In 2000, a student walked into the lobby of Yale’s Undergraduate Career Services and asked how to become a puppeteer. “This guy wanted a certain salary, certain benefits,” recalls Phil Jones, the director of UCS since 1999. “We put a counselor to work on it and ended up with tons of information on puppeteering positions. It’s rare, but every once in a while a student hits us with something new.”

Seated in his office at 55 Whitney Avenue, UCS’ base of operations for the past seven years, Jones exudes confidence. British and heavily bearded, he has faith in his department’s ability to smooth over the potentially harrowing experience of securing employment after nearly two decades of uninterrupted schooling.  He is quick to champion the professional prowess of Yalies independent of UCS’ involvement. “The greatest fear I hear from the students who come here is that they’re not going to get jobs,” he says. “That’s ridiculous. In a competitive market, the most competitive people are going to get the jobs, and the smartest people tend to be the most competitive. And where are the smartest people?” He pauses, and leans forward conspiratorially in his armchair. “The smartest people are here!”

And  yet, despite their intelligence, his clients are considerably less sanguine. From the oft-quoted complaint of UCS’ favoritism towards investment bankers and consulting firms to the prohibitive expense of its overseas Bulldogs programs, not all students sing the praises of their Whitney Avenue advocates. Despite UCS’ undeniably daunting resources—an expansive alumni network, a seemingly endless cycle of specialized seminars, and a sizeable and well-trained staff—Yalies continue to write off the service as impersonal, limited in scope, and lacking in the kind of capabilities that New Haven’s hotbed of precocious pre-professionals really wants.

Jones uses the story of the puppeteer to illustrate the open-mindedness of the office he runs, but the tale raises questions of its own. Who really pulls the strings at UCS? Is it big-name firms like Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan, whose high turnover rates require a constant influx of fresh Ivy League blood? Is it the Yale administration, pushing its undergraduates to enter lucrative fields and seek prestigious positions? Or is it the students themselves, increasingly concerned about their professional futures as graduation approaches, yet wary of abandoning the cushy confines of college for the monetary crush of the marketplace?

Jones’ answer is unequivocal: “I don’t care what you do,” he explains. “Our role here is to challenge students about what they want from a career. What’s your criteria?” Indeed, since he acquired his post in 1999, Jones has taken sweeping steps to broaden UCS’ interactions with students, allowing what was once a Wall Street clearing-house to cater more and more to individualized interests and courses of study. “The important thing is sitting down one-on-one with undergraduates and discussing their future,” he maintains. “It’s going to be different for everyone.” Before Jones took the helm at UCS, there were no counseling appointments. Now, the office accommodates roughly five thousand meetings a year.

This personal contact is Jones’ response to his concerns over the deceptive ease of applying for positions in the age of Internet commerce. “It’s a kind of tunnel vision students have,” he says, “like if it’s all online, people can just furrow the path that’s in their head. Somebody walked in here once and literally asked for our list of jobs.” Jones does not see providing laundry lists and sign-up sheets as his responsibility. He contends that the road to the perfect career is one students must follow on the strength of their own ambition. UCS can provide direction and advice, but does not aim to fence clients into the field of their dreams. The service, in Jones’ words, “specializes in the totally clueless.”

But in drawing a distinction between monomaniacal pre-professionals and the desperately aimless, UCS misses what may be the most sizeable demographic of all: students with a pretty clear idea of their career goals, but not the faintest sense of how to achieve them. Bevan Dowd, a senior Literature major, unsuccessfully attempted to locate a writing or publishing internship through UCS for the summer between her sophomore and junior years. When repeated searches proved fruitless, she decided to take matters into her own hands. “I spent a lot of time on the UCS website,” she explains, “but there just wasn’t enough variety.” Frustrated, Dowd went home and Googled “magazine internship New York City.” She sent her résumé to the first hit and spent the summer employed by a small food magazine. Her work involved, among other editorial duties, tracking down the top ten apple pies of the Big Apple.

“I think the biggest problem with UCS is that a lot of people just find them unapproachable,” says Dowd. “I know that they’re trying to change the image that they’re just for consulting and banking jobs, but that message isn’t reaching students.” Contrary to Jones’ conjecture, Dowd identifies most Yalies’ professional anxiety as aggravated not by the uncertainty of finding a job, any job, but by the daunting quest to locate the “perfect fit” career. “UCS is a good resource,” she says, “and it makes Yale unique. But the complications that arise in a job search can’t be assuaged by a service so many students see as tied up in a limited array of fields.”

Even those in pursuit of positions at investment banks and consulting firms acknowledge the system’s limitations. Andriana Diez, a senior who will work for JPMorgan next year, praises the organizational abilities of UCS. “I couldn’t imagine going through the job search without UCS,” explains Diez. “One week I had 13 interviews. If it hadn’t been for them, I would have been out of school for a week.” Still, Diez is quick to point out that a student’s opinion of the organization depends largely on the career she chooses and the quality of her counseling sessions, which can vary widely. “I feel like UCS is really underappreciated on campus,” she says.  “But how people feel about the program generally goes along with whether or not it helped them personally.”

Olga Berlinsky, another senior with a job offer from a top consulting firms agrees. “Last year, I was applying to some banking internships and set up an appointment at UCS to talk about finance interviews,” recalls Berlinsky. “The first question the UCS person asked me was, ‘Are you really interested in this stuff, or are you just doing it because it’s being thrown at you?’ That really surprised me.”

Jones’ commitment to diversifying UCS’ appeal beyond simple scheduling and headhunting has been at least partially effective.  Their counselors are asking the right questions, but the jury is out on whether they are helpful.  “My impression is that UCS isn’t really the place to get direction,” comments Berlinsky. “I think there are plenty of other resources at Yale, like friends, professors, and deans, that are more suited than UCS at helping you answer those general life questions.”

The question of the puppeteer remains. Just how willing is UCS to tackle the unprecedented and the absurd, to assist students with ambitions well beyond the realm of the immediately feasible? Jones, during our conversation, noted that the “hardest thing for Yale students is that there really isn’t anything they can’t do.”  I wondered just how far UCS’ definition of “anything” extended, and decided to find out firsthand whether something more akin to Pinocchio than puppeteering was at work in the director’s tale.

After scheduling a standard thirty-minute appointment, I made my way to UCS’ Whitney Avenue headquarters and waited in the lobby for my counselor to appear. Before long, an affable red-haired woman emerged from behind a cubicle and shook my hand. We exchanged pleasantries—where was I from, what was my major?—and proceeded to her office.

“So what brings you here today?” she asked, leaning over the desk.

“It might sound a bit strange,” I said, “but I’m looking for a job as a taxidermist.”

The counselor scrunched her eyes inquisitively, but appeared otherwise unfazed. Turning to her computer, she began to pore through UCS’ vast database of alumni contacts. A quick search of the listings yielded no matches. Moving over to a compilation of job postings, the counselor brought my attention to a pull-down list of career categories.

“We can take a look at Environment and Preservation,” she explained. “Taxidermy is a kind of preservation, I guess.” When this too failed to produce a hit, the counselor rotated in her chair to face me. Scribbling notes on a steno pad, she lifted her eyes to meet mine.

“Have you tried a random Google search?”

Truth and Reconciliation

In 2004, months before she was paralyzed in a car accident in Sierra Leone, Artemis Christodulou ’00 realized that everything she’d worked to collect over the past two years could disappear. All 83 pages of inmates’ essays from a Sierra Leonean prison, where many died without ever ;having been convicted; all 13 faces on a painting bearing a Sierra Leonean flag, looking to a future of good roads and streetlights; all of the stamps, poems, plays, and sculptures from combatants and civilians that had borne witness to the transition of a nation.

In a conversation with Yale English and Comparative Literature Professor Geoffrey Hartman, Christodulou discussed her work with Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee. She was about to take a semester off from graduate school to run the TRC’s National Vision Project, an attempt to document the aspirations of Sierra Leone’s citizens for the future of their country, devastated by eleven years of civil war. The two wondered whether any archive of testimonies from truth commissions across the world existed. She ascertained that none did.

As she was about to leave for Sierra Leone for the last time, Christodulou laid the groundwork for establishing such an archive at Yale, contacting transitional justice experts and law school faculty. These efforts, and Christodulou’s respect for the individual stories of national tragedy, are at the root of Yale’s campaign to memorialize the global devastation of genocide, civil war, and internal oppression. Artemis Christodulou would not return to Yale, but her name, like these stories, is immortalized in the Artemis Project.

Etelle Higonnet ’00 LAW ’05 and Alexi Zervos ’99 LAW ‘05, two of the Project’s founding members, believe that the Project began in spirit, at least, in 2003, when they traveled to Sierra Leone with Christodulou to work on issues of transitional justice. Although Christodulou had already done similar work for the International Center for Transitional Justice as well as for truth commissions in South America and Indonesia, this first trip to Sierra Leone cemented her commitment to truth commissions and drew her back just one year later.

The accident happened in May 2004, while Christodulou was heading the National Vision Project in Sierra Leone with Zervos’s sister, Anthea. The two were driving from Makeni to a potential exhibition site in Freetown for the project, and they were soon evacuated to a hospital in Paris. While Anthea Zervos recovered, Christodulou remained in a coma, and when she awoke, she had suffered serious brain damage. It was about a month after the accident, remembers Higonnet, that her friends realized that Christodulou might not be able to make a full recovery, and Alexi Zervos, Higonnet, and Daniel Feldman GRD ’08 began to talk about creating an initiative at Yale to honor Christodulou and her work. When Professor Hartman told the students about his and Christodulou’s conversation about a universal archive, they found a focus for their project.

Since its official launch at a meeting of Yale librarians, faculty, and Christodulou’s former colleagues in June 2005, the Artemis Project has sought to create a central archive for materials collected by the world’s 25 truth commissions, organizations that pursue reconciliation after periods of internal conflict. It aims to publicly preserve both victims’ and perpetrators’ stories as a record of a history that might otherwise be too easily forgotten.

Because they document violent political transitions, the materials the Artemis Project seeks to archive are often at risk. “Sometimes, it’s as simple as someone setting a match to some boxes, and hundreds of testimonials are destroyed,” explains Julie Carney ’08, the Project’s current student director. “One of the central ironies is that these stories are told so that they can be on the historical record, and instead, they often end up in a basement somewhere.” While the National Vision Project was exhibited internationally, many TRC materials are now collecting dust in university storage rooms, and scores of other truth commission documents, which are never removed from their nations of origin, have met an even less certain fate. The Artemis Project seeks to prevent such losses by providing an online repository that will persist long after truth commissions consider their work complete—one that is accessible to everyone, from victims to human rights professionals.

