Episode 86: Our Puppets, Our Selves

In our last episode before the big summer hiatus, we talk with Prof. Bart Roccoberton Jr. about his work using the puppet arts to build bridges between artists in the US and China; we hear from Sage Phillips ’22 about her activism and scholarship on behalf of her fellow Native American students; and we go all the way back to 1881 to experience what a semester was like when UConn first opened its doors (hint: more compulsory prayer than would typically get today).


Tom Breen: [00:00:00] Hello everyone. And welcome to episode 86. This is a big one because it is our final episode. Before our hiatus. We are UConn 360. We’re the only podcast ever created by human beings covers the university of Connecticut from every conceivable angle. Coming to you one last time from the three corners of Connecticut. My name is Tom Breen.

I’m your facilitator of sorts. And joining me are my colleagues, Julie Bartucca.

Julie Bartucca: [00:00:35] Hello.

Tom Breen: [00:00:36] Ken best.

Ken Best: [00:00:37] We’re all here. The three Musketeers.

Tom Breen: [00:00:40] We made it everybody 86 episodes. Going back to February of 2018. This podcast has taken us across the continental United States.

Julie Bartucca: [00:00:49] It has actually,

Tom Breen: [00:00:51] uh, it’s it’s won awards. We’ve helped other universities launch their podcasts.
I’d like to think we’ve, uh, we’ve made a little, a little, um, impact on the world,

Julie Bartucca: [00:01:00] but we’re not going. We’re not going for good. You make it sound like goodbye. It’s just see you later.

Tom Breen: [00:01:04] Uh, it, it, it is. But when we come back, who knows what configuration configurational beam, and maybe it’ll be a terrible After-M*A*S*H where there’s only one original cast member and it’s like new actors who aren’t good.

Julie Bartucca: [00:01:14] there’s a good reference. There’s a, there’s a really a current –

Tom Breen: [00:01:18] like a new, like a new Darren from Bewitched. I can go even further back if you want.

Julie Bartucca: [00:01:22] I like, I like the reference. That’s a good one.

Ken Best: [00:01:24] But we, will be on WHUS for the summer on, on Fridays at 11 o’clock, at least I think it will be 11.

Julie Bartucca: [00:01:30] If you really miss us and you don’t want to go into your podcast app and you want to hear us on the radio, right? Go there.

Tom Breen: [00:01:35] But, uh, enough reminiscingwe’ve still got, we still got hot, fresh news to talk about here at the university. Yeah. Why don’t we let we get the ball rolling. Julie, why don’t you, uh, tell us what you, uh, what you found new and noteworthy.

Julie Bartucca: [00:01:46] New and noteworthy this week is that Jason Irizarry has been named Dean of the Neag school of education for a five-year term.

And he will be the first Latino Dean to lead the school. Previously, Irizarry served as associate Dean for academic affairs, and he’s also a professor in the department of curriculum. He first began his career at UConn in 2005 as a post-doctoral fellow with the teachers for a new era. And as a faculty member from ’06 to 2013, he then served as director of urban education at the university of Massachusetts from 2013 to 2016 and returned to the Neag school faculty that year.

And he also serves as the faculty associate in El Instituto, the Institute for Latino, Latina, Caribbean, and Latin American studies. Irizarry took over as interim Dean in March after Gladys Kersaint was named UConn’s vice provost for strategic initiatives.

Tom Breen: [00:02:34] Congratulations. Very nice. Ken what’s, uh, what’s going on with you?

Ken Best: [00:02:39] I have a new study from the UConn Rudd center for food policy and obesity, which has found that when food pantries provide color coded nutrition information on their shelves, clients select significantly more healthy options and fewer unhealthy options. Uh, this is important because one in eight Americans are projected to experience food insecurity.

This year, many people struggling with food insecurity also have high rates of diet related chronic diseases like type two diabetes and high blood pressure. It’s why it’s critical for the charitable food system to provide the most nutritious food possible to help identify options, the Supporting Wellness At Pantries system known as SWAP ranks food based on their levels of saturated fats, sodium and added sugars. Each shelf is labeled with the words “choose often,” “choose sometimes,” or “choose rarely” along with the corresponding colors, green, yellow, or red, similar to a stoplight. The healthiest foods are also placed in the most prominent locations.

So they’re easy to find. A doctoral student, Sarah McGee in the department of human development and family sciences is a lead author of the study. And she says that the goal of the study was to test whether reorganizing the shelves and providing these messages would actually influence the products food pantry clients chose for the families.

And they found by tracking the food selected by over 200 clients in the weeks before and after a pantry implemented the SWAP system that it worked. The findings indicated that after SWAP was implemented, the proportion of green foods selected by clients increased by 11%. And the proportion of red foods selected decreased by 7%.
So that was good news..

