"Dear Uncle Ezra" was the first on-line helpline in the world. One of the first
queries, in the fall of 1986, was from a dining worker who was diagnosed with AIDS.
As a very responsive communication service in a world increasingly filled with
layers of bureaucracy before one can find a live, warm human being, Ezra has been
able to help students, staff, alumni, prospective students, parents -- readers all
around the world -- calm their fears, consider courses of action, determine resources,
feel heard and feel empowered.
Then Assistant Dean of Students and former Director of the Cornell Counseling Center
Jerry Feist and Cornell Computer Service's Steve Worona masterminded the vision of
this invaluable resource. The technical infrastructure they built has handled many
thousands of inquiries, guaranteeing confidentiality, archiving all letters for easy
reference, and moving into the new millennium without missing a beat. Originally, two
dozen public computer sites around campus and comparatively few personal computers
allowed students to access CUinfo and ask and read Uncle Ezra inquiries. As CUinfo
operated 24-7, Uncle Ezra's door was always open to listen to concerns and to provide
help. "We wanted to reflect the helpful spirit of Cornell. I think we succeeded,"
Jerry Feist comments.
"Dear Uncle Ezra" inspired similar on-line advice services such as the University of
Colorado's "Ask Ralphie" to Columbia University's "Go Ask Alice." Who could have
predicted the Internet explosion of the next decade which would streamline information
access to nearly everyone, and put personal computers in nearly every home and
classroom and fill room in public libraries and "Internet cafes"? Yet, the personality
of Uncle Ezra makes it something different from the more factual resources search
engines can amass at lightning speed.
In addition to asking for counsel or advice, students use the Uncle Ezra forum to share
from their own experiences as they read of others' plights. Students offer their
praise and appreciation to the Cornell community when they triumph over their own
personal struggles. Steve Worona reminds us that "our common humanity is much greater
than our differences, and nowhere is this more obvious than in Uncle Ezra's column."
Uncle Ezra has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The Ithaca Journal,
and ON Magazine as well as on NPR's All Things Considered.