“These documents should be available to the world; they are about crimes against humanity, not against Sierra Leoneans or black South Africans,” says Higonnet,. “Everyone should know and everyone should care about it.”

The challenge the Artemis Project now faces is how to ensure that these documents, which capture some of the most significant moments in global history, can remain permanently available without compromising the confidentiality of the individuals whose testimonials they exhibit. “These people have put their lives on the line, have risked everything, to tell the truth about the past,” says Higonnet. “The Artemis Project is about honoring truth commissions, and about honoring the people who testified, which is what Artemis wanted.”

Those invested in the Project also believe that it is also inexorably linked to the Yale community. “This is something that makes sense to do as a student, and as a student at Yale,” says Jessica Heyman ’07, a former student director. She attributes the importance of operating the Project through Yale to the resources of the Yale University Library and to the potential power of a Yale community made aware of wartime atrocities.  The Project now functions in two capacities: a Yale outreach branch that Heyman describes as “the Artemis Project student initiative” and the Artemis Project archive itself. So far, the organization has focused most of its work on the former. During the 2005-2006 school year, the Project hosted two international conferences, one with truth commission managers and archivists and the second with journalists from nations undergoing political transition. In spring 2006, the Project received a grant to host a speaker series with truth commission scholars and organized an undergraduate political science seminar on truth commissions.

The archive itself is still in the process of materializing; its structure will be finalized this December. “It has been a very slow process,” Carney explains. The Artemis Project’s student participants have met with members of the Human Rights Project to discuss the Project’s archival practicalities—how materials should be digitized, how they should be solicited. This fall, the Artemis Project used grant funding to hire a consulting archivist from the Yale University Library, who conducted a research trip to Peru and Sierra Leone in November. The information she gathered about truth commission documents in these countries will soon be synthesized into a report that will be shared with the Artemis Project committee, as well as with archivists working on similar projects at other institutions. “Examinations of the kinds of records that were generated by both commissions, and how they have been preserved and made available since the work of the commission was completed, will provide us the information we need to deliver them digitally to the research community,” explains Christine Weideman, the deputy director of Manuscripts and Archives at the Yale University Library.

The Project’s website is similarly in flux, with most of the links still under construction. Students are still debating the benefits of several different models for the digital archive. Among them is one that Heyman refers to as a “YouTube for human rights,” where contributing countries can simply upload digitized documents to a central database. Another is known as the “S.W.A.T. team approach,” which would be operated by emissaries sent by the Artemis Project to work alongside locals to help digitize documents on site.  Both models respect the autonomy of the contributing truth commissions, a priority of the Project’s founding members that has persisted over the last three years.

In 1999, Human Rights Watch had already recorded tens of thousands of deaths, over 3 million displacements, and untold numbers of rapes and abductions during Sierra Leone’s eleven- year civil war. These numbers would swell over the next three years, but amidst this strife and turmoil, the nation took its first step toward healing by establishing a peace treaty between the government and the rebel forces. The peace treaty created the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bear witness to the slaughter and wrongdoings of the previous decade. Even as the country moved forward, it was determined to remember its past.

In December 2003, the TRC asked Christodulou, who had worked as a researcher for the Commission for several months, to launch its National Vision Project with her friend Anthea Zervos, By the time Christodulou discussed the lack of a universal archive for truth commission documents with Professor Hartman, she had already accepted the job. As a student of comparative literature, Christodulou was focused on literature as it related to communal memory, and it was this interest that compelled her to continue her work for the TRC. Christodulou and Zervos began by fundraising together in New York City, and then traveled to Sierra Leone to start their field work in earnest. The idea was simple, says Zervos: “You cannot change anything until you can first imagine it, until you can imagine a better future.”

The TRC ultimately published three volumes of findings in 2007, comprising not only documents from the National Vision Project’s collection, but also recommendations, timelines, stories, and a list of victims. Christodulou’s 2003 research for the TRC and the images she collected for the National Vision Project in 2004 feature prominently.

As Christodulou’s friends strive to bring the Artemis Project to life, the Project’s namesake retains a palpable influence. “Her work, her emphasis on culturally sensitive responses to atrocity, and her unbridled enthusiasm for helping people she had never met before directly motivated the Project,” Feldman says.  “I’ve often said that if the accident hadn’t occurred, Artemis herself would have led this project and would have undoubtedly achieved far more than we have in three years.”

Still, says her father, “Now, we have a different Artemis. We can’t pretend it never happened.”

After returning to America, Christodulou stayed in a care center in Massachusetts for almost three years. Although she remains paralyzed and unable to speak, she was finally able to move home this September. Her family has specially outfitted a room with a lift, seating frame, and other equipment now necessary for her daily life. Some days she is well enough to spend up to an hour reading friends’ e-mails and updates, often about Sierra Leone. “She likes reading about this part of her life; she really enjoys that she did something that did good for humans. That part of her hasn’t changed,” her father says. “I feel that she understands this, that she remembers. I know she does.”

The Christodulous now devote their lives to Christodulou’s comfort. Because she requires constant supervision, they stay awake with her on nights when the full-time caretakers they’ve hired fail to show up, help her exercise under the direction of a physical therapist, and drive her to the mall sometimes for a change of scenery. Most recently, she returned to Massachusetts General Hospital for an operation to lengthen a tendon in her left elbow that her father hopes will allow her to rest her hand rather than keeping it clenched to her chest; now, she is grappling with both the pain of the surgery and a constant nausea left by the anti-inflammatory she was prescribed. The doctor suggested that Christodulou take Motrin with milk instead, to ease the pain, but her father doesn’t think it will solve anything. “Every day she keeps crying, and every day we get some new medicine to help her,” he says.

He wonders if she might be grieving her mental limitations as well as her physical pain. “Sometimes she can remember the past. When I talk to her, she closes her eyes and I can tell that she’s following the conversation, but a few minutes later, it’s gone,” he explains. “Such a mind like she had, how can so much be lost? It’s so unbelievable. It’s so painful.” Christodulou had a 3.87 GPA at Yale, he says. She was a candidate for the Marshall and Rhodes scholarships. She spoke English, French, Greek, and German fluently, and during her time in Sierra Leone, she was able to pick up Krio.

Most importantly, while she worked for the TRC, Christodulou made genuine contributions toward national reconciliation. Her father recalls the stories she told him of enemies who had been brought together by her work, who’d once hated one another and were now communicating. Part of what drew Christodulou to truth commission work was her determination to preserve a full spectrum of perspectives. Unlike courts, which are more focused on reparations, truth commissions catalogue perpetrators’ perspectives as well as victims’, and while court testimonies are often closed to the community, truth commissions intend to immortalize the stories they uncover in the public record.

The loss of such materials is irrevocable. In a nation such as Sierra Leone, with an estimated adult literacy rate of just 35 percent, the pieces collected by the TRC represent the only voice many citizens had in the healing process. “People who had nothing gave everything—their time, their resources, their energy, to this restoration of Sierra Leone,” says Zervos, who believes it is impossible to overestimate the testimonies’ significance to the country’s future. “People could not look forward without looking back. The conflict has entirely shaped people’s ability to think about the future.”

At Yale, these stories have permanently shaped the students who have worked to preserve them. Unlike many student causes, the Artemis Project remains integral to many of its members’ lives. Alexi Zervos describes himself as an “unofficial advisor” to the Project, while Higonnet says that she is in constant e-mail contact with current particpants and library staff. Feldman still contributes to reports and grant statements produced by project members. “It’s almost addictive,” says Heyman who is continuing her work for the Artemis Project in Sierra Leone. The founders, many of whom have also had the opportunity to work for truth commissions abroad, are motivated by the significance of the individual stories they’ve encountered, those pieces of history catalogued and sometimes lost in the process of making amends. “They are the history, these untold stories that haven’t been written in textbooks,” says Carney. “They are a way for a society as a whole to move forward.”

According to Heyman, everyone who participates in truth commission work has heard at least one story that sticks. She encountered hers in 2005, when she was working for the post-genocide National Unity and Reconciliation Commission in Rwanda. The man whose story touched Heyman the most deeply, she says, had come home from his job at a Muslim radio station to find his village slaughtered. “It seemed almost theatrical, the way you’d ask someone a question and get such a horror story in response,” she says. “Someone works late for a day and comes home to find their entire family dead behind a latrine, or that they are the only one left alive in their village.” After the reconciliation, the man, a member of the Tutsi ethnic group victimized during the genocide, became engaged to a Hutu woman. “His priest asked him, ‘Do you really trust this woman? She’ll kill you in your sleep,’” Heyman remembers. The two married regardless, and he now works as a journalist for the BBC. “He faced a lot of opposition in practicing his own reconciliation,” she says.

Higonnet’s story comes from the time she spent in Sierra Leone in 2003, working for a special court with Alexi Zervos and sleeping beside Christodulou under a single spotty mosquito net. Although many of Higonnet’s experiences in the court are bound by confidentiality, she is plagued by the memory of what she calls the “signature atrocity” of the Sierra Leone civil war: the legendary “amputations” performed by the Rebel United Front, one of the warring parties.

The rebels cut off their hostages’ hands, arms, noses, lips, ears—tactics that typified the sheer brutality and lasting impact of the war. Higonnet describes arriving in Sierra Leone for the first time and being driven past an amputee camp where she saw even the smallest children victimized by the war. “It was heart-wrenching,” she says. When she and Christodulou walked past, they were unsure where to look—they worried that staring would make the residents self-conscious, but wondered whether ignoring them would be worse.

When Christodulou focused her TRC research on these amputations, Higonnet asked her how she managed to grapple with such devastating tragedy, day in and day out. “Tears welled up in her eyes, but she didn’t cry,” Higonnet remembers. “She just said, ‘It’s the right thing to do.’”

All of the Artemis Project’s founding members tell similar stories chronicling Christodulou’s incredible dedication. Although her father used to ask himself whether he and his wife should have stopped their daughter from returning to Sierra Leone, whether he could have prevented the accident, he now realizes that nothing they could have done would have stopped her from doing the work she thought was important—she was too touched by the tragedies she’d encountered to do anything but help.

“It’s hard to describe how enormously vibrant she was,” Alexi Zervos muses. “She had this enormous passion for the truth commissions, and for the victims. She was simply inspirational.”

Like the truth commissions she was committed to, Christodulou tried to heal nations with stories. Ironically, her own story has become just one of the countless individual tragedies the Artemis Project is determined to remember.

For everyone involved, says Zervos, “This project is important because it bears her name.”

The Secret Garden

On the summit of Science Hill, across the street from a row of fading Victorian porches and an aged gun factory with punctured windows, sits a wheelbarrow visibly worn by a loose summer spent outdoors. Cradling empty beer bottles, it perches near a chalkboard covered with Dave Garinger’s to-do list: “Weed. Divide Iris. Mow down Locust Sprouts. Transplant Veggies!!!”