Julie Bartucca: [00:04:15] I think I need to put a red label on the ice cream in my freezer for, for my own purposes.

Tom Breen: [00:04:21] Yeah. I, uh, actually I volunteer at a food pantry in Hartford and, uh, because of a previous Rudd center study, we’ve been encouraging people to bring more like cooking oils and spices and flour and like things to actually make your own food.

That’s been very well received. People actually like being able to get those kinds of elements to make their own meals.

Julie Bartucca: [00:04:39] That’s awesome. And you’re such a good person.

Tom Breen: [00:04:41] I’m not, it’s just a community service thing. It’s not

Julie Bartucca: [00:04:44] Community service makes you a good person.

Tom Breen: [00:04:47] It’s court ordered.

Julie Bartucca: [00:04:48] It’s not.

Tom Breen: [00:04:50] I started doing it because of the pandemic, but I really enjoy it. Um, I have some news

Julie Bartucca: [00:04:56] You do.

Tom Breen: [00:04:59] You may or may not know there’ve been some changes, uh, here at the administration of the university of Connecticut, president, Tom Katsouleas who arrived here in 2019 is stepping down at the end of June. In the interim, he’s going to be replaced by Dr. Andy Agwunobi, who was the head of UConn health. This came out. And I think a lot of people saw this as pretty abrupt. This was, uh, two weeks ago, maybe. Yeah. Right. Uh, right after we recorded our last episode, it was, it was the day after recording, right? Yeah. Um, obviously, you know, this is probably not how anybody really sort of wanted things to shake.

It’s a very difficult time to be working at a university at that level. Um, that high up, I mean, the pandemic, all these challenges and things have been very difficult to navigate for, for all kinds of university presidents around the country. I will say that I worked pretty closely with president and I think he’s a very nice guy and, uh, enjoyed working with him.

I know Dr. Andy a little bit and he’s very impressive guy and I’m sure he’ll be a good steward in the interim. Yeah. So that was kind of a surprising, surprising bit of news for UConn nation, but. Institution moves on, right?

Julie Bartucca: [00:06:06] Yep. We’re in good hands. We’ll we’ll keep on keeping on.

Tom Breen: [00:06:09] Yeah. Uh, Dr. Agwunobi, uh, in addition to being a pediatrician, um, he’s got a very interesting personal background.

I don’t know if people know his father is Nigerian. His mother is Scottish and he grew up in a little village in Scotland and then spent a lot of time in Nigeria as well. So he’s actually the first person of color to be that service president of UConn.

Julie Bartucca: [00:06:26] There’s a very good video interview with him on UConn today.

Tom Breen: [00:06:31] All right. Well, why don’t we, uh, why don’t we jump into, uh, our feature presentations and, uh, one thing that, uh, people know about UConn is, uh, puppet arts. We’re very big on that, but there’s one name in the puppet arts world. Stands out as being particularly prominent. Ken, you’re going to tell us a little bit about that person.

Ken Best: [00:06:48] Yes, but we’re going to begin by thinking back to 1972, when president Richard Nixon made, uh, his historic eight day trip to Beijing to reestablish diplomatic relations with the people’s Republic of China. And he was accompanied by a group of American officials that included of course, national security advisor Henry Kissinger.

One of the outcomes from that trip was the beginning of economic and cultural exchanges between. In 1994, the head of UConn puppet arts, Bart Roccoberton Jr. Traveled to China as part of a information service cultural tour for the U S and he was accompanied by a puppet named Mumford Maxwell Mole. The visit ultimately led to China becoming a member of the Union International de la Marionnette, known as UNIMA, the international puppetry organization based in France and affiliated with UNESCO, which is the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

18 years later, China hosted UNIMA’s international puppetry Congress and festival. Professor Roccoberton’s role in China, establishing an UNIMA national center is only one aspect of the international puppetry work that led UNIMA USA to present him with a special citation as North America’s chancellor of puppetry education and training for the 21st century.UNIMA’sspecial citation is an honor that very few individuals receive.

He is just the 12th personso honored, and he joins the company of such people as his mentor, Albrecht Roser, the German puppeteer credited with establishing puppetry as an international art form, and perhaps the most famous American puppeteer Jim Henson, who created the Muppets. I spoke withUNIMA USA president Kathy Foley, about the special citation and with the newly minted chancellor Roccoberton about his first trip to China.

Kathy Foley: [00:08:32] The choice of the word chancellor was to show his bridge of education and building the careers of puppeteers all over US but also beyond, because of course Bart was instrumental as China was getting more involved with puppetry. So, I mean, he did a lot of international work that put American puppetry in places where it had not been surfacing before.

