in Wash. DC. (She was a long time Graham dancer until after the WWII when she moved to D.C. I took class with her and she made me her demonstrator and put me in her company, which had some of DC?s best dancers in it, dance faculty from local colleges included. (and that's after only dancing one or two "extra" dance classes for no credit in four years). In the day I went to B?ton, the Graham trained dancers were subjected to snobbery and the ballet dancers had some huge hurdles to overcome. As I was ballet and Graham trained, I got picked on a lot for the use of my hands, esp and picked on for using contractions in my first choreography piece. It was all Humphrey fall and recovery. Graham was something to overcome too. I got very discouraged by 2nd semester of my Freshman year, and went thru the rest of my college career in mortal fear of the faculty who controlled all my choices. I may as well mention, the Bennington dancer's hand was stiff with an out-stretched pinky that carried tension in it, which was corrected too little to train it out of anyone. Mine varied as to the movement, as taught by Graham. They weren't like a lady taking tea, ever!
Perhaps not strangely, many others I have talked to from my class of ?63 had similar experiences. My freshman year roommate, (B A) was fawned over and given everything she wanted. She went thru B?ton as a favorite, and a lot of people noticed, and felt wronged. My roommate sophomore year (J S) was steered around too. She ended up in Anthropology too, a subject she enjoyed, but never craved to study, never helped her in her future, either. Katherine Foster even told her she would never be a writer, in her freshman Lang and Lit class. Of course she is now J P, an absolutely successful writer and illustrator of children's books along with her hilarious husband, D P. In fact, the five or so Anthro majors were ALL steered over there and also received useless degrees, unless you want to go to Anthro grad school. Only K K actually went on, due to her affair with the gnarly B S, another replacement anthro teacher. Another thing that made me afraid of teachers like P F and B S was that it was perfectly OK for faculty to flirt.
For instance- We didn't have the feminist language back then, but my standards about that kind of student faculty interaction was that it was improper, to say the least. But the fear was, if you turned down advances, you were vulnerable to even more rejection.
Another lost friend who just found me in June this year, also recalls a miserable four years because she didn't get to do what she wanted either. B
A was her second year roommate and B hated her, just as she did me. B sucked you up and spit you out and stepped on you. Not only that, she was a big offender of the Bennington baby-finger-extension in dance. Even though B?s sophomore roommate was a painter, she got steered to pottery which, at least, was run by Stanley Rosen, another great teacher. There were too many painting majors and Paul Feely, who only appreciated abstract expressionism, didn't like her. I took his class for a semester and never understood a word he said. I thought his paintings were laughable too; what a con. Guess what, she has continued to paint for the 46 years since graduation.
The three of us are all people who achieved success in our beloved area, no thanks to B?ton. We survived in spite of B?ton. We triumphed over our B?ton induced low self-esteem and lost four years not doing what we wanted, but got back to it anyway, only to achieve a measure of success. I do not donate to B?ton because of this. I tell people who want to go there about my time there. I commiserate with all the others who didn't get what they wanted either.
One thing I took seriously, was Prez Fell's opening statement to our freshman class, that whatever else we did, he would be happy if we just learned how to learn.
Sorry, the subject of following your bliss at Bennington is a fantasy for many and a very sore point with me, though it is only stimulated by letters like the above.
K H D W ?63
You are welcome. ?no two people will have the same experience, nor will everyone be satisfied?.
I wrote because I was not the only one, I mentioned 2 others with the identical experience, plus at a reunion several years ago, a bunch of people in my class expressed similar views. They all said they became absolutely neurotic over trying to get what they wanted- except the math major.
You seem to be putting it back on me/us, that we weren't ?satisfied?. How convenient.
Here are some of my other observations:
Back then, B?ton was known as an avant garde liberal pinkish college, full of easy lays. It was like a brothel on weekends when boys from other colleges would walk thru the houses until they picked one of the girls sitting around in the living rooms on display. Usually, if you went with one of them and didn't put out, that was the last date. Of course other colleges could have done that too, but I wasn't at any of those. The b?ton people in Facebook seem to have done nothing but party when the school went co-ed, then there was a shake up where the admin broke up Booth House and sent people to other dorms. I did not get anything like a full story, so I wondered. Especially about who had to go to Booth instead and how much of that was done without choice? Don't answer. I really don't care, but there it was, that streak of authoritarianism, right under the surface - again.
Truth was, the ones with rich parents like M F-M got big favors. MF-M even lived in a faculty apartment at Dewey senior year. No one ever saw her paint anything. She brought in paintings she said she did at home. No one really quite believed she'd even painted them- like the realist portrait one of a old black peasant woman! If she took it to Feely, he would have said in a supercilious manner, as he did to a try at realism I did, ?That's awfully illustrative, don't you think?? If fact there was some kind of kerfuffle about it. Lady F-M was in a rage. Then she calmed down and got her way. She acted like Talullah Bankhead, and I hope putting up with her worked out and her family's huge D***y business coughed up a gazillion, thus ensuring B?ton's endowment grows.. ?M? J- I didn't know as well as MFM., She was nicer and was often a conduit of info about how the rich were treated at B?ton. These tidbits can add some funny material to my stories at another time.
Whoops, lost my point, that being, in contrast to the above folks, I got a full tuition reduction and felt strongly that I needed not defy authority or bite the hand etc. I was manipulated for Bennington's purposes, not mine. Well, that's the same lesson you learn in the Ivy League schools (that and having to wear panty hose to work) so I guess I learned the right lesson- even at a commy girl's school no one ever heard of. In most cases, when I said BA from Bennington?, east coast folks would say Bennet Junior College? I didn't know they gave out B.A?s!? San Francisco pinkos were far more likely to know B-ton.
I am not angry or bitter, I just have a slightly cynical view of B-ton's self-glorification. That crap is to convince parents their kid, who most likely couldn't get into the Ivy League, will get their BA at this ?self-directed? place where teachers will have their hands? on the kid, manipulating them to a BA in the mutual unspoken agreement with the money providers, er, I mean parents.
The proper approach for fundraisers to Alumni is to go to Alumni and beg on your knees, saying, ?Although we made you all crazy trying to meet our needs, we humbly ask you to help us keep doing the same to next year's crop of freshman?. Now that would be disarming. At least I?d laugh before I threw it in my wood burning stove.
You guys really need a good roast.
K D W ?63