For the last twenty five years, Garinger has lived inside a little clapboard house wedged between Mansfield Avenue and Hillside Place. As the groundskeeper of the Marsh Botanic Gardens, Garinger’s morning commute consists of putting on a pair of well-made shoes and stepping outside. “Since I live so close,” he says, “I did a comical video of my commute and sent it to my mom. The whole time I was saying things like ‘Look, Mom, isn’t this horrible? I tripped over a rock.’” He spends the workday weeding the rest of the garden, so you’ll have to excuse him if his own front steps at number 227 are a little overgrown.

The whitewashed cottage forms the cornerstone of eight acres of sloping land that once belonged to Othniel Marsh, a philanthropist whose estate was bestowed to the Forestry School in 1899. Some time in the last century, a biology professor and his wife converted their home on the property into an apiary. Scores of beehives filled the ground floor. When the couple left, the bees were moved out, and Garinger moved in.  Remnants of its former residents remain—just beyond the chainlink fence overgrown with berries and jewelweed, visitors are still greeted by an ominous sign: “Beware of Bees First Floor.”

The work at Marsh Botanic Gardens, 150 feet from Dave’s front steps, involves growing plants for genetic research, filling orders from a flock of Yale labs, and providing a playground for ecology classes seeking hands-on experience. Garinger, the horticulturalist, and Eric Larson, the general manager, split the daily work. Between the two of them, the micro- and macro- fauna are in good hands. Four greenhouses, affectionately named 1, 2, 3, and 4, split off from a cracked concrete driveway. Here, something is always blooming or being dug up. Thankfully, there’s still enough time for side projects: overgrown pebbles are scattered along the path between the two largest greenhouses, where Eric and Dave are designing a sitting garden lined with an overhead trellis for growing grapes. They are determined to coax the grapevine to adulthood. “In the summer the leaves will shade us,” Eric explains, “and in the winter they’ll fall down and we’ll get some nice sunlight.”

In addition to shade, these plants will provide a valuable scientific resource. Currently, rows of high-tech corn are incubating in and around Greenhouse 4. “We grow the newfangled types of mutant corn the professors keep breeding,” Garinger says.  The shrunken corn husks, each one a tenth the size of a normal ear, are swaddled in white socks to prevent cross-pollination. They look like midget vegetables to us because they’re engineered to echo the pre-Neolithic ancestors of corn, an eye-opening display for the students of agriculture who visit the Gardens.  The local wildlife enjoy them as well.  “The butterflies down at the biology lab like to eat corn seedlings,” Garinger shares, “but now I’ve got them hooked on collard greens.”

Greenhouse 1 is a rebellious museum.  A world-wide assortment of flora intended to educate visiting students fills the room. Whole continents are presented in miniature. Three thousand species of plants are clustered by climate, but there’s no regard for nationality: a Malayan Coconut Palm rubs branches with an Australian Wollami Pine. The coffee and chocolate trees are both sprouting beans this year, and the Trovita sweet oranges have ripened into their namesake color. A portion of each day is set aside for detangling the cucumber shoots that like to crawl up the windows. “It’s a jungle,” Garinger tells me. “I feel like I’m always weeding or clipping.” He looks at the mossy tree fern and moans, “This thing has gotten huge! I need to trim it back.”

Garinger keeps a window display of hothouse orchids, but most of them are missing their signature blooms. “They’re easily kept alive, but it’s so hard to get them to flower,” he mourns. Off in a corner, the carnivorous plants keep to themselves. Sundews lure in flies with their tentacles, while butterwarts stick out their dewy tongues. Venus flytraps snap their eyes shut at the stroke of a single finger.

But Garinger’s heart lies in drier places. Although he’s not too fond of the bees his predecessors kept in his home, he’s keen on another kind of prickly pet: his collection of shrunken cacti. All of them live across the road in Greenhouse 2, part of the educational collection that doubles as Garinger’s hobby house. His favorite cacti are the living stones of Africa, whose flat bumps form a natural pavement, and the night-blooming cirrus, whose flowers are pollinated by wild bats. Somewhere in here is a resident snake that Garinger rarely sees. Lately it’s taken to changing its clothes in public: a dried shell of a snakeskin lies coiled by a cluster of prickly pears.

“I started this about twenty years ago, and some are as old as I’ve been here,” Garinger tells me with a smile. He points to a noto cactus that could be taken for a menacing spiked cucumber. The most dangerous cacti have the smallest weapons. Glockids, tiny little spines that dig into your skin, won’t let go after they get a hold of you. Once, when he was giving a tour to a group of second graders, a boy got his hands full of them, and Garinger could think of no home remedy. “I told the teacher, ‘One of your kids has cactus spines all over him! I don’t know what to do,’” he says. “I tell the kids, ‘Don’t touch the cacti,’ and they never listen. They go around rubbing this and that; they put their weight on everything.”

Besides the four greenhouses, Garinger also maintains a classroom for the Yale ecology classes that come in to study plants. Professors choose specimens in advance, and Garinger lifts each plant from its greenhouse to form a rotating exhibit. Today there is a young cinnamon tree and a papaya plant, but tomorrow they might be replaced by a pair of elephant ears and a sago palm.

After the tour, Larson joins us, and the two men show me the three surviving beehives in Garinger’s backyard. These bees are the grandchildren of the original ones that used to live indoors, and their honey is now in demand on the local market. Today, they’re as busy as could be expected. “They love the goldenrod this time of year. They’re really working it!” he marvels. But then he looks a little troubled. “I think they’ve noticed us,” he says. “I see them gathering in a clump to try and protect the queen. It looks like they’re getting ready to swarm.”

We hurry back to the gardeners’ office, and during their afternoon tea break I ask Garinger and Larson of their plans for the Marsh Botanic Gardens. Using Yale funding, they hope to raise the glass roofs and turn the low-ceilinged greenhouses into a full-blown conservatory, where they could plant tropical trees and let them grow to their full adult height. “We need a taller structure!” Larson announces. “Right now, the coffee and chocolate trees can only grow to be dwarfs.” Garinger nods in agreement. I ask them if they think all these wishes will bear fruit, and Larson gives me a sagely look. “It’s like throwing grass seed out there: some of it comes up, and some of it doesn’t.”

The Rhodes Warrior

Like many Yale students, I like money. Unfortunately, also like many Yale students, I’ve spent my college career reading books from an age when money was probably denominated in seashells or salt. Short on marketable skills, I’ve spent most of my senior year trying to convince rich people to hand me money for no good reason. For those of you who are facing the same problem before graduation, I suggest my latest get-rich-quick scheme: the Rhodes Scholarships.

The Rhodes Scholarships are just one of the many philanthropic ventures established by a Victorian tycoon named Cecil Rhodes, who also founded the De Beers diamond corporation and the charming nation of Rhodesia. Of all Rhodes’ acts of charity, however, the Rhodes Scholarships are undoubtedly the most noble—chiefly insofar as they have the potential to benefit me. The Scholarships fund two years of study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom; as such, they’re perfect for those of us incapable of acquiring a paying job or a suntan.

Winning a Rhodes Scholarship is fairly straightforward. First, overcome some crippling hardship. (Consider becoming addicted to heroin.) Second, rescue some starving orphans and homeless puppies; if at all possible, save time by letting the starving orphans adopt the puppies. Third, demonstrate strong leadership by ruthlessly eliminating those who dare to challenge your authority, starting with all competing applicants for the Rhodes Scholarships.

(Intelligence helps but is hardly a prerequisite. I, for instance, consider myself a strong candidate.)

If invited for an interview, do anything possible to establish your credentials as an Anglophile. Answer all questions in an assumed British accent (Cockney rhyming slang works best). Express admiration for great Englishmen like Margaret Thatcher. End every answer by quoting Fawlty Towers.

Rhodes committees are especially impressed by displays of courage. Begin the interview by noting that you have spent the past several years living in New Haven—a town known to be inhabited by poor people, minorities, and even some women. If committee members find such Victorian aplomb insufficiently courageous, show off your cojones by streaking.

Finally, if you fail to win a Rhodes Scholarship, don’t despair: in the long run, all the winning applicants are still going to die alone, just like you They’ll just be richer in the meantime.

Music Moguls

When Richard Levin’s Yale renovates, its architects tear buildings down and re-imagine them. And when the Yale School of Music’s Dean, Robert Blocker, imagines—with a $100 million gift at his disposal—he imagines shamelessly.

This July, the School of Music’s orchestra, the Philharmonia, will travel to China to perform with Beijing’s Central Conservatory—a full Yale ensemble, five hundred Chinese singers, and two Yale graduates flown in from the Metropolitan Opera, performing on one stage at the 2008 Cultural Olympiad, the artistic companion to the Olympic Games. But how, Blocker asks, separated as they are by seven thousand miles, will the entire group be able to rehearse together beforehand? Envision, for a moment, the rehearsal room at Hendrie Hall, one of Yale’s music buildings, which is slated for full-scale renovation in May. Blocker closes his eyes rapturously and shifts his weight, imagining how such a challenge could be tackled in future years. Suppose Hendrie’s May renovation could be completed in advance of the July performance: “On one side of the hall will be a screen showing a live video feed of the group in China,” he says, stretching his arms wide. “So we’re in Connecticut, they’re in China, and the conductor could be in London for all we care.”

This musician’s technological fantasy would be unimaginable to most of the classical music world, struggling to maintain its relevance in a modern age. So how did Blocker’s grand vision become a viable reality for the School of Music, which only a decade ago was a small and relatively poor, if prestigious, conservatory? First, the extraordinary: two years ago, a well-wooed, anonymous donor dropped $100 million into the School’s lap. Then, once tuition had been eliminated, applications doubled, the food at receptions gourmeted, and the School began to enjoy the compound benefits of attracting the best young musicians in the world, top faculty to teach them, and ever more attention and contributions for an array of bracingly visionary projects.

What remains astonishing is how little impact this growth has had on the opportunities available to undergraduate musicians at Yale. Students attracted to Yale College because of its outstanding music program are still regularly denied access to professional music teachers and concert spaces. The Department of Music, whose professors hold degrees in music theory and history rather than performance, and which is far less moneyed than the professional school, is responsible for the College’s sixty music majors, every music class available to undergraduates, and all of the undergraduate ensembles, including the Yale Symphony Orchestra, the Glee Club, and the Concert Band. The University provides them little financial support—smaller ensembles often struggle to raise funds and the YSO resorts to charging performers for their own travel expenses on foreign tours and selling ten-dollar tickets to the annual Halloween show.