Bart Roccoberton: [00:09:02] I got a call from the head of the O’Neil board at the time Steve woods, whose company was doing business in China. And he had just returned from a trip over there and called me and said, you know, I was talking to people and they don’t have any idea what the American culture is. They say that they watch reruns of Dynasty and then watch news reports of drugs and guns on our streets.

What happens in the middle? So he has the idea to create a television program that would help show Chinese audiences, what American culture was like. And it was at that point where we started meeting, we met probably a dozen times, which was great. He always bought lunch, but he finally said, my people in China want to know what we’re going to offer.

And I said to him, Steve, I feel like the ugly American, I don’t know what they have. I don’t know what they want. How can I tell them what we can give them? And he said, well, then you need to go to China. Next thing I know I’m going to China on spring break, I looked around, I was going to bring puppets with me and realized that I only had one puppet that I did by myself.

Everything else was with two or three people. So I grabbed Mumford mole from new England puppet and family theater series and brought him over. And in the course of a week, we met with politicians. We met with the television production companies. We met with a lot of different people and I always brought them all out.

And he grabbed the interests of people in a, in a way that we kept looking at each other going what’s going on here. And somewhere in my files, I have pictures of upper level Chinese politicians cradling this puppet like a baby. And then I started thinking, well, you know, when he laughed, he throws his head back and ha ha ha.
And the Chinese at the time would laugh by covering their mouths. So I said, well, maybe that’s it. He’s just so bold. We decided that the mole was going to be a center character in the TV project, we would develop, I insisted on working with a Chinese artist as well. And it happened that Hua Hua Zong was the lead performer in the China puppet arts troupe.

And we had met her and I said, let’s see if we can bring her over to work on this with me. As she, and, and her Chinese handler were talking, we kept hearing the word “dà bízi,” “dà bízi, anytime they talk about us. And I finally said, what does “dà bízi” mean, and she said, dà bízi means foreigner. Oh, well, character had to learn a little bit of Chinese for the TV project.

And I came to learn that dà meant “big”. And finally I learned that bízi was nose. So their word for foreigner is big nose. All right. Well, here I had brought this mole that was the incarnate big nose. I said, okay. That explains it. While I was there, I was meeting the generation of puppeteers, pre cultural revolution, and I brought a book by a Russian puppeteer Obratzsov that he had gone to China in 48 as the, they were establishing the communist system. And in his book, he had lots of pictures of the troops at that time. Well, lo and behold, these were the people I was meeting. They were all signing my book and I Hua Hua she was the first generation after the cultural revolution.

And while I was there, I kept saying to the people I was meeting, you know, why isn’t China, a member of UNIMA. It was a world organization. Here You have the, the, the oldest documented puppetry in the world, and you’re not a member of the world puppetry. And they would explain that it was a challenge with the government didn’t want them joining international situations. But through Hua Hua I found someone who was a go-getter. And so at the time I would send her information by email and it would take about 12 hours to get to her. She would go to the China puppet and shadow arts association, their national organization, and say, professor Bart asked if we could do this.
And they would respond to me in 12 hours. I would then send it on to France who had their own internet system and wait for four or five days to get a response if I got one at all.. And then I’d instantly send it back to China. 12 hours later, I had a response. I sent it to France waited another week or two.

It got to a point where I finally called the friend in Marseille and said, could you please go up to Charlotteville and kick him in the butt and get the answers. Slowly, They became interested.

Ken Best: [00:13:42] Was it just clear to you that because puppetry existed elsewhere first that it was natural to, to give that knowledge to students, or was it just you enjoyed learning new techniques and looking deep into the history of your profession, or all of the above?

Bart Roccoberton: [00:14:00] I think it’s all of the above. American puppetry is gleaned from all the traditions around the world. Early on in my career here, the upper administration said we need more diversity in our classes. We need multicultural classes. And I instantly sent them my syllabus for shadow theater, where we started in China, moved to Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Greece, Turkey, France, Germany. I said, how am I doing? Yeah. Yeah. Okay.

Ken Best: [00:14:30] Hua Hua Zong became the first MFA puppet art student from China. She went on to start Visual Expressions, which is a nonprofit performing arts company in Philadelphia, which uses Asian and Western puppet art to explore universal themes and ideas using theatrical performances, installations, and educational programs. She performs around the world. UConn of course is the only university in the United States offering a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees, an MFA or an MA, in puppetry and alumni have worked in television and stage productions, such as Sesame Street, Crash and Bernstein, Lion King, Avenue Q, Little Shop of Horrors, and Frozen on Ice, among others.

