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Lawrence Lennon ’71, Peter Newman ’73, and Linda Arra ’74 shared a perfect storm of change. At Lafayette, they experienced anti-war protests, civil-rights crusades, and the introduction of co-education. During their time on College Hill, the College became more democratic, more controversial, and, well, more American.
The three witnesses to history shared a Saturday reunion panel discussion entitled, after the Who anthem, “Talkin’ About My Generation.”
Lennon recalled the struggle of being a largely isolated African American on a largely white campus. At one point he was one of only two dozen blacks on campus; that’s about the same number, he noted, as on the 2009 football team. He felt more empowered when, as a member of the Association of Black Collegians, he went to the house of President Roald K. Bergethon to demand a meeting with the college’s trustees and got one, on the spot, without an appointment.
“I had a love-hate relationship with Lafayette that was a microcosm of my life in America,” said Lennon. “You had your good days and you had your bad days.”
Arra felt like an insider and outsider as a member of the first class of enrolled women. “We were told we were an experiment,” she said. “The college was reluctant to force old traditions on women because they thought we’d be unhappy, that we wouldn’t come. So the college tripped over itself to make us happy.”
“You were the change,” said Lennon, drawing laughs for a blunt truth.
Lennon participated in another radical event in the spring of 1970, before the arrival of Arra and her fellow female revolutionaries. He and other students protested American involvement in the Vietnam War by refusing to attend classes. Their strike ended after three days when teachers and administrators threatened to withhold grades.
“Here’s the shock of the real world: you will not get into grad school, you will not get into law school,” said Lennon. “Here’s the reality of college life: at some time you will have to conform.”
Newman insisted the protest was productive. Students, he noted, brought in speakers, worked with radio stations, formed a united front. The strike, he added, had a profound effect on his education and life. It shaped his career as a high-school English teacher and shapes his career as a visiting instructor of English at Lafayette, where he teaches a First-Year Seminar on social change in the ’60s.
An audience member remembered earlier activism on campus. Jay Wright ’64 recalled demonstrating against mandatory ROTC training for first-year and second-year students and compulsory chapel attendance for all undergraduates. He said a dean explained to the protesters that the College required chapel attendance mainly to please the Presbyterian Church in America, one of Lafayette’s major benefactors at the time.
Wright graduated before mandatory ROTC and chapel were eliminated. He also missed the arrival of 24-hour visitation in dorms, a perk for Newman, Lennon, and Arra. Newman spoke of slyly punishing a peer who had a woman in his room too soon.
The panelists testified to the existence of a collegiate generation gap. Newman said that students in his ’60s seminar are shocked when he tells them that Connecticut law once prohibited his mother’s gynecologist from informing her about birth control. As Lafayette’s director of career services, Arra meets plenty of undergraduates more concerned about getting good grades than being good citizens. Sometimes her advisees ask her what she did with all her free time when she was their age, when there were no sororities and scores of organizations to join. “We had time to have spontaneous conversations,” she tells them, “time to have spontaneous reactions, time to hear bizarro lectures.”
“You don’t come to college anymore to be radicalized,” said moderator Mary Armstrong, associate professor of English and chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies program. And yet, she admitted, there are many students committed to strengthening social justice and improving the environment. She’s particularly impressed by volunteers who pull shopping carts and refrigerators from the Delaware River.
Lennon spoke for his fellow panelists when he said he has zero tolerance for whiners. “If you see something wrong, correct it. That’s your obligation,” he said. Quoting an age-old adage, he added, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
In four years, the world will start marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, which changed the world. On Saturday, three reunion panelists got an early jump on the centennial by discussing weapons that changed both the First and Second World Wars. The panel doubled as a preview of the summer reading and orientation theme for the incoming Class of 2014, “1914-2014: Waging War, Staging Peace.”
Joshua Sanborn, associate professor of history, traced the rippling impact of World War I. The war, he pointed out, helped launch the United States as a global military power and Russia as a Communist juggernaut. An international human-rights crusade emerged from the widespread violation of the Geneva Convention and other humanitarian treaties. When Germans were called “barbarians” for sinking civilian vessels with U-boats, it was more than slick propaganda; it was a passionate, compassionate condemnation of “a crime against civilization.”