The University attaches enormous value to promoting performances and maintaining a vibrant music culture. Yet as the School of Music rockets happily skyward, undergraduates who came to Yale for its music find themselves low on resources, short on institutional commitment, and going nowhere.

Robert Blocker, Dean of the Yale School of Music, is a heavyset South Carolinian whose white hair has receded far back from his ruddy face. He is a living legend among musicians at Yale. Blocker has the disarming manner of bygone gentility; his face is a screen of optimism, his voice full of throaty conviction.

In 2005, Blocker left the School of Music after ten years as its dean, a departing champion who had enlarged the once-paltry $30 million endowment five times over. Today, the Robert Blocker Room, a portrait and plasma screen-filled space dedicated in his honor, sits beside the Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Hall, the red brick building on College and Wall Streets whose renovation he oversaw in 2003. Blocker’s tenure, marked by rapid fundraising, facilities renovations, and an accompanying influx of highly regarded faculty and students, was considered remarkably successful.

After Blocker left Yale to become the Provost of Southern Methodist University, the alma mater of Laura Bush and Harriet Miers, he and Levin quietly continued to communicate with a donor who had expressed interest in offering a large gift to the University. He or she had been impressed with the School of Music under Blocker’s stewardship, and Blocker and Levin suggested that giving to the comparatively small program would have an outsized impact.

The payoff of their efforts was almost inconceivable. Thomas Duffy, the School of Music’s acting dean, announced the news on the stage of Sprague Hall on October 28, 2005, moments before students were set to perform a selection of scenes from lesser-known operas. He explained that the school had received $100 million from an anonymous donor and that new students would never pay tuition again. After a gasp and euphoric release from the assembled students, faculty, and audience, Duffy took his seat and let the opera begin.

A year ago, Robert Blocker returned to Yale like a conquering Roman general. At one performance across the hall from the room that bears Blocker’s name, Aldo Parisot, a spry, octogenarian cellist and longstanding member of the faculty, turned around between pieces he was conducting to sing the Dean’s praises. “It turns out our problem all these years was money,” he shouted. “And thanks to Dean Blocker, we’ve solved it!”

Despite Parisot’s accolades, the $100 million is less than it appears. According to a Yale policy, only 5 percent of all endowments—in this case, $5 million—can be spent in a given year. The total annual tuition of the School of Music’s 215 students is almost precisely $5 million. Though the school is no longer responsible for the generous financial aid packages it distributed before the gift, it has more or less committed itself to a single use of the $100 million, at least for the time being. As Margot Fassler, a former dean of the Institute of Sacred Music and current School of Music professor, admitted, “You can dream, but we’re right on the edge of having it all spent.”

It is difficult to imagine a single investment in the school that could have achieved more objectives at one time. Subsidizing tuition instantly benefited students. “It was the decisive factor,” says pianist Jessica Osborne of her decision to enroll at the School of Music in 2006. “I owe a lot of debt. I went to Juilliard and Indiana, and neither was free.”  While debt is hardly an anomaly among graduate students of any stripe, the problem is typically more severe for music students, whose futures are particularly precarious.

Classical musicians, even those from the most prestigious schools, are not guaranteed a job, let alone a good one. “Music is just—how shall I say it—difficult,” says Michael Friedmann, a professor of theory and chamber music at the school. “People go into music because they can’t imagine doing anything different, not because it is necessarily a lucrative career.” Yet this problem is no easier for students at Yale’s renowned Drama School, which can offer only need-based tuition to its students, men and women generally headed to uncertain freelance careers in theater. Nor is it so different for graduates of the Divinity School, which, despite its phenomenal $300 million endowment, does not subsidize its students’ full tuition.

The School of Music saw free enrollment as particularly necessary for its students because of the enormous start-up cost of an instrument. A pianist like Osbourne will likely begin her career with an additional thirty thousand dollars of debt in order to buy a decent piano. Violinists and other string players might spend forty to one hundred thousand dollars on their instruments and regularly maintain them at the cost of several hundred dollars a year. And a young musician, even a great one, will typically have to scrounge up this capital while working several freelance jobs, flying to international competitions, and striving to capture the attention of a major orchestra or agent. “If I’m at the right place at the right time, hopefully someone hears me,” said Osbourne. Until then, she shrugs, “I could probably make a decent amount doing odd jobs.”

Subsidizing tuition has also served the University’s grander strategy of gaining international prominence—and attracting more international students to Yale. Juilliard, the world’s most famous conservatory, has always cast a long shadow over the School of Music’s headquarters, Leigh Hall, from atop Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. Highly endowed, located in the heart of New York City, it attracts top talents who are willing to pay. “How are you going to get the attention of someone in Japan next to the Juilliard?” Duffy asks.

A hundred million dollars might do it. International media quickly picked up the story and the New York Times ran articles debating the gift’s impact on the future of classical music. In the fall of 2005, the rate of applications to the School of Music doubled to nearly fifteen hundred a year. Its admit rate halved to 8 percent while its yield rose from 70 to 83 percent. Over 40 percent of the School of Music’s students are now international, far more than at any other school within the University.

Aside from Yale, only a single conservatory in the country, the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, offers free enrollment, and many music schools around the world are heading in the other direction. “Most of the prospective applicants we meet during our recruiting efforts are already aware of the full-tuition scholarship, so it is usually not necessary to even mention it,” said Daniel Pellegrini, the School’s director of admissions. Levin himself has noted the effect, saying that “free tuition has made possible attracting international students who would not have considered Yale without strong financial support.”

To some degree, the quest for international students is a search for quality musicians. “Our goal has always been to find the best and brightest in the world and bring them to Yale,” Blocker said. “There’s no question that the standard is different,” said Friedmann of the post-donation admissions. “The quality of every single instrument—they’re more polished, they’re more proficient. We have some superstars here. This was out of the question in the past.” But it is impossible to ignore the School of Music’s place in Yale’s ongoing embrace of globalization. The gift has enabled the University to expand an already impressive collection of partnerships with institutions around the globe, among them a concert series with the Royal Academy in London and a slate of programs in Asia (especially China) that includes this summer’s Cultural Olympiad. Levin is confident that these collaborations will raise the University’s profile—“in the music world, but also more generally.”

Other perks of the increased endowment have come effortlessly. “All these things start drawing together,” said Blocker. “You get a big gift and you have resources that enable you to see how those opportunities might open up.” The School of Music was able to take over Yale’s Collection of Musical Instruments and began to hold classes and concerts with students playing on Wagner’s piano and 17th-Century virginals. In July, there will be a musical theater and jazz program for New Haven public schools. The School is holding a yearlong series of concerts by students and faculty at Carnegie Hall in New York—already the subject of multiple rave reviews by the New York Times—presenting students with life-changing opportunities to be seen and heard.

Hendrie Hall is the last of the School of Music’s unrenovated, run-down behemoths. This relic, from an era in which Yale was, as Fassler described it, “the land of the peeling paint,” is the School’s last egregiously necessary project. Once it is completed, the school’s next aim appears to be to raise enough money to award significant cost-of-living stipends to each of its students. “I would imagine another $100 to $200 million will solve the stipend issue,” said Duffy. Blocker—who in his time at Yale has brought in at least $200 million in endowment money—is a born fundraiser. When I asked him what motivates a donor to give $100 million to the school, he smiled at me ingratiatingly and said, “I think there’s the same motivation for a young alum such as yourself. When you graduate, Mitch, start giving right away.”

Undergraduates lost their claim to all of this in 1940. The School of Music, which was founded in 1894 through a gift from some of Yale’s great 19th-century benefactors, the Battells, initially awarded degrees to undergraduates, doctoral students, and performers. Music schools, however, are notorious cesspools of acrimony, especially between professors of competing disciplines, and Yale’s was beset by frequent complaints from undergraduates, historians, and theorists, who felt they were underappreciated next to the performers. Luther Noss, a School of Music dean in the 1950s, who later became its unofficial court historian, recalls the state of the split of 1939. “For over a year there had been audible grumblings in the Yale College community over what was felt to be, rightly or wrongly, the School’s lack of interest and cooperation in tending to the academic and practical musical needs of the undergraduates.” David Stanley Smith, the dean at the time, recommended that the School of Music satisfy its undergraduates by expanding its library of phonograph records, enlarging its faculty, and permitting students to study a broader liberal arts curriculum.

Instead, Yale President Charles Seymour established the Department of Music, moving the scholars and their graduate students, along with all the undergraduates, to the new department. The professional school was left, as it remains, a home for professors of performance, composers, and graduate musicians. Even today, few will argue with the separation. “It’s absolutely a good division,” said Daniel Harrison, the current chair of the music department. At schools without separate departments, Harrison said, “the scholarly components are generally undernourished compared to performers. They’re the breadwinners.”

One irony it that, despite the firewall between the two schools, outsiders are generally unaware of the difference; in the weeks after the School of Music received its $100 million, the Department of Music fielded dozens of calls from prospective applicants confusing it with the professional school. The department has also encountered significant fundraising difficulties now that donors mistakenly believe that Yale’s entire music program is already fabulously wealthy.

In reality, the department is by far the less wealthy of the two. “Financially, we’re a poor stepsister to the School,” said Harrison. The music department enjoys only a tiny piece of the University’s endowment and must rely mainly on the generosity of the central administration and on targeted grants for its research and special projects. Sarah Weiss, an assistant professor of ethnomusicology, described the “treasure hunt” of winning University grants, petitioning the central administration, asking the department, and discovering hidden pockets of resources to fund projects, events, and performances. “It’s one of the things I like best about Yale,” she said. “It means that no one has ultimate control over something except the person who puts it together.” A further irony: while the School of Music made news worldwide for granting free enrollment to its students, it has always been de rigueur for the University to award full tuition and cost-of-living stipends to every one of the more than three hundred doctoral students it admits annually, six to twelve of whom are music theorists and historians.

The greatest irony, however, is the fate of undergraduate performers, music majors or otherwise, who are drawn to Yale by its well-deserved reputation for a rich musical culture. Overseen by the Department of Music, undergraduates have limited interaction with the wealthy professional school and soon discover that too few of the benefits trickle down to their own educations in music. Nearly seventy years after their secession from an uncaring professional school, undergraduate musicians are still seeking the respect they deserve.

Consider undergraduate ensembles at Yale. Junior Kate Swisher is assistant conductor of the Davenport Pops Orchestra. The group, founded by students in the spring of 2005 and modestly supported by Davenport College, is an integral part of what Harrison called the “fairly developed spectrum of music at Yale.” An upstart group just as the Yale Symphony Orchestra, Yale Concert Band, and Glee Club once were, the Davenport Pops offers someone like Swisher, who hopes to pursue a career in performance, invaluable opportunities to conduct a full orchestra. Unfortunately, Yale offers her hardly anywhere to do it.

