Earlier this summer, we welcomed 1,200 alumni and family members back to campus for Reunion, an event that seemed to have particularly good energy this year. As I walked around campus, stopped and visited at various events, and talked with alumni at my State of the College address, I was struck by the palpable sense of fellowship among these large groups from widely different class years and backgrounds.
One of Lafayette’s greatest strengths has always been the powerful sense of community it engenders. In decades past, strong bonds of friendship were formed through membership in fraternities, participation on athletic teams, and involvement in clubs and activities. Today, those same bonds are developed within many different living options as well as through a staggering array of activities and programs. We recognize that social bonding is an integral part of the education we offer. The Connected Communities program places students in one of five Commons for their first year at Lafayette in order to provide an entry point for that kind of community building.
We believe that students grow through the experience of living and learning with peers from different backgrounds and beliefs, which is why our efforts to increase the diversity of our student body are so important. Students will be better prepared for the world beyond Lafayette if they learn alongside classmates and friends who represent different regions, countries, races, ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, and political persuasions.
Genuine diversity of background and belief, of course, makes building a unified community more challenging. This past year tested the fabric of many colleges and universities, as the political divisions of the nation as a whole were inevitably mirrored in campus communities. At Lafayette, we felt those tensions, but we did not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by them. The vast majority of students, faculty, and staff showed respect for the views of others and steadfast support for open debate. I recall talking with a faculty member about a controversial speaker who came to campus in the spring. Gathering that she was not in agreement with the lecturer’s stance, I expressed some surprise that she had attended the event. She responded that a student of hers was a co-organizer of the talk, and so she wanted to support him.
I am proud of how the Lafayette community rose to the challenges of this year, and I felt the same sense of openness and collegiality among the visitors to campus over Reunion, even when discussions sometimes turned to politics. I believe it is tribute to the distinctive spirit of Lafayette that we have maintained a sense of common purpose and shared pride greater than the issues that may divide us. I wish this were more evident in the nation as a whole, and I hope our students, when they graduate, will bring that spirit of community to the many places where they live, work, and lead.
Best wishes for a pleasant remainder of the summer. I look forward to seeing students back on campus in a few weeks.