News

June 16, 2011

Class of 2015 Will Explore Civil Rights Through Summer Reading and Orientation

Members of the Class of 2014 get their class picture taken at last year's orientation.

At this summer’s orientation, the class of 2015 will explore the struggles faced by people around the world through the theme “Righting Civil Wrongs.”

Throughout the 2010-11 school year, the College organized a number of curricular and co-curricular activities around two important anniversaries: the celebration of 40 years of co-education at Lafayette and the rededication of the Kirby Hall of Civil Rights.  Also during the year, faculty, students, staff, and administrators have been actively engaged in Lafayette’s Civility Project, a campus-wide commitment to celebrate the passion, drive, and unity of the College community.

The theme of “Righting Civil Wrongs” will continue through the Orientation program, held Aug. 25-28, and on into the fall semester.

The reading selected for this year’s orientation is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacksby Rebecca Skloot.  This book tells the story of medicine, family, and how life is sustained in laboratories and memory.

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot

Lacks was a poor African-American migrant working the tobacco farms in Virginia and a mother of five.  She died in 1951 at the age of 30 from an aggressive form of cancer.  A sample of her cancerous tissue, which was taken without her knowledge or consent, turned out to be “one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive – even thrive – in a lab.”  Known as HeLa cells, they gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio.

Meanwhile, Lacks’ family continued to live in poverty and the discovery decades later of the use of Lacks’ cells left her family full of pride, anger, and suspicion.  Skloot gathered together the stories of Lacks’ family and those involved with the cells to tell the true story of what happened to Lacks.

Hannah Stewart-Gambino, dean of the College, consulted faculty, staff, and students in the selection of the book.

“We try to identify an orientation theme that can provide bridges to important events and discussions already underway on campus in order to welcome our newest community members into our vibrant intellectual life,” she says.  “The book has very strong currents of race, class, gender, and access to education, as well as to basic health care.”

During orientation, staff and faculty members will lead small group discussions on the book.  The theme of the book will also be addressed in speakers’ remarks at Convocation and during the weekend by orientation leaders, who will have read the book and discussed it in their training sessions.

The goal of the orientation program is to familiarize students with Lafayette’s shared community and academic values and expectations, encourage them to understand the importance of operating in a pluralistic and inclusive community, introduce them to resources that can assist them in making a successful transition to college life, and instill in them an appreciation for the value of a liberal arts and academically rigorous education.

“At orientation, we welcome students into what we value – thirst for knowledge, commitment to scholarly rigor, and methodological clarity, and the intellectual fortitude to participate thoughtfully in a community of scholars,” says Stewart-Gambino.

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