Diane Windham Shaw, special collections librarian and College archivist, focused on “Lafayette, We Are Here,” a College web chronicle of how America aided France during World War I, partly to honor the Marquis de Lafayette’s aid to America during the Revolutionary War. It was an American, for example, who purchased Lafayette’s birthplace and turned it into a war orphanage. The Lafayette Fund provided French soldiers with comfort kits stocked with everything from ponchos to pipes. The French Air Service was served by the Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of American pilots with a robust sense of humor; their lion-cub mascots were nicknamed Whiskey and Soda.
“Lafayette, We Are Here” is part of the Class of 2014’s orientation package. Another resource is the class’ primary summer reading assignment, Pat Barker’s Regeneration, a 1991 novel inspired by case studies of World War I soldiers treated for shell shock. One of the fictional patients, based on an actual character, is a poet classified as mentally unstable because he declares that war is unjust.
Shaw was followed by John Hench ’65, who summarized his new book Books as Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of WWII. Published by Cornell University Press, it’s a provocative study of an American propaganda campaign, launched during World War II, which sent recently published books extolling U.S. values and virtues to European civilians recently liberated from Axis captors. From 1942 to 1946, nearly five million volumes were shipped from America to Europe by the Council on Books in Wartime, a consortium of publishers, authors, librarians and other vested interests. Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, a brutal depiction of the brutality of civil war, was among the mental detoxicants.
Hench said the council had goals other than battling the mighty Nazi propaganda machine, aims that reduced some Americans to “money-grubbing plutocrats at best, or at worst gangsters in cahoots with Capone.” Being capitalists, American publishers naturally wanted to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of publishing houses in Britain, France, and Germany. They also wanted to improve their chances of buying rights to the hottest European novels after the war.
One of the more curious forms of mind control took place in American prison camps. According to Hench, German military inmates were allowed to buy books, many of which were burned by the Nazis, some of which were written by Jewish radicals killed in Nazi concentration camps. Notable titles included All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque’s immensely successful, immensely influential pacifist novel set during World War I.
Hench researched and wrote Books as Weapons after retiring as vice president for collections and programs at the American Antiquarian Society. A bona fide bibliophile, he collects what he studies. One of his prized possessions is a book owned by a German imprisoned in an American camp in 1944-46. The paperback has an inscription, a hardcover binding, and a family nameplate. It’s more than a souvenir; it’s an heirloom of pain and gain.
Father Thomas J. Hagan, O.S.F.S., heads Hands Together, a humanitarian organization based in Haiti’s Cite Soleil, one of world’s worst slums. He tries to comfort the dying and distressed by telling them “Jesus has a house for you.” He hopes to make them smile at the prospect of going to a place where no one walks in raw sewage and no starving child has to eat deadly mud pies.
Hagan was the guiding spirit of “Building Social Capital: Down the Hill and Across the Sea,” a Saturday reunion program led by Bonnie Winfield, director of Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center. As the supervisor of programs that benefit everyone from Northampton County prisoners to disenfranchised Ecuadorian Indians, she continues a mission of social justice Hagan helped establish, along with College Chaplain Gary Miller, when Hagan was Catholic chaplain here from 1983-91. In 1986, he and six Lafayette students went to Haiti to help lepers, then started Hands Together to help the hungry and homeless in Easton.
Winfield screened parts of a documentary about Hands Together featuring Hagan and Doug Campbell ’86, the organization’s founding executive director. The men described the overwhelming struggle to serve a commune where nearly half a million live in three square miles without public sanitation. Over three decades, they’ve produced a glimmer of hope by planting trees, building a kitchen that serves 10,000 hot meals a day, and running the area’s only free clinic.
The clinic, however, has no electricity or running water. Money and food are in such short supply that desperate mothers feed their starving children pies of spiced mud. Nearly half the children in Cite Soleil die before the age of five. Some perish from malnutrition; others perish from eating the mud pies, which are infested with parasites.
In the documentary, Hagan admits he is sometimes infected by the parasite of doubt. He regularly wonders why he stays in Cite Soleil, where during a chapel Mass he discovered the corpse of a youngster eaten by rats and dogs. He finds himself, sometimes, wishing he were back on College Hill, advising students about pressing issues, watching a football game, buying coffee at Wawa.
The documentary was finished before the January earthquake that devastated Cite Soleil and much of Haiti. According to Winfield, Hagan and his Hands Together colleagues have built a new school and opened five kitchens instead of one. Hagan sleeps in a tent because his home is ruined.
Winfield finally met Hagan in May when he came to Lafayette to receive an honorary doctorate in public service at the 175th Commencement. She was moved by his speech at the ceremony, where he quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the need to love yourself, others, and God. She was impressed by his political humility. “The world owes you absolutely nothing,” he told the Class of 2010, “and you owe the world a great deal.”