Julie Bartucca: [00:15:11] It’s very impressive though. The, I mean, anything you’ve heard about puppets — puppetry is a, is a very niche art form and we, we’ve been involved. UConn people. Yeah,

Tom Breen: [00:15:22] be sure to go to today.uconn.edu, and check out Ken’s story about this. It’s a lot of good detail on that and some good pictures.

Julie Bartucca: [00:15:28] I just want to say I love Bart Roccoberton’s voice also. I remember when he did one of our holiday video voiceovers the Huskies at heart one. It was so lovely.

Tom Breen: [00:15:38] Yeah. He’s got a great performing, narrating voice.

Julie Bartucca: [00:15:40] Yes. Very good. Very warm.

Tom Breen: [00:15:43] Julie. We’ve got another Brave Space feature. Is that right?

Julie Bartucca: [00:15:48] We’re closing out our run of 85, 86 episodes with one last installment with the Brave Space series, which will come back when we come back and just a reminder, that’s where we listen to diverse perspectives on what the university and society can do better and are doing well in the diversity, equity and inclusion space.

Today we have UConn magazine editor, Lisa Stiepock in conversation with student Sage Phillips. We’ve mentioned Phillips recently. She was honored with both the Truman and Udall scholarships in the past couple of months. The political science and human rights major, a Penobscot woman of the Wabanaki people is the founding president of the Native American and Indigenous Students Association here and serves as the student coordinator for Native American Cultural Programs. She hopes that through her efforts to expand the Native American Cultural Programs to become a cultural center, she then paves the way for UConn as a land grant institution to work towards reparations for Connecticut native youth in the form of tuition remission.

Lisa Stiepock: Today, we’re talking to rising senior Sage Phillips who has been a champion of indigenous rights from the moment she stepped foot on campus. She’s a native of Old Town, Maine, a political science and human rights major who has been recognized recently with two highly prestigious national awards, the Truman and Udall scholarships. Sage, only a handful of students across the country get those awards. Why do you think they chose you?

Sage Phillips: Well, thank you for the wonderful introduction. I’m not fully sure. I think I’m still trying to process that myself and just let it sink in a little bit. But I think since I’ve come to UConn I’ve come in with a pretty loud voice. And sometimes it’s a voice that people don’t necessarily want to hear, but I think I’ve kind of made it my job to make sure they do hear it. So I don’t know. I guess they must’ve seen something. I think my applications and my passions are pretty unique and especially being at UConn — I don’t think I’ve come across anyone with the same particular interests and goals that I have. I think most of all, it was all for my ancestors. And I think my ancestors were with me and that really pulled me through the competition.

Lisa Stiepock: You’ve mentioned that it’s your father and grandfather in particular who give you that sense of heritage as so important. How does that sync up with the things that you’ve accomplished?

Sage Phillips:  I think I really center myself in community. From a young age, being raised in the Penobscot culture and among the Wabanaki people, you always go at things with a sense of community and selflessness, and that’s just how I’ve been raised.

So the scholarships really, I guess my name is on them, but they’re not for me. They’re for the future generations and ancestors to come. That’s what my work is really centered in. I think my grandfather has really instilled that in me. I’ve kind of grown up learning everything I know about my culture from him and my dad. They’ve always told me you’re here because of the ancestors and they’re the reason you have the opportunities you do. So carry that with you. I feel like not a lot of people have that understanding. My culture has definitely given me that.

Lisa Stiepock:  You told me a while ago that you knew, even before coming to Storrs, that you would have that loud voice and that you wanted to create more opportunities for Native American students. One of the things you did was found the Native American and Indigenous Students Association. What has that done?

Sage Phillips:  NAISA was born out of NACP. NACP is the Native American Cultural Programs. I knew we had a lot of students who identified as Indigenous. So there’s, you know, there’s the distinction between Native American and Indigenous, which I won’t get into, but we needed a space where those students feel comfortable and NACP wasn’t necessarily completely inclusive to them, or at least it is, but they didn’t feel like it was just because our title lacked it.

So NAISA was born and we had students coming from all over and it was amazing. The response was just unreal and unprecedented. NAISA is just a place where we can all gather and share culture, traditions, history, but also we welcome allies and people who just want to learn a little bit more about where we come from and our very diverse backgrounds.

This year was our first year with NAISA. It’s very new. And at the end of it, all our students came forward and they said, thank you for giving us a place on campus where we can feel comfortable in sharing who we are and we can also just be in community. I mean, the biggest thing about being Indigenous, to me anyway, is having a community where you can share what you know, and maybe what you don’t know. A lot of us are still reclaiming our cultures and our Indigenous identities, and the students were just very appreciative for the opportunity to have a space where they can do that, especially at a place like UConn. So NAISA has really been something this past year, and I’m glad that it was successful, and we’ll definitely be moving forward this fall.