“The School of Music won’t rent space to undergrads,” Swisher said. “If you want to perform in Woolsey, it eats up your entire Sudler fund for the semester.” The cost to reserve Woolsey for a night is, in fact, closer to $1,800, far more than the five-hundred-dollar Sudler grants available for student concerts. Battell Chapel is not much cheaper. Swisher addressed her criticism toward the University: “You want us to perform, you want to support the arts, but you won’t give us a space to perform or rehearse.”

Though the Yale Symphony Orchestra is one of the best undergraduate orchestras in the country and a group that several undergraduate musicians identify as the reason they chose to attend Yale, it does not fare much better. The University generally supplies around 30 percent of YSO’s annual budget of approximately $100,000, which does not include travel expenses. “We are expected to raise money for ourselves,” said Toshiyuki Shimada, the orchestra’s professional conductor. “We have to rent Woolsey Hall, believe it or not.” Funds for YSO come from benefit concerts, regular fundraising, and ticket revenues. Shimada said that Harrison is “very helpful spiritually, morally. But we do not get a tremendous amount of money from the department.”

Shimada and his orchestra would like to tour annually, but the group can only travel once every other year; fundraising can pay for only so many $250,000 tours to Europe. Student volunteers must pay out of their own pockets to travel, something many Yale a cappella groups, well-endowed and profitable, would never dream of doing.

In theory, Yale does care about these ensembles. According to Duffy, the current director of university bands, “Richard Levin is a tremendous supporter of music.” It was Levin, after all, who played an indispensable role in steering the $100 million toward the School of Music, Levin who can take substantial credit for the magnificent facility renovations the school has enjoyed. Weiss insists, moreover, that the University is far more eager to fund undergraduates than graduate students or their professors in the music department. It is unlikely, however, that the University’s substantial fundraising apparatus, currently engaged in a multibillion dollar capital campaign—the very apparatus that was able to launch the School of Music to the sky—would not be able to stop charging its ensembles for a concert space that it allows the New Haven Symphony Orchestra to use for free.

The more widespread complaint among undergraduates is how few music faculty are available to offer them private lessons. An undergraduate voice student, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of harming her relationship with several campus ensembles, was surprised to learn upon her arrival at Yale that there simply were not enough faculty members to teach her. “When I came to Yale, I was under the impression that I would study with someone on the faculty. That’s kind of what they told me,” she said.

Private lessons for undergraduates are run by the School of Music in cooperation with the Department of Music. Yale has only hired faculty to teach highly skilled undergraduate pianists, violinists, and cellists; each year, professors may choose to take on a handful of exceptionally talented students of other instruments, but the numbers are always small. These lessons are apportioned on the basis of auditions and offered for course credit; students who fail to get a professor may pay graduate students for not-for-credit lessons.

Though this voice student is among the few undergraduates in the Schola Cantorum, a well-paid, highly selective, predominantly graduate voice ensemble, she was assigned a graduate student and was dissatisfied with the result. “Sometimes you have a teacher who isn’t very interested in teaching,” she said. “I had a teacher last year who was notorious for that.” While graduate students at the School of Music, especially in the wake of the donation, are among the best young musicians in the world, they are often unqualified to instruct top-level undergraduates, some of whom will attend conservatories themselves after graduation. Of the approximately ninety voice students who apply for lessons each term, only about 15 may expect to receive lessons with faculty members. In other instruments, particularly woodwinds and brass, the number is closer to zero.

Sophomore Daniel Schlosberg, a top-level composition student and pianist who studies with Wei-Yi Yang, a School of Music faculty member, has noticed similar flaws in the lessons program. “There may be some grad students who are good, but it depends, and they cycle through so quickly,” he said. “I believe they should provide professors for undergraduates.” The composition program, in which Schlosberg said available courses are minimal and private lessons extremely rare, is similarly limited for undergrads, as is the conducting program, which, according to Swisher, has only two faculty conductors despite the fact that “there’s so many of us who want to conduct.”

The School of Music is the reason that many of these undergraduates come to Yale in the first place. “Can you imagine,” Margot Fassler asks, “what the musical culture would be without the School of Music?” Indeed, the spillover effects undergraduates enjoy by studying beside the School of Music are numerous: the School of Music holds four to five concerts on any given week; its graduate students fill the ranks of the Yale Symphony Orchestra, Concert Band, and Glee Club, as well as countless other smaller ensembles like the Schola Cantorum, the Camerata, chamber groups, and shared graduate-undergraduate music classes. The School of Music is not only responsible for most of the lessons that undergraduate music students receive—and even the most inept students receive the very best graduate students as teachers—but also for the use of top-notch practice spaces. When the School renovates Hendrie Hall, Concert Band musicians will no longer need to lug their instruments up six flights of stairs because the building will finally have an elevator.

These benefits, however, are no more than spillover, focused on the School of Music and largely peripheral to the needs of Yale’s undergraduate musicians. Those priorities are clear enough. “We teach all applied music for undergraduates,” Blocker said. “The School of Music has an integral responsibility and commitment to this.” The School of Music undertook this responsibility and now, finally enjoying the use of its unprecedented resources, has let its contribution to undergraduates remain static in order to direct its resources outward, fighting for global attention and attracting an ever-finer crop of international graduate students. The University itself, which demonstrated its substantial commitment to music by supporting the School of Music’s growth, has remained notably frugal in its support of undergraduate ensembles. Some of the very best young adult performers in the country already study here; why should their education be any less than exemplary?

The contrast between the institution’s commitment and the resources it offers is stark, and no one wants it this way. Levin has suggested that the University will increase the number of students taught by music faculty. For his part, Blocker sings the right tune: “I believe firmly that those of us who are privileged by the opportunities provided for us have an obligation to provide opportunity for other people,” he said. “What a great joy and opportunity it is to have, in the hands of a young adult, music, which is able to bridge cultures like nothing else.” Undergraduates will believe him once they see a bridge or two of their own.

Lifting the Veil

I needed flour to bake cookies one Sunday morning, but I was in Germany, where the stores are closed on that day. The Dutch, fortunately, believe in Sunday shopping, and I could ride the bus from Aachen, Germany to Vaals, Holland. Midway through the 15-minute journey, three Muslim women got on board. They seemed to float down the aisle in their black abayas, their moving feet obscured by the cloaks that covered them from head to toe. They took their seats opposite me, the sun shining on their black headscarves. One woman wore a niqab over her face; only her eyes glinted in the light. Another woman’s exposed face sparkled with the sheen of melon-colored lipstick and layers of green eye-shadow. I found myself self-conscious of my skirt. Did they think I was immodest? Even as I scrutinized them, I worried about being judged in turn. I wondered how the woman revealing only her eyes and the woman exposing a painted face could believe in the same idea of modesty, in the same Islam. It troubled me that I thought of them as a flock, as anonymous women wearing oppressive shrouds. As a woman of color and a feminist, I was surprised to uncover the limits of my cultural understanding. In search of some answers, I turned to the voices of five Muslim women at Yale.

The warmth of Altaf’s smile radiates from her expressive brown eyes as she says hello to every other person we pass on our walk. An ethnic counselor for freshmen and one of the most vocal members of the Muslim Students Association and Asian American Students Association, Altaf is a prominent campus presence. She is half Iranian and half Iraqi, a Shia Muslim who grew up in California. When she was about 14, she chose to wear the headscarf along with her sister. It was a decision she had often considered, one that she has reevaluated ever since. But her reasons for wearing it have only strengthened over the past eight years. “Wearing the headscarf removed me from the world where I was constantly judged for physical reasons. And who I am as a person is more important than my physical characteristics,” she says.

The headscarf has also grounded Altaf in her faith and brought her closer to God. When she gathers the folds around her hair every morning, she is reminded of what her faith means to her. “I like being tied to a tradition,” Altaf says. “In a family it is natural to wear it. You see its significance to the people you admire and care about.” The headscarf, which immediately identifies her faith, connects her not only to her nuclear family but also to a larger Muslim one. “There’s an immediate sense that you’re Muslim. No matter where I go in the U.S., I feel like I’m going to have an immediate community.” Although wearing the headscarf can subject a woman to stereotypes and racism, it has actually allowed Altaf to confront those assumptions. “People assume that you are quiet and shy…that the headscarf makes you anonymous,” she says. “For me, it’s a way of asserting my identity. But there are women who don’t assert their identity and who see the headscarf as mandatory.” Altaf is not one of them. For her, it is about choice—the choice to wear the headscarf and to explore her faith and identity in relation to it.

Zahreen’s parents are from Bangladesh, a country that is home to the world’s fourth largest, mostly Sunni, Muslim population. Traditionally, Bengali Muslim women wear saris and do not wear the headscarf, though this pattern has changed in recent years. When Zahreen’s mother immigrated to the U.S., she chose to wear the headscarf for the first time in her life. In America, unlike in Bangladesh, she felt the need to affirm her Muslim identity. Zahreen did not follow suit. She tucks her glossy hair behind her ear as she explains her own choice. “Wearing a headscarf would not make me more Muslim, but maybe more Muslim, physically, to others,” she says. “People think that if you wear a headscarf you are more religious.” Zahreen, who prays five times a day, fasts, and tries to practice Muslim ethics such as being charitable, refraining from gossip, and dressing modestly, resents this misinterpretation. Part of the reason she does not wear the headscarf is to challenge others’ perception of Muslims as a monolithic group. She believes in a spectrum of Muslim practice, subject to individual interpretation. I ask her if feminism and the headscarf can be woven together. “Part of the fervor around the hijab,” she says, “comes from the conception that it is only women who have to wear it, and the West is obsessed with how the rest of the world treats women. Freedom of choice is the ability to make choices, not the choices you have.”

Aside from one cousin and a grandmother who lives in India, Zenah is the only woman in her family who wears the headscarf. After the September 11th attacks, Zenah’s cousin began to wear it, and Zenah, too, soon became curious about the veil. When she read about the hijab in the Qur’an, she interpreted it as a call for modesty. “Wearing the headscarf is a process of finding yourself, and finding identity,” says Zenah, who does not see the tradition as a mandatory practice for every woman, but believes it is mandatory for her. “I wanted to see if it is possible to wear the headscarf in American society and be Muslim. I did not want to become a political emblem; I just wanted to see if I could be visibly American Muslim and integrate into society.” With her green-gray eyes, Zenah could be linked to various ethnicities and religions. Through donning the veil, though, she is immediately identified as Muslim.