Inspired by Hagan’s “real, honest, true compassion,” Winfield is coordinating a stronger partnership between Hands Together and the Landis Center. Last semester, Landis volunteers raised nearly $3,000 for Hands Together through a concert, quilting bee, and other events. Winfield plans to visit Cite Soleil as soon as Hagan assures her it’s safe to visit, perhaps as soon as this summer. She envisions a 2011 alumni trip funded partly by a foundation for Rick Thorpe ’89, a Hands Together founder who died during the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. According to Winfield, duties in Cite Soleil range from building homes to rocking orphaned babies. She shares Hagan’s belief that a simple touch can be immensely comforting to the immeasurably scared.
An educational activist, Winfield wants her students to treat their trip to Haiti as a philosophical fact-finding mission. She expects them to ask and answer such questions as: Why do the eldest children in Cite Soleil have to stay up all night, protecting their younger siblings by swatting at rats with a stick?
Winfield, in fact, ended the program with an excerpt from a questioning poem. “Try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms,” wrote Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet, “and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.”
Once upon a time, the steep, south-facing steps of Pardee Hall were a stage of sorts. Standing in front of a dramatic French Second Empire-style building reminiscent of a city hall or castle, students sang college songs—serious songs, funny songs, beat-the-hell-out-of-Lehigh songs. They did this during Commencements, fraternity competitions, even pep rallies.
Pardee step singing is long a bygone tradition, along with compulsory chapel attendance and mandatory freshman-beanie wearing. Somewhere along the line, the vocal ritual was banished as too quaint, too hokey. On Friday night it was revived with fiery flair and a few twists.
The outdoor performance was previewed indoors, before President Daniel H. Weiss gave his State of the College address in Colton Chapel. A variety of tunes—tender, wry, rambunctious—were rehearsed by 20 members of The Graduates, a choir of College alums and good-will ambassadors. Many of the members sang under John Raymond, Lafayette’s legendary director of music from 1946 to 1976. They formed the ensemble after a 1985 banquet for Raymond; today, they underwrite choral programs through a fund supported in part by proceeds from their annual Christmas Vespers concerts.
After Weiss’ speech, spectators walked from the chapel to Pardee’s southern side, holding candles in a procession led by The Graduates. It was here, in the 1890s, that singing on the steps in the pleasant early evening became a habit. The setting inspired Walter C. Stier 1884 to write the fabled opening lines of the Alma Mater: “We’ll gather by the twilight’s glow/In front of old Pardee.”
By the time the crowd gathered by old Pardee, it was past 9 p.m., past twilight, past any natural glow. No matter: The singers conjured twilight’s glow by holding lit candles. A stronger glow was provided by spotlights. The lamps cast dramatic shadows on Pardee and smoky silhouettes on The Graduates. A handful of fireflies made the atmosphere more atmospheric.
What followed was a good stiff dose of old-fashioned musical collegiate nostalgia in a singalong. “Way Down in Easton” joked about teachers avoiding chapel services to worship the morning newspaper. “Like a Queen Enthroned” elevated a hilltop college to an Olympian gem. Next was “On, Lafayette,” a rousing anthem, penned by Charles E. Straub 1912, for football team and marching band that first stirred the campus in 1938. A Graduate shouted “Beat Lehigh!” to punctuate the message. The singing concluded with a reverent rendition of the Alma Mater, praising the College with “loyal lips and loyal hearts”; as an added bonus, the rarely sung second verse was included.
The performance was a double treat for David Williams ’60, who at Lafayette performed in the choir, played piano in recitals, and produced classical concerts featuring instrumentalists and Raymond’s singers. A retired foreign correspondent for Voice of America, he had never before sung the Alma Mater’s second verse. (He never performed it with Raymond, he reasoned, because Raymond didn’t like it.) It was also the first time as an alumnus that he had sung near the steps of Pardee at night. In 1985 he celebrated his 25th reunion by singing there in daylight, which wasn’t nearly as romantic.
For Lew Powell ’60, a first tenor in The Graduates, the gig had a glimmer of bygone romance. As an undergraduate, he sang on Pardee’s steps during Commencement and held candles during the choir’s Christmas Vespers. “It’s a wonder we didn’t burn the chapel down,” he said with a devilish grin.