Lisa Stiepock: Do you think it makes sense to maybe share with us the difference between Native American and Indigenous?

Sage Phillips:  So Native American a lot of times refers to the people indigenous to North America. For instance, we have people in NAISA who don’t use the term Native American because they’re not from North America or their peoples aren’t from North America. So a lot of the times you find they prefer Indigenous, which is more comprehensive. But I will say anytime that you refer to us, you’ll find that we prefer our specific tribe or our specific clan or people. It’s the most respectful and it makes us feel appreciated because these terms are kind of generalized. A lot of times people have this misconception that we’re just Native Americans across the country, but really our cultures are very diverse across each tribe, each people. And just one recommendation, you know, I would never feel offended if someone asks, “what is your tribe and then they refer to me as that. That’s like the most respect you can give. So I hope that clears that up a bit, but it’s really just a preference thing and where you come from

Lisa Stiepock: That’s very helpful. You’re Penobscot, right?

Sage Phillips: Yeah.

Lisa Stiepock: You are working on a project right now gathering data about the seven local tribes that UConn obtained its land from. What would it mean for UConn to provide reparations for those whose land it occupies?

Sage Phillips:  So the project itself is assessing the land UConn occupies, but also how UConn came about getting this land. We’re going through the Morrill act and allotment data. We’re also looking into the tribes that were affected when, for instance, all of UConn came about because of the land theft from tribes in the West. And they were allotted this thing called script. And that’s how they exchanged for the land. So the project is very wide in scope.

I talked about reparations a lot in my Truman policy proposal, actually. And I think the first way we can come about it is tuition waivers. We need to get more Native and Indigenous students into higher education. Start with tuition waivers. I come from Maine and the University of Maine does just that. So it’s not impossible, you know, it happens elsewhere.

Lisa Stiepock: I was hoping you could talk a bit about the efforts you’re involved in to ban American Indian sports mascots in Connecticut. that’s important to you personally, right?

Sage Phillips: Yeah. So I attended a predominantly white high school. They used to be the Indians and it was changed to the Coyotes. That happened 20 years before I even entered. And I still lived the negative repercussions that these mascots carry. There’s this big mural left behind in the gym. Kids would pick at me and poke at me and say, “Well, you don’t look like that. So you’re not Native yourself.” And I think that really speaks to what these mascots do to us, especially as Native youth. It’s now our duty to reclaim a lot of our culture and that’s just, that’s harmful to the whole process. People told me, “Oh, I wish we were still the Indians, we’d have so much more school spirit at football games. And I said, “Well, what does that look like?” They said, “Oh, just imagine us with like tomahawks. And we could wear headdresses to the football games and my response every time is, “Would you have any other race or ethnicity, any other group of people as your mascot? Would that be deemed okay?”

And everyone always just, you know, they get kind of quiet, and I’m like, “So what makes it okay for us? And they’re like, “Well you know, it already happened?” Yeah, but we’re trying to undo that. You have to listen to the people who actually belong to these groups and value and respect their voices.

Maine became the first state in the country to ban the use of Native mascots. And I hold that really close to me because my tribe put a lot of effort, a lot of work into that. Cousins of mine really invested their time in making sure that this happened. And I wasn’t necessarily super involved in Maine, but when I came to UConn I knew I wanted to carry on that fight myself.

I actually just submitted a letter to I think it was North Haven. They still have the mascot, so I tried to guide them in the right direction. I’ve written quite a few letters now. It’s an important fight and it’s a fight that I think is valuable to us as youth  — demolishing stereotypes and misconceptions as we go.

Lisa Stiepock: From your perspective, what is UConn doing well when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and what do we need to do better?

Sage Phillips: I think the students do a really good job of holding the University accountable. And I think that’s where the error is. You know, sometimes the University responds well to the requests and the voices of students, but at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the students to be holding the University accountable. If they’re going to rely on the students to hold them accountable, I think they need to invest in the students and really listen to what they have to say. And it can’t be done in the form of damage control , you know, I think a lot of times we have these bias incidents happen on campus and the University sends out an email and, to me and others that I’ve been in conversation with, that looks like a form of damage control. Recently the University has done an okay job at holding students accountable in these incidents. But I think, for me, it all comes back to community and the University needs to invest in student communities and really build relations with them. It just comes down to  investing in student voices, like I said, and hopefully the University finds itself at a point where they can hold themselves accountable and not have the students do so.

Lisa Stiepock: Thank you. We’re calling this interview series Brave space. Who do you admire as a model for bravery?