Most of her family did not react significantly when she began wearing it. Her mother was initially encouraging. But when Zenah began wearing the headscarf every time she went out, even to dinner at a friend’s home, her mother tried to stop her. For two or three years, Zenah’s mother was upset that her daughter constantly wore the headscarf, but she never forced Zenah to remove it. Now she accepts it as part of Zenah’s identity. Though Zenah did not want to become a political emblem, she has been influential in overturning misconceptions about the headscarf within and outside her family. She has made it clear, even to her mother, that she wears the headscarf by choice. While it is a symbol of oppression in certain countries, it is quite the opposite here.

The first time I discovered that Nisreen had worn a headscarf was during an interfaith service trip to New Orleans. We were sitting in a circle, hanging onto Nisreen’s captivating and articulate narration of her relationship with her faith. Nisreen’s mother is from Malaysia, a secular country where Islam is a dominant religion, and Nisreen grew up in California. She was the only Muslim girl in her school. After the World Trade Center fell, many of her peers approached her with stereotypical comments and assumptions about Islam. For Nisreen, the decision to wear the hijab was a political one. “I wanted to draw attention to the fact that I was Muslim,” says Nisreen, who first donned the headscarf at the age of 14. “I wanted to stand out. I wanted people to come up to me and ask me about Islam. The hijab was an attention-grabber for me.”

During the two years she wore the headscarf, she found herself being cast as the perfect Muslim girl in both Islamic and non-Islamic communities. Becoming a symbol for such a large community was troubling. She also noticed that the headscarf defined who was a “good” or “bad” Muslim; the women who did not wear it were treated as outsiders in the Muslim community. Nisreen began to question her reasons for wearing the headscarf. “When I wore the hijab I felt that I didn’t need to watch what I said. I felt I judged too much. Was I wearing it to show off that I was a Muslim?” Nisreen ultimately decided to take it off. “It is better to act as an upright person than put on a scarf and pretend to be a person I’m not really,” she says frankly. After she stopped wearing the headscarf, people in both communities would ask her if she was giving up on the faith. One teacher even said, “It was really nice to see you make a statement. Why did you stop?” But her decision to stop wearing the veil was a statement in itself—one in line with the various statements she continues to make.

I was worried that I would be attacked when I came here,” Nuru confides. This was two and a half years ago, when she left her home in Botswana to study at Yale. Despite her worries, Nuru has worn the headscarf throughout her time at Yale. She first donned the headscarf at age 13, when her friend’s father required his daughter to wear the headscarf. Nuru, along with several friends, began to wear the headscarf in solidarity. “We were her friends, and so we wore it with her,” she says. The practice wasn’t foreign to Nuru—every woman in her family wore the headscarf, and she had always expected to don it. In Botswana and New Haven, she wears it to identify herself as Muslim and to follow her interpretation of the religious commandments. She believes the headscarf protects women from being viewed as objects and generates respect based on their character, not appearance. Despite the weight it carries, the headscarf, she concedes, is just a headscarf. “It’s a tiny part of the whole idea of modesty, which includes speaking and acting modestly,” Nuru says. “A lot of people just see the headscarf as a symbol of oppression and assume various things about me. Friends have not told me certain things because they think I would judge them,” she says. I thought back to my worry of the woman in full burqa judging me. I realize the folly of my concerns when Nuru continues, “If you look at the scripture, you can’t judge.”

In the Qur’an, the passage about the hijab does not specify which parts of the body must be covered. The specifics come from a Hadith, or saying of the Prophet Muhammad. Literally interpreted, it says that women must cover all but their hands and feet; men must cover from navel to knee. But both Altaf and Zahreen tell me that they read scriptures such as the Qur’an with the historical context in mind. Languages are alive and change, as do interpretations. It is this fluidity that surfaces in these women’s decisions, and which enriches, in turn, their shared religion.

La Vie Boheme

Churning through Ulysses on a second floor balcony beneath the looming façade of Notre Dame, I was interrupted by a pianist hammering out rhythmic jazz in harmony with a frenzied drumbeat from below. Following the staircase down to the piano, I encountered Camal, the bookshop’s carpenter. His toolbox lay locked at his side; instead of repairing the two poetry shelves that had collapsed the day before, he sat on the corner stair beating a make-shift drum in time to the pouring summer rain. Instead of facing the indignity of walking drenched through Saint-Michel, Camal was waiting out the rain inside the shop. I sat down on the top stair and, following Camal’s lead, enclosed within its doors, decided to surrender myself to the peculiar melody of Shakespeare and Co.

Some weeks before, on my arrival at the Parisian bookshop, I had pushed through the swarms of awed customers and asked for Sylvia, Sylvia Beach Whitman. I would begin my stay in her bookshop that evening. A thin-framed woman stood behind the vintage cash register, surrounded by the summer horde of American tourists, all of whom were overwhelmingly relieved to speak English with the Australian-accented manager. Eli that I am, I expected Sylvia to descend from her manager’s office and offer a full orientation on the rules and regulations of the shop. As I would be sleeping there, I assumed that a few expectations would be established. Yet I quickly realized that control and organization were antithetical to the bohemian lifestyle of Shakespeare and Co. I was to read, and I was to write. In exchange for this intellectual discovery was a mattress, located right in the center of Paris. According to my official title, I was a “Writer-in-Residence.”

Sleeping overnight in a bookstore encapsulated all of my fondness for folios and octavos, even for the paperback. Yet not any bookstore would satisfy me—I had to sleep overnight in Shakespeare and Company.

Though Shakespeare and Co. attracts some tourists because of its consistent listing in Paris guidebooks, most overlook this hidden treasure tucked between the bustling markets of Saint-Michel and the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame. This small bibliophilic sanctuary is known for its eclectic collection of English novels in a country which vigorously promotes all things French. It also serves as a haven for wandering and penniless writers who are allowed to sleep among its shelves for free.

When I first heard of the opportunity, I was skeptical. Perhaps it was possible for a beatnik, but not for me, not now. Even the most unconventional modern hipster, I thought, would not hitchhike across Europe without a mapped-out plan or sleep in a grimy and soiled bookshop just for the sake of adventure. Yet according to the store’s owner, George Whitman, over forty-thousand people have slept in his shop over the years. I went to Paris determined to become the next.

One cannot know Shakespeare and Co. without knowing George. A 93-year-old man who retains a remarkably lucid memory and a propensity to burst into a tyrannical rage, George is a living legend whose presence in the shop inspires both awe and fear. He occasionally descends from his apartment on the third floor—a space he calls “The Museum of the Lost Generation”—and sits out on the wooden benches lining the façade of the shop, picking up three or four of the rejected used books, insisting that all of them have something worthwhile to offer. A staunch socialist and a consummate host who lives by the adage, Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise,he first allowed complete strangers to sleep in his bookstore in 1951.

George is the second owner of Shakespeare and Company; Sylvia Beach Whitman, his daughter, now manages the shop. The original bookstore, located in the heart of l’Odéon, was established by Sylvia Beach in 1919. Her lending library of English books quickly became the refuge for all of the expatriate writers of the Lost Generation. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound, Stein, Joyce—they all congregated in her shop, which became the center of literary culture and innovative ideas.  Hardly by coincidence, all of the books banned in England and America—most notably, Joyce’s Ulysses—were readilty available in Sylvia’s shop. After Anglophone publishers rejected the monumental text as pornographic, Beach decided to publish it out of Shakespeare and Company.

The shop closed after the German occupation of Paris during World War II. Hemingway himself liberated the store when he entered Paris with the American troops in 1944, but it was years before it re-opened across town. George felt he had the prerogative to reestablish the store, recreating a literary haven where young writers could gather, discuss, and create, while living in one of the world’s most stimulating cities. A second generation of lost writers gathered in George’s bookshop, everyone from the last modernists—Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Richard Wright, and Samuel Beckett—through the first Beats—Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. George restored Beach’s literary sphere, but this time according to his Marxist credo: Give what you can; take what you need.

I entered George’s utopia and fell into the rhythms of the shop’s exceptional lifestyle. On my first day of residence, I passed underneath the green front doorway and was confronted with a chaos of books, lying strewn in every possible direction. Books extended up to the edge of the rotting ceiling and crowded into splintered wooden shelves so unstable that one could not pull a spine off the shelf without fear of collapse. Pyramidal piles of books were stacked in corners, stuffed into suitcases like dirty clothing, or thrown, rotting and dismembered, into bins outside the shop, as if some unsuspecting tourist would fall in love with the flimsy paperbacks and purchase one. Interspersed throughout this mayhem were seven mattresses, comfortably awaiting the fatigued residents of the shop once those green doors closed at midnight.

During my stay, the shop hosted anywhere from three to ten writers each night. We obediently helped open the shop at midday and close at midnight. For two hours in between, we worked in the store—a sort of work-study program as part of our invitation to stay. One afternoon, while I was shelving literary nonfiction, a delicate model entered the bookshop, picked up the nearest Tiffany-blue hardback and pretended to read—a pose for her shoot. I felt eerily analogous to Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, covered in the grime of dusty book jackets, scripted to the role of the bookworm in opposition to the liberated and vivacious Fred Astaire.

Each morning, the resident writers wearily strolled across the street to Café Panis, where the waiters behind the bar distinguished us from the Notre Dame tourists by our bloodshot eyes, our dirty clothes, and (above all) our greasy hair. We quickly gulped down the one euro café at the bar: cheap but strong. After that, we went our separate ways—heading upstairs to the library to fulfill George’s bidding that we read a book a day or sitting down at an ancient typewriter, attempting to write amidst all the customers disturbing our temporary home. We would reconvene at midnight and retreat upstairs to the library, pop open the cheapest bottle of wine that Franprix offered, and let our thoughts flow. We positioned ourselves amidst the books and talked into the wee hours of the morning. Some nights, the conversations were more intellectual—discussing the absurdity of French deconstructionism, Ted Hughes’ influence on Sylvia Plath, or the ways Walter Benjamin’s theories on art applied to Paris’ constantly-clicking tourists. Other times, we simply laughed uncontrollably at YouTube videos or mentally prepared ourselves for our en-masse excursion the next morning to the free public showers.

George was a prominent fixture during my stay. I recall fondly the morning when I was allowed to “shower” in George’s bathtub, pouring a pan of hot water over myself, terrified of the ubiquitous cockroaches squirming throughout his apartment, or of seeing George himself, a notable ladies’ man, spying on me through the stained glass windows that lined the tub. I gained the ultimate satisfaction one Sunday afternoon when I was privileged to be George’s “Tea Lady.” I served tea to his friends, his dedicated followers, and even the random customers who gathered in his tiny apartment every Sunday at four o’clock. His crass voice rang into the narrow hallway, inquiring as to whether everyone had a cup of tea and a madeleine. Moments later, he strode into the room, still dressed in his blue polka-dot pajamas with his wired grey hair pointing in every direction.

