Dear Parents,

Each fall at Convocation I remind new students and their parents that a Lafayette education is not simply a matter of solitary mastery of information or skills. It involves dialogue, questioning, testing and experimentation that present students with new ways of looking at ideas they may have thought were familiar.

This semester happens to be especially rich in these kinds of opportunities.

Kwame Anthony Appiah recently delivered our Jones Visiting Lecture, a series created to provide students with the opportunity to hear from and interact with individuals of exemplary accomplishment in the academic world or in public life. Previous Jones Visiting Lecturers have included Susan Sontag, Francis Fukuyama, Jane Goodall, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

You may know Anthony Appiah as “The Ethicist” in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, or from one or more of his many books, such as The Ethics of Identity, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, or In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. A professor of philosophy and law at New York University, Dr. Appiah spoke about ways in which people’s thinking about religion, nation, race and culture often reflects misunderstandings about identity.

Last fall, entering first year students and many others in the campus community read the book Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Two weeks ago the author, Laila Lalami, visited classes and presented “The Border and Its Meaning,” a talk both personal and political about how migration is experienced from both sides of a border.

Significant events still to come this spring include our 2018 Pastor Lecture in International Affairs, which will be delivered by Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. Her book about India’s rise on the world stage, Our Time Has Come: How India is Making Its Place in the World, was published in January by Oxford University Press.

The environment will take center stage in early April when Stephen W. Pacala, the Frederick D. Petrie Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University, will present “Climate Change Paradox in the USA: Hope in Dark and Warming Times.” Dr. Pacala co-directs the Carbon Mitigation Initiative, an effort to develop solutions to global warming, and is currently chairing a National Academy of Sciences committee on Carbon Dioxide Removal and Sequestration.

You may have read that we recently announced a new program, the Lafayette Symposium, that is intended to present contrasting views on controversial topics. We began the series this spring with two talks dealing with free speech on college campuses. On April 6, former Mexican President Vincente Fox and Nigel Farage, the former leader of the United Kingdom’s Independence Party and the leading architect of Brexit, will be on campus to debate “Globalism vs. Nationalism.” To provide context for the debate from within our own academic program, we are holding a panel discussion earlier that day featuring faculty with expertise in international relations, trade policy, and political discourse.

Some members of the campus community have expressed concerns about this event, specifically the inclusion of Nigel Farage. We have responded that in choosing to host this debate, we hope to convey that the College is not endorsing the views of individual speakers, but on the contrary, exposing them to opposition and challenge. We recognize that it is difficult to confront views that may run counter to our own community values of diversity and inclusivity. Nevertheless, we believe that when such views have currency and impact in our world is precisely when they need to be challenged.

My own hope is that this experience will offer students valuable experience in evaluating and critiquing political positions, and in articulating their own dissent – including, for some, dissent from the administration’s decision to host this event. I have been impressed by the thoughtfulness of those who have spoken out against the debate. This kind of respectful engagement with difficult issues is precisely what we hope for in bringing a range of speakers to campus.

As we head into the home stretch of the semester, I wish your family a happy spring –finally!–and your student a successful conclusion to the year.