By Ryan Zhang ‘18
In the third annual Our Beloved Community Symposium on November 15, Lafayette gathered 120 prospective students from around the country to discuss wide-ranging social justice issues.
The event, coordinated by the office of admissions and the department of intercultural development, was aimed to engage underrepresented populations in the college admissions process while facilitating discussions with other students and Lafayette faculty.
“What we were looking for is just students who are interested in talking about identity, social justice, equality and citizenship and we are inviting them to campus to participate in this symposium,” said Senior Assistant Director of Admission and Coordinator of Diversity Recruitment Taaha Mohamedali ’11, the primary organizer of the event.
Assistant Director of Admissions Chris LaTempa ’10, Dean of Admissions Matt Hyde, and Dean of Intercultural Development John McKnight came together with the idea a few years ago to change the way the school approaches recruiting minority populations, according to Mohamedali.
The symposium, named after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s popularized notion of a community that embraces differences, gave prospective students from different backgrounds, socio-economic status, and places to discuss their interests while exploring Lafayette.
What is now OBC used to be a Multi-Cultural Visit Day, in which students of color came from all over the country to visit Lafayette and explore opportunities offered by the college. Mohamedali, however, felt that the name of this event made it seem like the event was limited to students of color.
“We shifted that because…if you are a black student, it doesn’t mean you want to talk about the association of black collegians,” Mohamedali said.
Prospective students had the chance to attend 3 of 16 possible presentations held by professors, current students, alumni, and staff on topics ranging from gender and race to math and biology.
Philosophy Professor George Panichas hosted a session for students on the ethics of abortion and used the opportunity to give them an impression of academics at Lafayette.
“My plan…was to give prospective students an idea of what of liberal arts education looks like, how we instigate critical reasoning by insisting that students focus on arguments and evidence when subjecting their biases and commitments to critical scrutiny,” said Panichas, who is also the director of the Ethics Project at Lafayette.
Some students who participated in the first Our Beloved Community event three years ago have enrolled at Lafayette and have become involved in planning future Our Beloved Community events.
“The first time I visited Lafayette was through the first annual Our Beloved Community Symposium,” Erika Hernandez ’17 wrote in an email. “As a perspective student I was always interested in social justice and having these discussions.”
Hernandez interned with the program to coordinate presentations, hosting students and planning events for the most recent conference. Compared to the inaugural year of the symposium, attendance has increased our fold, according to Hernandez.
The office of admissions finds that this event attracts applicants. According to Mohamedali, almost every prospective student who attended last year’s symposium also applied to Lafayette.