“Harvard’s Other Dr. James”

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Harvard Yard

The other great listener my freshman year in college was Dr. James, not to be confused with the famous William James from an earlier time at Harvard. My Dr. James was the professor of a freshman seminar I was fortunate to enroll in. These seminars had just 12 students and were a saving contrast to the huge lecture courses that filled the rest of my first year in college.

Dr. James had selected the students for his seminar on “Freud.” I knew nothing about Freud except for the phrase “Freudian slip” and the quote that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” My classmates were, to my mind, all terribly sophisticated and knowledgeable about psychoanalytic theory. I was silent during most of the discussions, terrified to reveal my ignorance.

Each week we had assigned readings, but we also were to hand in a two page paper about any topic we felt like exploring. These papers were read only by Dr. James, so my fear of being exposed was eliminated. I frequently wrote about feeling lost and out of place at Harvard. Suddenly surrounded by a majority of private school educated classmates, my West Coast public high school education left me behind many of my peers.

Fortunately, Dr. James took a personal and caring interest in me. He made his office available to me to come and talk about anything. He shared with me that he had started out in Utah and knew how hard the adjustment was for me. I visited him for the next three years of college, always knowing his door was open to me. He made my entrance into and survival through college possible. I am eternally grateful.

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