Beyond feeling compelled to live in Shakespeare and Co., I wanted to read Ulysses in the bookshop that published it. I managed to hew my way through Joyce’s jumbled narrative, sitting on the second-floor windowsill, looking across the Seine to Notre Dame. Yet reading the monumental epic didn’t have the profound effect I had anticipated. The bookstore changed me more than its colossal publication. It fulfilled my deep-rooted desire to be bohemian; to throw away my planner and Post-It notes and merely live by the hour; to no longer be the collared-shirted, trousered, tight-bunned Yale student. To be part of the generation still lost, migrating from place to place without any fixed destination; to no longer have a mapped out plan, but merely exist from day to day, having no connections, no way to be traced, but to just be.

I was still living in the bookstore during the crazed celebrations of the final Harry Potter installment. In the midst of the long line of squealing customers eager to acquire their reserved copies, George yelled at me for not properly centering Shakespeare and Co.’s signature stamp on the title page, insisting that the customer deserved a refund for not receiving a properly-placed stamp. I laughed, and Sylvia smiled at me with sympathy. After the copies had been sold, George sat down in a corner chair to offer all the regulars his homemade butter rum from a glass bell jar. We all walked outside and dispersed across the worn benches lining the shop. I carefully rolled some tobacco; as I peered over the end of my first cigarette, I saw the eager eyes and smirking smile of a fellow writer as he lit the end. He seemed to take infinite pleasure in his minor involvement in my conversion into a free-spirit. I smiled and inhaled. I breathed in, opening my lungs and myself to a bohemian rhythm.

Kids in the Hall

Some would say the basement kitchen of Davenport’s dining hall is no place for a child. Massive knives, fierce sieves, gargantuan ovens and freezers a hippo could get lost in are some of the kitchen’s most obvious perils. A body four feet high could easily disappear in the fray. But others might note the fun of seeing pastries get iced or watching soup bubble in big pots. Practically everything gleams.

And few could deny that the upstairs dining area holds even more appeal. Even college students have been tempted to play Harry Potter underneath the chandelier, or make faces at the solemn portraits on the wall.

Fewer still would say that it is safer, or more enjoyable, for children to be home by themselves for four hours a day after school. This dilemma plays out constantly for the many Yale workers who are single parents with children at home. It’s a problem many Americans face. Everyone wants to spend time with their kids, babysitters are expensive, and most children are curious to see their parents at work. Yale, in particular, is an enticing place for children: the courtyards are big and green, the colleges full of crannies to explore, and the dining halls stocked with four tubs of ice cream a night. Not to mention the lure of college students. Big kids are cool.

Although Yale seems the perfect place to bring your daughter to work, practical concerns often win out. According to Diderot Desgrottes, a Davenport chef who spends time in the basement kitchen, “It’s extremely unsafe down here. People get hurt all the time.” Nevertheless, Desgrottes acknowledges the dilemma of the single parent. “If there’s an emergency or something, you can’t just leave them at home. You don’t have that many options.”

Though Yale workers are contractually barred from bringing any children to their shift, the practice remains a staple in many dining halls. Briana Janelle Ursini, granddaughter of Davenport’s Joanne Ursini, has been visiting the dining hall since she was two. It didn’t seem to be a problem for anyone.

“She’d sit quietly at one of the tables, and she would read, or sketch, or write poetry,” Ursini explains. “She even knew how to use the computers upstairs.” The Davenport community, she says, was welcoming, and the management didn’t seem to mind. “Kids would even ask me, ‘Joanne, can she hang out with us?’ Then they’d all go off kicking a ball around, or reading a book.” Ursini explains that she didn’t rely on Davenport to entertain her granddaughter. It was for emergencies, or when Briana’s school let out early. “It was nice for her, knowing what her grandmother was doing when she wasn’t there. She loved going downstairs and watching the inner workings of the place—to see me baking, watching me prepare the salad bar.”

Problems began to arise, however, when more children started showing up at Davenport. Assistant Manager Hugo Vergara says, “It didn’t really bother me at first. But if everybody comes with their kids, then the manager has to take action.”  Davenport isn’t a day care, he says, and it wasn’t fair to allow some workers the privilege of childcare and not others. So Brianna doesn’t come anymore. “Now I have to pay a person to take care of her,” Ursini says. “I tried to take her to the Boys’ club, but she says the kids there act like animals.”

Vergara has a managerial perspective on the problem. “Employees are not supposed to bring their kids,” he says, “and it’s hard for the parents to concentrate on the job.” At the same time, the dining halls need all the staff they can get, and if a worker has to use a sick day to stay home with a child, everyone loses out.

In Calhoun, a similar pattern arises. Annett Ramos, who started working in the dining hall this year, says she brings her daughter Lydia in about once a month. “I called and said I’d have to stay home to watch her, because I couldn’t get a babysitter. But they said they’d rather have me bring her here than not come at all.”

“Sometimes we understand,” explains Vergara, who often allows a child to come rather than risk being understaffed. It’s better for the workers, too—if they stay home more than five times over three months, they’re issued a verbal warning. After that, they could be fired.

Vergara takes out a sheet charting the patterns of dining hall sick days. Topping the list of reasons why people don’t show are “single parent child care issues.”  While he knows this claim is legitimate, Vergara worries that people have begun to use it as an excuse.

The Yale labor contract states that “to qualify for sick leave pay, an employee is required to be in fact unable to work due to illness or injury.” Exceptions to this rule include jury duty, a call to military service, or a death in the family. There is no mention of a need for childcare. In the absence of such sanctioned excuses, an employee may be fired; calling in sick “under false pretenses,” notes the contract, constitutes grounds for dismissal.

Yale provides lists of babysitting and daycare services on its “WorkLife” website, but, according to Vergara, staff rarely use the suggestions. “Not too many people take advantage of them. They don’t want to spend the money.” Starting in the spring of 2005, Yale provided subsidized rates to parents who needed “caregivers on call” in the case of emergencies. Even with the subsidy, though, parents end up paying between seven and fifteen dollars per hour.

Workers and management alike say they’d love to see an entirely free day care or after school program on campus. Students could staff the program as volunteers. The large number of Yalies participating in tutoring groups such as TIES, Splatter, and other programs, suggests a population willing to help.

“There could be one unit for all of Yale,” Ursini imagines. “There’d be people of certain criteria, watching the kids do their homework, and it’d be costless, and you’d know that there’s integrity behind it.”

Support for such a dream is widespread. Shoshana Grant, who works in Davenport and has a baby on the way, says she’d love to be able to “keep an eye on her son” in a college daycare center. Vergara, too, is enthused. “That would be awesome. It’d be good for the workers, and good for us too, because if someone calls in to say they’re staying home with their kids, we can say, ‘just bring them here!’”

Into the Woodshop

What you have to do is put these together,” says Mark Messier, pointing to pieces of freshly sawed wood sitting on an unfinished shelf. “Capisci?” A freshman listens silently, wearing a look of bewilderment and stubborn resolve. “No capisci!” Messier continues emphatically, grabbing the two slabs to ready them for gluing.

It’s a typical Saturday in the Gosselin Woodshop tucked into the basement of Berkeley College. For nearly years, Messier, a professional woodworker and cabinetmaker, has made the hour-long commute from Coventry once each week to help Yale woodworkers fashion everything from bowls to croquet sets. In his tenure as master woodworker, Messier -a man whose gray hair looks almost as grizzled as his fraying shirt and beat-up Columbia moccasins-has become more emblematic of the shop than the black-and-white photograph of its namesake, Edward Webb Gosselin. But Messier seems disinterested in his legendary status. He brandishes a broad, jovial smile and starts to tell me about the room’s history in epic detail: “There has always been a Berkeley woodshop,” he begins.

He weaves the lore of the woodshop-its dimly lit, closet-sized origins off the Berkeley tunnel, its skeletal form in Swing Space, the society that used it to make mallets for their midnight croquet games-into the lore of his own life. This latter yarn begins with the son of an insurance executive in a classic, 731New England house. Other than the tedium and odium of the insurance business, Messier, in the spirit of “the do-it-yourself generation” of which he counts himself a part says, “I didn’t learn anything from my father.” Still, he admires his father for putting him to work on the house each weekend. He claims it fostered an appreciation for the old, wooden edifice. As he describes the house, his tone lightens, shedding its customary sarcasm.

Messier’s passion for his craft stems from the mischief of his youth. Though he carved his first bowl at age seven, Messier admits, “most of the time I just made explosives.” His exploits often went beyond mere tinkering. “We once tried to make a boat,” he remembers, “but it didn’t float, so we turned it into a go-cart.”

His flirtation with woodworking-part infatuation, part casual dating, never anything official-followed Messier as he left the land of old ramblers and “real architecture” and headed west to Oregon. It was in this state-“where all the houses are less than fifty years old”-that a twenty-something Messier took his first and last woodworking class. He had barely begun to construct a rosewood rocker by the conclusion of the course. “So I bought a shop smith and finished the chair myself,” he says nonchalantly, as if that had been the only option. A few years and “over a hundred picnic tables” later, Messier returned east, having taught himself how to frame, floor, and mold.

Standing at the lathe, Messier again extols the value of self-education. While he stands with a quiet, unassuming expertise over the student at the machine-Berkeley Master Marvin Chun’s mother-he does little to guide her. In fact, a few moments later, he has wandered away from the amateur. “As long as you know how you can get hurt and avoid those pitfalls, you can do well,” he says, before amending his words to include the optimism of all great teachers. “No, you will do well.” Indeed, the only person who has ever gotten injured on Messier’s watch is himself.

Asked to describe some of his most memorable projects, Messier displays a lingering grin that seems to suggest he should hold his tongue. “We picked up and lifted a house nearly 18 inches,” he laughs. “I almost killed myself. You see, I had my head on the ground and three inches above me was the cast iron drain for the toilet. The drain dropped two.” He leans toward me to whisper the moral of the story: “But I learned how to jack a house.” Most of Messier’s stories share a similar lesson: one learns more by doing than learning how to do. But the self-reliant Messier is too playful to be preachy. He likes to mock himself, and he likes to mock Yale even more. Chuckling, he explains that he is often asked to carve names on plaques for different colleges. “I’ve never done it in my life” he says.

These days, Messier rarely finds himself an inch from death. He runs a restoration company, recently renamed Birch Bend Builders, out of his “kick-ass shop.” But he’s content with the tamer projects of Birch Bend-building kitchens, doing historical renovations, and installing bathroom stalls. And he always looks forward to his Saturdays in the Berkeley basement. “The students keep me young,” he says. “Every year I get to meet 18- and 19- year olds. It’s a fresh perspective.” Certain students stand out in his memory. He remembers one heavily pierced disciple who had quit high school as a junior and another who was commissioned to make conductors’ batons for a campus orchestra.

