Retiring tutors helped shape a 'generation of writers'

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Diane Charney and Bill Storandt

With a combined total of 50 years of experience as residential college writing tutors for Yale College, Diane Charney and Bill Storandt have witnessed the evolution of split infinitives, prepositions, and online schedules. Both will retire from Yale at the end of the academic year.

“I sit here as the grumpy nitpicker, who is trying to protect students from being found lacking in their attention to rules when they are sending out applications for law school and things like that, but at the same time trying to talk frankly with them about what a living thing the language is and how you have to give with the times as things shift,” said Storandt, a tutor in Davenport College and staff member since 1996.

The Residential College Writing Program, founded in 1979 as a “drop-in” service for undergraduates, currently employs 12 tutors, one per residential college. By providing “in-house” access to professional tutoring, the program aims to help students grow as writers and to provide guidance as students approach papers and essays for courses throughout their four years at Yale.

“I’m always interested in the whole person, and ask all kinds of questions so I can feel in touch with the student,” said Charney, a tutor in Timothy Dwight College since 1988, and faculty member in the French Department since 1984. “After I create a rapport with them, I look forward to watching them grow up and to spending four years together, and beyond, because I often hear from them later.”

Yale’s philosophy is that writing is best taught in departmental classes with tutoring resources to support students. The university aims to employ talented and compassionate professionals with decades of experience in the field, which stretches beyond the English language to include music and French literature.

From Juilliard to Yale

Storandt grew up in Ithaca, New York in a family closely tied to Cornell University. Instead of following tradition, he attended the Juilliard School in Manhattan.

“I’ve always admired Yale for hiring me to teach writing with my Bachelor of Music degree,” said Storandt. “I interviewed with the chair of the English Department, and [Linda Peterson] thought I would be good at this.”

After Juilliard, Storandt was a freelance musician in New York and played for the Monkees, various Broadway shows, and at Radio City Music Hall. He then travelled north to teach at the University of Vermont and Johnson State College while living in a geodesic dome with an outhouse.

“I was getting increasingly frustrated as I was edging toward coming out, and finally the scant number of gay men in northern Vermont, plus my increasing urgency, sent me to Montreal and on my first night ever in a big city gay bar, I met my partner Brian, who I have been with for 39 years.”

Storandt relocated to Connecticut to be with his partner, Dr. Brian Forsyth, a professor of pediatrics and associate director for international research at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS at Yale’s School of Medicine. The couple live in Branford and share an affinity for the ocean and sailing.

‘What sounds right’

Charney, born far from the sea in Saint Paul, Minnesota and raised in Middletown, New York, said, “I personally feel like there is a very strong link between music and writing, I have to hear what sounds right. I can identify rules after the fact to try to explain it to people who do not necessarily hear it the way I hear it. It is all so auditory.”

She plays “mediocre flute,” four-hand piano, and the viola, but she received her Ph.D. in French literature from Duke University in 1976 after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in French literature from the University of Rochester.

Charney loves languages and has studied seven throughout her life. She served as a French Instructor at Duke University, as a reviewer for several publications, and as an editorial consultant and translator.

She is married to Dr. James Charney, a psychiatrist and professor at the Yale School of Medicine. The couple has a son, Noah, who lives in Slovenia with his wife, Urska, and two children, Eleonora and Izabella. James and Diane split their time between Orvieto, Italy and New Haven. 

“I’m very lucky because Alfred Guy is the most amazingly kind and enlightened administrator,” said Charney, as she explained how Guy — who manages the Residential College Writing Tutors — agreed to her request to tutor only during the spring term for the last three academic years, thus allowing Charney to stay with her family in Europe for a longer period of time each year.

Charney and Storandt both said that they felt honored to have the opportunity to work with undergraduates. The average length of service for a residential college writing tutor is well over a decade, and there are often dozens of applications for any vacant positions.

‘The best of Yale’

“We are extremely fortunate to have an incredible staff of writing tutors who are committed to supporting our undergraduates,” said Guy, the R.W.B. Lewis Director of Undergraduate Writing, director of undergraduate tutoring at Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), and assistant dean of academic affairs for Yale College. “Diane and Bill represent the best of Yale. They have worked with thousands of students, and their impact has shaped a new generation of writers. While we will miss their presence in the colleges, I know students will continue to interact with them in retirement and I wish them well.”

Guy manages CTL’s Residential College Writing Program, in addition to peer writing partners, science and quantitative reasoning tutoring, and the academic strategies program.

“I’m proud of how many students I have seen through more than one year,” said Storandt. “Freshmen come a lot, and sophomores less so, and often we don’t see them at all junior year. Then a lot of the time, they show up again senior year. That is very gratifying to us because that means when the chips were down, they sought the person who had been helpful earlier in their undergraduate years. It is so satisfying to do this over the long haul.”

As the semester comes to an end, Charney and Storandt will prepare for a new phase in life. They each have plans for retirement.

Charney will spend more time in Italy and Slovenia with her family, and she will continue to work on her forthcoming book, “Letters to Men of Letters,” and she will write on her blog: “In Love with France, at Home in Italy.”  

“I can’t even conceive of a person being bored,” said Charney. “I have never been bored in my life, and now I have finally learned how to use an iPhone … you can look up anything you want.”

Storandt will spend more time on the sea with Forsyth on their sail boat, Clarity, currently docked in Croatia, and on their 1958 motor boat in Branford. The two also have an apartment in Cape Town, South Africa on Table Bay and a home in Provincetown, Massachusetts near the beach.

The Center for Teaching and Learning will announce the new Residential College Writing Tutors for Davenport, Timothy Dwight, Pauli Murray, and Benjamin Franklin Colleges in August. For more information about undergraduate writing programs, contact Alfred Guy (mailto:alfred.guy@yale.edu) or visit the CTL website: http://ctl.yale.edu/writing/undergraduate-writing.

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Media Contact

Patrick C. O’Brien: p.obrien@yale.edu , 203-430-3897