Sage Phillips: I have two, if that’s okay. First and foremost, my grandfather who just exemplifies everything I want to be, ever. He has used his voice in so many different spaces, advocating for our people. That’s not easy and he makes it look easy. And to me, that’s bravery — to be able to put yourself in front of the federal government, especially as a Penobscot individual, is a big step, and it takes a lot of courage in my eyes.

My other role model in that sense is my cousin, Maulian Dana, who is actually our ambassador for the tribe. She led the mascot fight and she experienced a lot of discrimination and prejudice, and really trauma, in that fight. She came out stronger than ever, and she still carries this forward. She knows the risk and it doesn’t seem to bother her. I try to carry that level of courage with me. She’s a champion for our tribe truly, and I can only hope to be half of that one day. She is so brave in so many different arenas, but the mascot one, especially.

Lisa Stiepock: I think they both would be extremely proud of you right now. And we all are. You make UConn proud. Thank you so much for doing this. And it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. So take care, have a great summer. Thank you.

Julie Bartucca: You can learn more about Sage Phillips in the upcoming edition of UConn magazine, which will be in mailboxes and at magazine.UConn.edu in just a few weeks.

Tom Breen: [00:28:40] Very nice. She’s a very impressive student.

Julie Bartucca: [00:28:41] She is.

Tom Breen: [00:28:43] As the editor of UConn Today, I’ve seen her name quite a bit. So for our final pre hiatus Tom’s History Corner, I, I figured instead of ending on an ending, I would end on a beginning. We’re not ending we’re perhaps beginning a new chapter in UConn 360. And so I wanted to journey all the way back to September of 1881.

Talk about what life was like in the first semester in history of our institution, which at the time, of course, was not the university of Connecticut. It was Storrs agricultural school. Now, interestingly, the, uh, first semester was actually supposed to start on September 19th, but it was postponed because of the assassination of president James Garfield.

Julie Bartucca: [00:29:27] Wow.

Tom Breen: [00:29:28] So they, uh, because of sort of national alarm, he didn’t actually die right then, he actually died a month later — side note, he was basically killed by his doctor, not by the assassination.

Julie Bartucca: [00:29:39] I didn’t know that.

Tom Breen: [00:29:40] His doctor was a complete incompetent and, um, didn’t really know how to treat him and would like, would make incisions and try to fish the bullet out with his bare hands without washing them because he believed that washing your hands actually, uh, removed sort of, uh, helpful, not germs.

Cause he didn’t know what germs were, but like sort of helpful dirt or something. He basically thought that washing hands was a bad idea if you were a surgeon. Oh, so president Garfield

Julie Bartucca: [00:30:06] I’m glad we live now really is with as many questions as we have.

Tom Breen: [00:30:09] Oh yeah. Yeah. He, um, he actually died in New Jersey, president Garfield.
Uh, I’ve been to the spot where he died. It’s now just somebody’s house and there’s a little plaque out front. I went there and the guy was out mowing his lawn and I asked him if people came by to look at the, a spot where president Garfield was killed. He said, no, not very often.

Julie Bartucca: [00:30:28] You’re the first.

Tom Breen: [00:30:31] Uh, but anyway, back to UConn, they postponed the start of classes.
This was the very first semester. There were 12 students from all around Connecticut and -the 12 corners of Connecticut [laughter]. Um, they had, uh, one building, it was a 50 room orphanage that had been built for a civil war orphanage that was later known as Old Whitney from a, uh, Willimantic Chronicle report of the time, “The house is large and admirably arranged for a boarding school. In the basement is a school room fitted with desk and blackboard.

The laundry and furnace are also in the basement. On the first floor are parlors, family sitting room, kitchen, large dining room and laboratory. The second floor has two or three large chambers and some dozen or more small bedrooms beside an attic.” So it sounds more like Harry Potter than I think what, uh,

Julie Bartucca: [00:31:17] Yeah, thank goodness for newspapers. Support your local news. We need this, this news in 200 years.

Um, it was roughly, I learned from this trivia that I put together for commencement based on your trivia questions that it was located around where CLA,S the Austin building is, is that correct?

Tom Breen: [00:31:33] Yep. It was, um, it lookedbasically across, uh, 1 95 toward horse barn hill.

Julie Bartucca: [00:31:39] Was 1 95, like a dirt road or did it not, was it not a road?

Tom Breen: [00:31:43] It was a dirt road. Yeah, it was there. Um, and actually the view was obscured by then a huge, apparently there was a row of about 40 maple trees, right in front of Horsebarn Hill, which are long gone. And, uh, the article further went on, for tax payers in Connecticut anxious as to what, uh, what their money was going to, “Instead of filling the young men up with theoretical book learning and a great quantity of science, which may not be immediately available at a cost beyond the means of most parents, it is proposed to have a school at which the cost of tuition will be a fairly nominal $25 a year.