Messier worries that these types of students are growing extinct at Yale. With each passing year, he has noticed that students know-and care-less and less about his craft. “It used to be that students had a grandfather-not father, mind you, but, still, a grandfather-that was a woodworker. Now,” he laments, “there’s a detachment. We’re living in a material world.” Messier fears that the art of woodworking will disappear in the name of lofty pre-professionalism. “Do you know how many parents think a woodshop in a college is ridiculous?” he asks. But Messier refuses to feel sorry for himself. Instead, he takes his own advice, doing exactly as he told a woodworker one Saturday morning as he left him alone to sand: “If you get something that’s really bad, just deal with it.”

Hospital Trip

American radical and psychedelic drug pioneer Timothy Leary once said, “I am 100 percent in favor of the intelligent use of drugs and 1,000 percent against the thoughtless use of them, whether caffeine or LSD.” A similar sentiment might have been in the mind of Yale junior George Aki Nikolaidis when he volunteered to take small doses of the hallucinogen ketamine last July as part of a controlled experiment run by the Yale School of Medicine.

“I started it mainly because I was curious in the research. Research in drugs I had a serious interest in,” says Nikolaidis. “It appealed to me that I could experience a hard drug in a really safe, controlled setting.”

The study, which took place at the neurology department of the West Haven VA Medical Center in West Haven, Connecticut and was conducted by Yale professors, is part of an ongoing project to use ketamine to revolutionize the treatment of schizophrenia.

“In the late 1980s and to this day,” says John Krystal, lead investigator on the experiment, Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Professor of Clinical Pharmacology, and deputy chairman for research for the Department of Psychiatry, “our group of investigators at Yale studying schizophrenia were among the first groups in Connecticut and, in some cases, the world, to prescribe new medication treatments that were introduced for schizophrenia.”

Over a period of two weeks, Nikolaidis made four trips to the West Haven VA facility to participate in the double-blind study. With electrodes on his head, an IV in his left arm to draw blood, and another in his right arm to administer a combination of saline solution, ketamine, and nicotine, Yale researchers recorded his brain waves using an electroencephalogram (EEG) test and monitored his vital signs. Twice he was given a placebo; twice he was given an injection of ketamine, once by itself and once in combination with nicotine.

“Words couldn’t describe what happened,” Nikolaidis says. “I thought that when it was over I would be able to describe it to people, but I found myself completely unable to describe my experience. It was much more on a tactile level than cerebral—I just mean cerebral in the sense of being rational.”

His difficulty explaining the experience is not unusual: ketamine, originally invented by pharmacist Calvin Stevens in 1962 as an anesthetic, has strong dissociative properties, affecting both the hippocampus (a region of the brain associated with memory) and the prefrontal cortex (associated with abstract thought). While it has a number of medical uses, ketamine has been known to induce near-death experiences, cognitive distortion, hallucinations, and the so-called “K-Hole,” a state of drug-induced paralysis. “It was definitely interesting,” says Nikolaidis.

By tripping on ketamine, Nikolaidis may have participated in some of the most important psychopharmacological research in decades. These tests, conducted by the Yale School of Medicine on otherwise healthy subjects, may be the key to revolutionary new treatments for illnesses ranging from clinical depression to schizophrenia. One student’s K-Hole may be several million’s door to a life of relative normalcy.

Yale’s ketamine research dates back to the late 1980s and has been innovative in a number of ways. When used to treat mental disorders such as schizophrenia, ketamine targets the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptor, a chemical receptor in the brain associated with the coordination of different neural networks. Krystal explains that all of the treatments that are approved currently by the Federal Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of schizophrenia work through  blockading one type of receptor target in the brain for the chemical messenger dopamine. He says he and his colleagues and were “convinced that advances in the treatment of schizophrenia were not going to come from drugs primarily targeting the dopamine-2 receptor.”

Building off a body of earlier work on schizophrenia, including the use of phencylidine, another drug which affects NMDA receptors, and preliminary work by Yale researchers on novel drug treatments in the late 1980s, Krystal and his colleagues have used ketamine to simulate some symptoms of schizophrenia in healthy patients like Nikolaidis.  Post-mortem analyses of brain tissue have indicated that glutamine receptors—the same receptors ketamine affects, causing its users to get, as Nikolaidis puts it, “really fucked up”—are naturally abnormal in schizophrenic patients. A paper Krystal and several colleagues published in 2003 posed the question: If ketamine can be used to induce the symptoms of non-paranoid schizophrenia in healthy patients, might it be possible to develop an ‘anti-ketamine’ to reverse those same effects in mentally ill patients? “The full range of benefits and limitations of glutamatergic treatments remains to be demonstrated,” Krystal and his colleagues concluded, “but the promise of these agents constitutes one of several hopeful new avenues for addressing the distress and disability that still often plagues those individuals suffering from schizophrenia.” Researchers hope that experiments like the one performed on Nikolaidis will shed light on these avenues.

Other scientists are also using ketamine to treat mental disorders. George Sanacora, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Yale Depression Research Program, has been conducting his own research on the effects of ketamine on treatment-resistant depression—depression which, much like the schizophrenia Krystal is studying, does not respond to drugs that target dopamine and serotonin receptors.  “I think Yale, along with the National Institute of Mental Health, is really one of the only places doing this kind of research,” Sanacora says.

Sanacora, who also ran his study out of the West Haven VA hospital and conducted it on ten clinically depressed subjects over the course of a year, reported dramatic findings. After a single administration of ketamine, seventy percent of patients reported that their symptoms improved, with one-third of patients reporting that their symptoms disappeared completely for days or even weeks. “Obviously,” says Sanacora, “it’s been an exciting turn for the field.” Though one patient had to be removed from the study because of an adverse reaction to the placebo, Sanacora claims that the study has not included any other negative reactions. Pfizer has already presented data on a drug that uses a mechanism similar to the one Yale researchers have been studying. Sanacora is optimistic that such a drug might be available on the market within the next four years. “It would be a completely novel treatment for depression,” he says.

The potential use of ketamine in prescription anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, as well as its experimental use on healthy volunteer research subjects, conflicts with the public’s perception of the drug as a dangerous, recreational psychedelic. While ketamine has been used since its inception as an anesthetic in environments ranging from veterinary offices and pediatric wards to the battlefields of Vietnam, it is more often associated with its countercultural proponents than its medical ones. Psychedelic gurus like astrologer Marcia Moore, who advocated the recreational use of ketamine in her 1978 book, Journeys into the Bright World, and D.M. Turner, author of The Essential Psychedelic Guide, remain powerful images of the pitfalls of ketamine and its place in American drug culture. Moore disappeared from her house in 1979, presumably under the influence of ketamine.  Her skeleton was discovered two years later in a tree, where she had frozen to death. On New Year’s Eve of 1996, Turner drowned in his bathtub tripping on ketamine.

Ketamine is currently listed as a Schedule III narcotic by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, along with anabolic steroids and GHB, “the date rape drug.” Known on the street as “Special K,” ketamine has become popular on the rave scene in recent years. “It is an entirely different, and a potentially dangerous situation, when somebody abuses ketamine,” says Krystal. “When abused, ketamine is often ingested in combination with other substances that impair perception or judgment, like cannabis.  The compounding of intoxicant effects could have unpredictable results.”

Such stigma has deterred some would-be research subjects. Nikolaidis first learned of the trial from his friend, Spencer Gray, another Yale junior who had been scheduled to participate in the study, but dropped out before it began. “I had some issues,” says Gray, who has participated in a number of other Yale studies, including MRIs and glucose tolerance tests. Gray’s motivations, unlike his friend’s, were primarily financial. “My parents told me to get a job last year,” Gray says, “so I came up with the idea of doing experiments.” The ketamine trial, which was advertised in the Yale post office, would have been a major windfall: completing the two week trial brought with it an $875 paycheck.

Gray signed up for the experiment, went through a preliminary four-hour psychological evaluation, and consulted friends and acquaintances about it. Many urged him to reconsider. His mother finally convinced him to change his mind.

“She flipped out,” Gray recalls. “I called her and told her I was thinking about doing it. She started crying on the phone and asked me not to do it. It was Mother’s Day and her birthday, and she asked me not to do it as a gift to her.”

While he ultimately decided not to participate, Gray believes the experiment is safe. “They’re pretty careful about past history of psychosis and depression and stuff. They were pretty open about the whole procedure. I didn’t feel deceived or anything.”

“Participants are screened very carefully with regard to their psychological and physical health,” Krystal confirms. “We believe that this may be a reason that ketamine has been so safe in our studies and in the studies conducted by our colleagues around the world.”  While ketamine alters judgement and perception, it can, says Krystal, “be studied safely in people who have been prepared for its effects, who are supervised by people who have experience in dealing with symptoms that it produces, and when it is administered in a setting that is safe and comfortable.”

Sanacora similarly emphasizes the relative safety of ketamine. “It’s been around for quite a while,” he says. “It can raise blood pressure, but otherwise it is pretty well-tolerated.”

Jerald Block is a Washington-based psychiatrist who has criticized some of Yale’s past human experiment policies—particularly a recent clinical trial on Zyprexa, a medication designed to treat schizophrenia that was administered to adolescents over a period of several years.  He views human testing as a balancing act. “I don’t think researchers go into their studies trying to deceive people,” he says. “Rather, we can get excited by a concept, lose perspective, and may take it too far.  That is the role of Institutional Review Boards—to rein people in a bit.  It is a tough balance.  If the IRB is too intrusive, they hold back important research and people are harmed. If they are too loose… people can also get hurt.”

Nonetheless,  Block, who has not specifically investigated Yale’s ketamine experiments, sees potential in the drug. “I do not know the protocol so I cannot address it, specifically,” he says. “However, I will say that ketamine is interesting… the literature seems to indicate some rather amazing data coming out on the use of ketamine in treating depression.  So, it is an important substance to study and has the potential for a breakthrough discovery.”

For others, the touted safety of such a study is not enough to convince them to participate. Michelle Castaneda, a friend of Gray’s who became concerned after she learned of his plans to participate in the experiment, called her father, a professor at New York University School of Medicine and Director of Inpatient Psychiatry  at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in New York, to ask him his opinion on the subject.

“He did some reading on it, and said ketamine testing seemed pretty safe and pretty legitimate, but when I asked him if he would ever let me do it, he told me ‘never, ever, ever, ever, ever.’”

Nikolaidis, a psychology major who runs a lab in which he conducts non-drug-related psychology experiments on volunteers of his own, defends the testing. “I could not have imagined a more well-run study,” he says. “I think in terms of having my best interest at heart, I could not have imagined better researchers.” Nikolaidis admits that he could be exceptional in his willingness to lend his mind to science. “It might just be me,” he says, “but I’m just curious about drugs.”