For years, the NYU Alumni Magazine has chronicled the work of our accomplished students, faculty, and grads on the most pressing issues of their time. The 2010s were no exception: Leafing through a decade's worth of issues, so many of the stories covered—such as alumna Edie Windsor's historic fight for marriage equality, the rise of medicinal psychedelics, or the changing landscape of TV comedy—now read as prescient, touching on scientific and cultural themes that would come to define the decade. Before we leap into 2020 and beyond, here's a look back at 10 standout articles—one for each year—selected by the magazine's editors.
Once slated for demolition, the High Line is born again—thanks to a perfect storm of public will, private interests, and (uncharacteristic) city cooperation.
In the spring of 2001, writer Adam Gopnik (IFA ’84) climbed 30 feet up onto a derelict freight railway, tucked mostly out of sight between 10th and 11th Avenues. He began near its northern terminus at 34th Street, sliding under a chain-link fence and skirting a wild glade of ailanthus trees growing between the rails. Farther south he found a junkyard and a homeless encampment. He was following photographer Joel Sternfeld, who was recording four seasons of shifting moods on the viaduct, which had become, after 20-odd years of disuse and decay, an accidental meadow in the sky.
In “A Walk on the High Line,” published in The New Yorker with Sternfeld’s photos that May, Gopnik wrote that the space “combines the appeal of those fantasies in which New York has returned to the wild with an almost Zen quality of measured, peaceful distance.” The magazine piece would be, it seemed, the High Line’s eulogy—though he did note in passing that some local preservationists hoped to turn the structure into a park. The idea “seemed to me both completely quixotic and wonderfully bold,” Gopnik says today. “I also thought: It doesn’t stand a chance of ever happening.” Read more.
In the fight for marriage equality, it's Edith Windsor vs. the United States of America.
The relationship that may usher in a new era for gay rights began in a typical way one evening in Greenwich Village. The year was 1963, the restaurant Portofino—a fashionable Friday-night spot for women, and about the only place a white-collar lesbian could be out and at ease. Edith Schlain Windsor (GSAS ’57)—Monroe-esque, cherubic cheeked, and her hair in a perfect flip—was an NYU-trained mathematician and fast-rising IBM programmer, just back from a fellowship at Harvard University. She was tired of being single and past ready to jettison the “therapy” meant to make her straight.
Friends brought Thea Clara Spyer to her table. A child of European refugees, Thea was charismatic and intellectual, a psychology PhD from Adelphi University who’d interned at St. Vincent’s Hospital. The angular brunette mesmerized Edie. Thea was more experienced, having been expelled from Sarah Lawrence College for kissing an older woman. And she seemed a bit more comfortable in the Village’s small lesbian underground of bars, run by the Mafia, where even huge bouncers at the doors couldn’t prevent the occasional violent police raid.
They danced. Read more.
Many thought New York would never be the same when its audacious grid was planned 200 years ago. They were right.
Outside the writer’s window, the din of construction rang as a constant distraction from his work. The newly graded street kicked up dust and gravel, and he feared that what he loved best about New York City would soon be lost to this new development. “[T]hese magnificent places are doomed,” he lamented. “The spirit of Improvement has withered them with its acrid breath.”
The writer was Edgar Allan Poe, who, in 1844, managed to compose “The Raven” in a farmhouse at what is now 84th Street and Broadway, despite the full-scale overhaul of Manhattan happening just outside his door. The grid—that sprawling series of parallel avenues running north and south and streets unfolding east and west—had arrived on what would become the Upper West Side. As it crept closer, Poe mourned the loss of the island’s natural, rugged beauty, and the homes dotting its rolling hills. “Streets are already ‘mapped’ through them, and they are no longer suburban residences, but ‘town-lots,’” he continued. The farmhouse where he sat would soon be demolished to make way for the grid. Read more.
Once taboo, psychedelics are making an enlightening medical comeback.
On a spring day in 2010, “Sandra,” then a 63-year-old ice-skating instructor with short graying hair and an impish smile, received her diagnosis: ovarian cancer, stage 1C. The rock-hard tumor growing inside her abdomen was surgically removed almost immediately. She spent the next several months soldiering through exhausting rounds of chemotherapy. Oddly, it was only once she was in remission that the worst began.
Sandra found herself crippled with anxiety. An online support group for ovarian cancer patients exacerbated her worry as other women warned that it was not a question of if but when her cancer would return. She ate compulsively, which compounded her fear—the stomach pains she got once from scarfing down an entire bag of Halloween candy felt like a sure sign that the cancer was back. In the days leading up to her regular oncology appointments, she nearly hyperventilated with terror. Read more.
A century later, the year 1914 is starting to resonate with force—and it's about time.