And the price of board very low, not over $3 a week. Ample chance will be given for the boys to do extra work, to pay so that industrious and earnest students can earn enough money for their expenses as they go.” Back then there was no president. There was a principal Solomon Meade. He served there for about two years before he was replaced by our first president, the daily routine for students in that first semester, they were awakened six 30 every morning by a bell breakfast at seven and mandatory prayers immediately following.

Lectures and, and in classroom learning ran from 8:00 AM to noon with, uh, what they called dinner at 12:15. That was, we followed the British convention of calling lunch dinner and dinner supper back then. And then everyone had to engage in farm work from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM, supper at 6:00 PM, and then studying from seven to nine lights out at nine.

Julie Bartucca: [00:33:02] That’s a long day. And it was not a post-secondary school. So like who was, who was coming here? What types of…

Tom Breen: [00:33:09] So this was basically people who otherwise would have been high school. And in fact, some of them after they finished their two years at Storrs Agricultural School went on to get high school diplomas, which back then were pretty rare.

Most people did not finish high school. Um, so high school back then was sort of a, an intermediate stage between primary education and college, which it is now, but it wasn’t mandatory.

Julie Bartucca: [00:33:28] So did they get any sort of certificate or diploma from Storrs Agricultural School?

Tom Breen: [00:33:34] They did. They would get a certificate that they had completed the course in farming.
Okay. Um, and so it was like literally they would learn tillage, draining, maneuering, irrigation, culture and handling of the various field, garden, orchard crops of new England. I mean, they basically learned how to run farms.

Julie Bartucca: [00:33:50] Yeah. Valuable information.

Tom Breen: [00:33:52] Uh, and they also learned, um, some things that would, uh, a little more theoretical, like agricultural physics, uh, that kind of thing, sort of more scientific, more theoretical knowledge that however would come in handy for measuring and geometry and arithmetic, things like that for farming. They also learned how to do carpentry.

Ken Best: [00:34:10] Um, you’ve talked about the work that they had to do previously in some of these stories.

Tom Breen: [00:34:15] Yeah. They had to do manual labor every day, every single day, except Sunday. Yeah. But so that was the first semester in really the first year.

Julie Bartucca: [00:34:22] And it was all men back then, right.

Tom Breen: [00:34:23] It was all men. The first woman arrived actually before it was legal for them to attend school at a college at UConn, but, uh, Benjamin Koons, who was the president, uh, had come from Oberlin, which was a co-ed school.

And he was a big believer in co-education. So some young women said they wanted to attend there and he said, fine.

Julie Bartucca: [00:34:39] What year about was that?

Tom Breen: [00:34:41] That was, uh, I believe 1891.

Julie Bartucca: [00:34:43] Okay. So not too, not too long.

Tom Breen: [00:34:45] Yeah. After the first semester, the Chronicle reporter came in and had a meal with them in December of 1881 and reported that, quote, a pleasant household in a commodious and slightly location. The principal Solomon Mead sits decorously at the head as paterfamilias cheerily yet orderly and bountifully dealing out of the [inaudible]. The tables also graced by professor Ormsby and wife and professor Koons while the dozen young men in attendance upon the school, fill up the flank to the stout table in the cheerful dining room.
And then he went on and interviewed some of the students didn’t quote them by name, but said that two of them undertook to interview, the writer, and volunteered the remarks that we have a first rate board here and good times. One young man told me he had gained 14 pounds in weight since coming. So the freshman 15 –

Julie Bartucca: That’s where it originated.

Tom Breen: Even then.

Julie Bartucca: That’s great.

Tom Breen: So yeah, that was the first semester. It sounded a little bit more like just being in a big, like farm family than what we’d associate with the college experience now, but things would rapidly change. Yeah.

Ken Best: [00:35:45] I liked the fact they called it commodious, meaning that they had furniture and a comfortable place to live. Not that they had a commode.

Tom Breen: [00:35:55] Right. And it was, you know, it was all dirt roads. I mean, there’s, if you go to the old main account, there’s pictures of North Eagleville road, which was a road back then, but it was a dirt road. Everything was just, and in the spring was mud. I mean, you just be stranded.

Julie Bartucca: [00:36:06] Yeah. Think about how, how far off the beaten path we are right now. And imagine back in dirt road times.

Tom Breen: [00:36:14] We complain about having to get off 84 and then drive

Julie Bartucca: [00:36:17] drive 10 minutes, right?

Ken Best: [00:36:19] Oh, they used to get off at the Depot. Uh, the train Depot no longer, no longer there.

Julie Bartucca: [00:36:24] And that would have been far in like a horse and buggy, I assume it would’ve taken a little bit.

