Stiles gets a new master in Pitti ’91

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University President Richard Levin announced Thursday evening the new master and associate master of Ezra Stiles College: American Studies professors Stephen Pitti ’91 and Alicia Schmidt Camacho.

Pitti and Camacho will succeed Stuart Schwartz and Maria Jordan, a Latin American Studies professor in the history department and a senior lector in Spanish and Portuguese, respectively. Schwartz has served as master since 2003. The announcement comes after nearly three months of an exhaustive search, in which search-committee members said they considered over 100 candidates, recommended to them by students in the college.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and professors Stephen Pitti and Alicia Schmidt Camacho watch as Yale President Richard Levin speaks in Stiles yesterday night.
Aileen Agricola
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and professors Stephen Pitti and Alicia Schmidt Camacho watch as Yale President Richard Levin speaks in Stiles yesterday night.

Pitti, a native of northern California, was a student in Ezra Stiles during his time as a Yale undergraduate. He and Camacho will be joined in the master’s house by their seven-year-old twin boy and girl and four-year-old dog.

Administrators and students on the search committee that chose Pitti as its final choice about two weeks ago noted the professor’s self-professed love for Ezra Stiles. Pitti said he played four intramural sports for the college.

“It’s an amazing privilege to be able to come back to Ezra Stiles,” Pitti said. “This is a community that meant the world to me when I was here. This was my home.”

“I think you’re getting in Master Pitti someone who clearly loves Stiles,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said. “His memories of how happy he was in this community as a college student are still fresh.”

Pitti currently serves as the director of the Ethnicity, Race, and Migration major. His scholarship focuses on minority communities in Silicon Valley, and he is currently working on a biography of Cesar Chavez. Camacho studies the U.S.-Mexico border region and human rights violations in northern Mexico in particular. He will become the director of the American Studies major next year.

Schwartz said his own work in Latin American studies and his and Pitti’s appointments in the History department allowed them to become friends years before Pitti would be succeeding him as master.

“It makes the transition that much easier,” Schwartz said.

Pitti’s appointment makes him the youngest master currently at the University. Pitti returned to the University in 1998 after receiving a doctorate from Stanford University.

Colin O’Leary ’10, one of the students on the search-committee responsible for finding a successor to Schwartz, said it is “a little unusual” to have a master be as early in his academic career as Pitti is.

“Most masters tend to be past the zenith of their careers,” O’Leary said. “But I wouldn’t say it’s unprecedented.”

Schwartz said the more demanding nature of the master position may be leading committees to choose younger candidates.

“Part of it is due to the increasing activity in the colleges, and part of it is the growth of the many kinds of things we do,” Schwartz said. “As that’s happening many senior scholars may have a more difficult time dividing their time between scholarship and master.”

Masters traditionally act as the social head of each residential college, organizing student outings, serving as mentors and bringing guests to the colleges through Master’s Teas.

Stiles students interviewed were happy with the committee’s choice, although they emphasized they will miss Schwartz and Jordan.

“If we can’t have them here, then I welcome Master Pitti’s entrance to Stiles,” Dana D’Amelio ’10 said.

“I’m very excited to spend more time with the family when they start their term,” Dan Fine ’10 said.

O’Leary and fellow search-committee members Nick Kline ’09 and Anna Goddu ’09 said Pitti received almost universally positive reviews from the professors and students they interviewed in their search process.

“Everyone loves him,” Kline said.

Students gave Schwartz and Jordan a standing ovation Thursday, which prompted emotional responses from the couple.

“It was just beautiful,” Jordan said of the gesture. She said she hopes to use her time in the coming years to finish two books she currently has in the works. Schwartz did not disclose any plans to leave his current teaching position.

Meanwhile, Pitti and Camacho are also looking ahead. Camacho said she wants to use her position in the Stiles community to initiate more programs connecting Yale students with the city of New Haven, in addition to preparing for a renovation of the college, which will occur during the 2010-2011 school year.

“I can imagine all kinds of projects with community people,” Camacho said.

Pitti said his and Camacho’s joint interest in American and Latin American subjects will inform the programs the pair initiate in the coming years.

Stiles students gathered in a line after the announcement to introduce themselves to the future residents of their college and chat about their interests. Not far away, Schwartz and Jordan made their dinner plans for the evening.

“I don’t have a thing in the house,” Jordan said, slightly embarrassed.

Schwartz embraced her. “I’m going to take you out for dinner tonight,” he said.

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