Neil Thomas Proto shares his new book
Tamonda Griffiths – Editor-in-Chief
During his reading and brief discussion of his new book, “Fearless: A. Bartlett Giamatti and the Battle for Fairness in America,” Southern alumnus class of 1967 Neil Thomas Proto said there were five points he wanted students to take away from the event. “I want you to keep in mind you need to be participants in this. This is not just going to be a oneway discussion,” said Proto.
“I want you to stay focused on Bart Giamatti, his family and who he is, and his notion of ideas; they matter in his life and the way he thought about his life.”
On, March 4 Proto read excerpts from his book in Political Science Seminar Room in Engleman Hall, Room C 234F.
The book is a biography of Proto’s late friend, former Yale University president and commissioner of Major League Baseball Angelo Bartlett Giamatti.
The event was sponsored by the College of Arts & Sciences and the Department of Political Science.
“Neil Proto’s been highly involved in the pre-law society,” said Theresa Marchant-Shapiro, advisor to the pre-law society, associate professor and graduate coordinator for the political science department, “providing us with various resources, funding for an undergraduate journal and funding for supporting scholarships for the students to take LSAT reviews.”
Marchant-Shapiro said when she heard about Proto’s newest book and the research that went into the book, she had to get him to come back to share it with the students.
“In this book, there are over 100 pages of endnotes, documents and narratives,” said Proto. “For all the books that I have read — and I think I have read them all — about Yale University’s history, about its culture, biographies written about its presidents, and works done about New Haven, including by faculty members who are currently on the faculty at Yale: I don’t find these endnotes.”
When Proto referenced the amount of research he had conducted, MarchantShapiro said he was talking about the view Yale has on itself.
“There’s this aura and there’s this identity of who they think they are, and the point is they don’t really do the research and gather the data that they need to realize this dark side of their history and he took the time. We here at Southern trained him how to research, then when he went to graduate school he learned more.”
According to MarchantShapiro, it was important to Proto to collect the evidence and draw an unbiased conclusion as opposed to making “Yale shine in a way someone from Yale would.”
“Everything that Neil has done has been multi-disciplinary,” said Marchant-Shapiro. “He’s always wanting to get political scientists talking to historians talking to artists talking to communications talking to everyone. He wants all of us to talk to together because we have really a richness of heritages.”
According to MarchantShapiro, Proto finds students embracing their lineages and history to be of the utmost importance and said it can make a difference in the realization of one’s potential here at Southern.
When Yale decided to hire Giamatti as youngest president in over 200 years at the time and its first Italian, non-Anglo-Saxon Protestant president, Proto said the choice had been, “more radical and enduringly explosive” than people at the time likely anticipated.
Over time, Proto said the subsequent presidents of Yale no longer were following the “Yale man” model, and eventually, even the makeup of the student body transformed.
“Gone was the pretense that former Yale president’s A. Whitney Griswold, Kingman Brewster and their predecessors had relied upon,” said Proto reading from his book, “to New Haven and the student body’s detriment.”
That pretense, Proto said, was a “eugenics mentality.”
According to the History channel website, the science of eugenics emerged in 1883 by Francis Galton, cousin of English naturalist and “father of evolution” Charles Darwin.
Eugenics is defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as “the selection of desired heritable characteristics in order to improve future generations,” specifically in humans.
“Galton’s science was measurement,” said Proto reading from his book. “Body type, eyes, skin and hair color, posture and especially the human brain, its size and shape. Being an Anglo-Saxon elite, Galton’s model had nothing to do with education, group or individual experiences or luck.”
Proto said Galton claimed humans were “fixed in place” to their various stations or statuses in life-based solely upon their hereditary genes, not their environment and upbringings.
“In a manner more revelatory and disquieting than I had anticipated,” said Proto, “Yale’s roughly exercised parochialism, and deeply embedded prejudices and insurmountable eugenics mentality merged repeatedly. Their effects spread well beyond Yale’s halls and New Haven with a continuity and evolving form that hardly diminished from the moments of Giamatti’s selection as president.”
According to Proto, Yale, Princeton University and Harvard University were the primary advocates for eugenics practices such as the determination of “fit and unfit” parents, experimentation and forced or unknown sterilization be enacted before and during Giamatti’s tenure as president.
Communication major Rakim Grant, a freshman, said he found Proto’s reading of this particular excerpt of the book interesting.
“We always look at those institutions like they’re in the right always,” said Grant. “That they’re these places that are just perfect and they’re clearly not.”
An activist himself, Grant said he came to the event to hear more about the story of Giamatti and his fearlessness in breaking the mold at Yale.
“It’s just interesting to hear about how he got into a position of power, how [Finnis] Engleman fought Yale and I’m really interested in just fighting for making things more democratized,” said Grant.
Recently, Grant said he went to Hartford to testify to the legislature regarding the lack of funding of public higher education in the state.
“I’m really interested in things like that,” said Grant, “using my voice and that type of stuff.”
Political science major David Betters, a senior, said having heard Proto discuss his book, he is thinking more about the establishment mindset created by Yale.
“There seems to be this huge contrast,” said Betters. “How strong they were even into the middle of the century. By then, in my own family, they’d married into German families and stuff like that and Catholics, which to this establishment of the Anglos here in New Haven that would have been unheard of.”
Betters said he found the treatment of Italians and other European immigrants as underlings at the time shocking due to events in Europe at the time with the movement of fascism, “it’s very telling.”
“Go back as far as you can remember,” said Proto. “Go back to think about great-grandparents, and grandparents, and parents and you, and then think about contemporary America because what you’re going to find is eugenics and urban renewal were largely directed against those values and the people that mattered to you in your life. There is nothing benign about this history. It is deliberately called a ‘Battle for Fairness in America.’”
Photo Credit: Roma Rositani