He and his fellow choir members were pretty much Big Men on Campus, Powell recalled. Raymond had them singing three concerts a week, including an off-campus date on Saturday nights. Raymond, he remembered, was a master of marketing, harmonic blend, and diplomacy. Powell couldn’t remember the conductor ever publicly scolding a singer for a mistake. If a student, say, sang through a rest, Raymond simply stopped the rehearsal, then resumed without a punishing word.
“We were a bunch of wise-butts, always making wisecracks,” says Powell. “Yet Raymond never made an individual feel bad for a goof. That’s the kind of man he was.”
The Pardee revival didn’t include any songs that mention mandatory freshman beanie-wearing. Ed Bandtlow ’60 decided to discuss the tradition anyway. Once upon a time, he said, there was this beefy, brave football player who refused to model his beanie, or “dink.” Then a half-dozen enforcers kidnapped him, took him to a cave, and made him reconsider his fashion boycott. He wore his dink for the rest of the year; for the rest of the year he sang a very different tune.
Friday night’s State of the College address by President Daniel H. Weiss could be compressed into two charged words: Keeping Competitive.
Lafayette’s 16th president began his speech in Colton Chapel by saluting successful teams. The football squad, he pointed out, beat all four of its Ivy League opponents in the same season for the first time. Six students teamed up to win the College Fed Challenge co-sponsored by the Federal Reserve; they defeated last year’s champion, Harvard, which routinely sends graduates to work at the Fed. And the chemistry department published more papers than any other similarly sized rival, making it “pound for pound” the best around.
Weiss then discussed the 2007 strategic plan, which empowers Lafayette to be more comprehensive, cutting edge and, yes, competitive. Before offering his summary, the tieless president removed his jacket and tossed it behind his back. He did it to cool off in a humid room, but the theatrical gesture registered as throwing down a gauntlet.
According to Weiss, the College is committed to hiring 35 new faculty members over five to seven years. Eight teachers joined the staff last year; nine newly endowed professorships are unoccupied. The plan is unusually ambitious in a collegiate world of hiring freezes and cutbacks. “There are no jobs out there,” said Weiss, “except here.”
The strategic plan also summons Lafayette to be more artistically prominent and more prominent in the Easton community. Weiss pointed to the Gateway arts-district project on North Third Street as an ideal town-gown match. Transforming ugly industrial buildings into attractive spaces for films and plays gives the city and the College a magnetic entrance, a lively schedule of events, and a “model partnership” of “trust and good will and shared experience.”
Weiss spoke about other campus improvements. There are new academic programs in film & media studies and health & life sciences. A former fraternity premiered last year as Scott Hall, the new headquarters of the Dean of the College. Weiss pledged to support interdisciplinary programs, global education, and marketing a small school with big visions.
“Lafayette College should not be a secret,” he said. “It should be a well-known opportunity for students around the world.”
The message seems to be gaining momentum. As Weiss pointed out, the Class of 2014 has two dozen too many members. “That’s a great problem to have,” he said. “What it means is that our story is beginning to be told.”
Giving graduates a major competitive edge remains a major challenge. Students “need jobs when they finish,” said Weiss, an art historian. “It’s not enough to say, ‘Major in art history and you’ll become president of Lafayette.’ That’s not what my mother told me when I went to college. (I’m not going to tell you what she told me.)”
The question-and-answer session was unusually frank for a reunion gathering, proving that Lafayette alumni care deeply about the welfare of their alma mater. Asked for a report on tenure, Weiss said that nearly 70 percent of eligible faculty members receive the ultimate vote of confidence in job security. At the same time, he said, teachers are required to defend themselves with too many documents. The tenure process is “too harsh. There’s definitely too much bureaucratic stuff.”
Student drinking was another hot-button topic. Weiss spoke of joining the Amethyst Initiative, a group of college presidents and chancellors who support informed debate on the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age. The presidents are calling upon elected officials to weigh the consequences of current alcohol policies and to invite new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use. American colleges annually lose more than Lafayette’s nearly 2,400 students to alcohol-related deaths. Weiss is committed to reducing binge drinking on campus.
Asked for a review of fraternities, Weiss called his relatively soft attitude toward fraternities “a profound failure.” He is enthusiastic about work of the Working Group on Greek Life and the Campus Community, a group of trustees, faculty, students, alumni, and staff who are currently examining how fraternities and sororities can best contribute to Lafayette’s future in the context of the College’s strategic plan.
A spectator inquired about the number of Californians enrolled in the Class of 2014. An administrator in the audience helped Weiss by shouting out the answer: 18. That’s 11 more than in the Class of 2013, which means the College is more competitive on the West Coast, too.