The headlines from 2014 read like a catalog of 21st-century predicaments that our great-grandparents could never have anticipated. Yet, when you trace them to their origins, so many of the ideas and technologies making news today have roots almost precisely a century old.
It was during World War I that the US Navy first began to experiment with "drones," unmanned biplanes catapulted into enemy territory. The same war added poison gas to the world's weapons arsenal: The Germans introduced it during the second battle of Ypres, and it was employed in Syria as recently as this year. And the Espionage Act, now being used to charge NSA leaker Edward Snowden, dates from the United States' entry into the war in 1917. Read more.
When it comes to the modern American TV comedy, the answer is: everything and anything.
If you want a quick sense of how far TV comedy has traveled in the past decade—since, say Friends officially rolled down the shades in Monica's apartment—try imagining a couple of HBO's or Netflix's newer, darker comedic heroes walking onto the soundstage of a traditional sitcom. Does the laugh track begin when Louis CK handles a roll of his abdominal fat, or do you cue it when he's getting a full-on rectal exam from Ricky Gervais? What does the live studio audience make of Lena Dunham walking around without her pants—or the drunken, biting insults she unleashes on a group of fellow Iowa Writers' Workshop students? And how does a single camera even keep up with the inmates of Litchfield Penitentiary as they reveal tortured former lives in complicated backstories, pausing here and there to hook up or run each other down, with or without the absurdly mournful chorus of "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" echoing from the soundtrack? Read more.
The tale of three scholars and one shared animal attraction.
One evening last spring inside NYU School of Law's Vanderbilt Hall, hundreds of people listened as David Carter, a 300-pound NFL defensive lineman who looks like the kind of guy who could polish off five cheeseburgers in a single sitting, talked about his improbable path to becoming a vegan.
"I grew up, like pretty much everybody, hearing that beef is what's for dinner and milk does a body good," Carter said. Meat was ever present since his family owned a barbecue restaurant, and he gorged on it to build the requisite size and strength for colliding with others. But by his third year as a professional football player, at age 23, he found himself beset with what he refers to as "old man diseases"—high blood pressure, early onset arthritis, tendonitis, fatigue. Read more.
A profile of the efforts being made across the University to smooth veteran re-entry into both civilian and academic life.
What do you do after you’ve served your country, saved the lives of fellow soldiers, and performed humanitarian work abroad? For Mary Nadolny (CGPH ’18), it was time to plan her civilian life, which meant “going through a graduate program for the pure joy of education,” she says. Having spent 29 years as a naval officer and nurse anesthetist in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other places, Nadolny is now pursuing a double master’s in public administration and public health at the College of Global Public Health.
Mitchell Day (LAW ’18), a law student and former field artillery officer, was inspired to continue his education during his tour of duty overseas. “While in Afghanistan, I began to understand some of the implications of the law and its implementation through the use of force,” he says. “I realized how important the rule of law is. Law school was a natural progression after that.”
For others, completing their time in the military is an opportunity to undertake the undergraduate study they postponed. Read more.
Kings County looks good in violet.
Long before celebrities named their kids after a certain New York City borough and Girls and Broad City set their action there, NYU’s then financially strapped Bronx–based campus, University Heights, was sold and the College of Engineering and Science was merged into the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. The year was 1973, and the resulting school became the Polytechnic Institute of New York, and engineering suddenly disappeared from NYU’s portfolio. There were many reasons—crime, isolation—why parts of New York City (Brooklyn among them) weren’t hot property. That reality was the believable plot driver in Saturday Night Fever, as John Travolta’s character, Tony Manero, sought to escape his bridge-and-tunnel life.
That was then. One reacquisition of the merged institute, several name changes, and many groundbreakings later, NYU’s downtown Brooklyn campus is at the heart of what has become the East Coast’s version of Silicon Valley (though unlike the original, it’s also the hipster epicenter of the universe). Read more.
The disturbing role gender bias plays in how we perceive intellectual exceptionalism.
Quick, picture a genius.
Did you imagine a wild-haired Einstein? Newton daydreaming under an apple tree? Mozart churning out symphonies in preschool? Hippie geek Steve Jobs inventing personal computers in a garage? da Vinci? Plato? Maybe you envisaged Sherlock Holmes, sequestered with his violin and his cocaine, his brain afire with brilliant crime solutions. Or, for that matter, his nemesis, the felonious mastermind Moriarty. Not to mention the mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein, or his benign animated counterpart, Professor Utonium. Jimmy Neutron. Encyclopedia Brown. Sheldon Cooper. Dr. House. The know-it-all beagle Mr. Peabody from Rocky and Bullwinkle.
We could keep going here, but perhaps you’ve noticed a trend. Whether historical or literary or cartoon, great or mad or evil, artsy or STEM-inclined, ancient or modern, absentminded or laser-focused, the typical genius figure in our culture is generally male. And white. Even the dog. Read more.