Cornell Orientation Includes a Play on Race and Ethics

By Kirsten A. Conover, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 20, 1991 | Go to article overview

Cornell Orientation Includes a Play on Race and Ethics


Kirsten A. Conover, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


CORNELL UNIVERSITY in Ithaca, N.Y., is tailoring its freshman orientation this fall to offer more than just a cheery "welcome to campus."

All 3,000 incoming freshman are being encouraged to attend a theater production of "Miss Evers' Boys."

The play is based on an actual 40-year United States government study of 400 African-American men misled to believe they were receiving treatment for syphilis, when in fact they were being studied until the end of their lives. David Feldshuh, a Cornell professor of theater arts and a physician, wrote the play, which won the Geraldine Dodge Foundation's New American Play Award in 1989, and is being performed on campus by the Illusion Theatre of Minneapolis.

Group discussions focusing on racism and ethics will be held with senior faculty members after each of the 11 performances Aug. 21 through 31.

"We want students to come to Cornell and realize it's a learning experience for them, not just to teach them formally but engage their minds and their hearts," says Larry Palmer, vice-president for academic programs and campus affairs at Cornell. The play addresses such current issues as racism, professional ethics, and the utility and purposes of science and research.

"Some leading institutions have had some ugly situations," Palmer points out, referring to racial incidents on US campuses. He says he hopes the event will serve as a precedent for future orientations at Cornell and other universities. "In this country we really put a lot of different people together in our institutions. We're saying: Now that we have all these folks together, let's try to make it a rich experience."

David Feldshuh, the playwright, calls the event "a unique and daring exercise" that "will serve as an excellent launching pad into a new academic environment."

"I also believe that very few young people will have heard of this study," continued Dr. Feldshuh, reached by phone. …

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