Tom Breen: [00:36:28] Yeah. And there was students actually ran a business where they would run horse and buggy between the train station on campus and for, you know, uh, coins or whatever the nominal fee was.

So, yeah, so that’s, uh, that’s how, uh, we got our start, you know, that, that meme on Twitter, you know, how it started, how it’s going, uh, people know how it’s going.

Julie Bartucca: [00:36:47] Have we done that, that meme with a picture from the beginning. I think we should.

Tom Breen: [00:36:51] I think we should too, I’ll talk to Jason about that.

Julie Bartucca: [00:36:55] Very nice. I liked that story. Thanks Tom.

Tom Breen: [00:36:58] So that’s our 86th episode. And we’re gonna, we’re going to put things up on blocks for a little while.

Julie Bartucca: [00:37:04] I’m sad.I want to tell people why at least partially why, we’re doing this.

Tom Breen: [00:37:10] Yeah, I think we should. Why not?

Julie Bartucca: [00:37:11] Yeah. I’m expecting a baby.

Tom Breen: [00:37:14] Yay.

Julie Bartucca: [00:37:15] In about six weeks. So I’m going to be out for quite a bit.

Tom Breen: [00:37:20] That’s great news.

Julie Bartucca: [00:37:21] It is, it’s exciting.

Ken Best: [00:37:23] Baby bartucca.

Julie Bartucca: [00:37:25] We don’t know what it is, boy or girl going to be a surprise to us all.

Tom Breen: [00:37:29] I’ll have to see if there’s some, uh, UConn 360 baby gear that I can have made.

Julie Bartucca: [00:37:33] Yeah. I think we need to make a onesie or something.

Tom Breen: [00:37:36] Yeah, I think that’s doable.

Julie Bartucca: [00:37:38] Totally.

Tom Breen: [00:37:40] Um, so yeah, so we’re going on hiatus for good reasons. We’re not going on. hiatus because like we’re all suing each other or something. All right. Well, thank you everybody. If you’ve enjoyed listening to UConn 360. First of all, thank you very much for listening. It’s been great. We’ve had a, we’ve had a really good time doing this again. I’ve been talking about it like it’s over.

Julie Bartucca: [00:37:56] I know it’s not over, but it’s going to be awhile. It’s going to be several months.

Tom Breen: [00:38:00] It’s like, it’s like the last day of school on summer vacation coming, you know, like you’re going to be back in the fall, but there’s still that sort of wistful. We had a good time. Didn’t we?

Julie Bartucca: [00:38:07] Yeah. And we’ve been doing this for a long time straight.

Ken Best: [00:38:11] Three years.

Tom Breen: [00:38:14] Yeah. So thank you very much for listening to us. You can find us on Twitter @UConnPodcast or @main_old I’ll post some pictures from as early as I can find them, uh, in UConn history to coincide with Tom’s History Corner. Check out today.uconn.edu for all the latest news on you.

Uh, Julie, is there anything you would like to plug for people? Is there, would you like to give them like an Amazon wishlist for your

Julie Bartucca: [00:38:37] no, we’ve been very lucky. We’ve gotten everything we could possibly need. Um, I’m on Twitter @JulieBartucca. You can read the latest health journal at healthjournal.uconn.edu, stay tuned to UConn all summer.

Ken Best: [00:38:50] And at 91.7 WHUS in Storrs,, you can listen to the prior episodes of the UConn 360 podcast, which we have specially curated for this summer vacation period,

Tom Breen: [00:39:05] UConn 360 classic, we prefer to call it.
Ken Best: [00:39:07] Classic. Yeah. Uh, and then I don’t know if we’re going to still be on Saturday nights, but the good music show will be on WHUS at some point after, uh, the summer gets going and you never know what you’re going to hear.

Julie Bartucca: [00:39:24] Did you do your Bob Dylan episode?

Ken Best: [00:39:26] I did my Bob Dylan episode. And in fact, by after this is aired, you, there will have been a special Sergeant pepper episode.

Julie Bartucca: [00:39:34] [laughs] I just burned myself with my coffee mug. Excuse me. I have one of those coasters that keeps it hot and I just put the cup on my leg.

Ken Best: [00:39:45] So, those are the things you don’t hear normally on the air.

Julie Bartucca: [00:39:50] I’ll keep that in.

Ken Best: [00:39:52] But, but every year I, I, I, when the first week of June arrives, I talk about Sergeant pepper being released in June of 1967, which then changed how recording was done.

Tom Breen: [00:40:05] All right. Thanks everybody. Normally, this is where I’d say, we’ll see you in a fortnight, but that’s not true at this time. Um, we will however

Julie Bartucca: [00:40:11] See you in several months.

Tom Breen: [00:40:12] See you down the road.