With the start of the new term, I have decided to take a break from writing this column. During my time as Staff Historian for this publication, I have had the distinct pleasure of trolling through the blue-bound volumes of Lawrentian issues past and learning about the place from which I shall graduate in June.
One of the reasons I undertook this project was to gain a better understanding of Lawrence’s past and my personal experience here beyond the musings of jaundice-eyed seniors from 2009.
The Lawrence experience of my peers in the class of 2013 accounts for just four years of the University’s one hundred and sixty-six. Although our applications to Lawrence were predicated on the highly billed individualized experience, it is important to put our tenure in the context of those who came before.
First, let me offer the observation that there are many similarities between our Lawrence and that of previous decades.
For example, would-be politicos have continually beaten the flaccid drum of “student apathy” since the beginning of the Lawrence University Community Council. Alongside, The Lawrentian’s editorial board has raked the muck of LUCC and endured the counter-harrumphing of its representatives in its Op-Ed section.
Lawrentians have groused about negative encounters with “townies” going back to before the Civil War, when white Appletonians forced a black Lawrentian to drop out. The town/gown stereotypes have been portrayed pretty consistently in the paper—Lawrentians are privileged, out-of-touch and naive meddlers. Appletonians come across as backward and racist rustics.
There are also many differences. Women have gone from experiencing an extremely restrictive residential and academic environment to positions of prominence in the student body, faculty, staff and administration.
Lawrence, though relatively progressive on racial issues throughout its history, has shifted from a lily-white and predominately midwestern student body to an increasingly diverse mixture from the four corners of the globe—though these students often experience Appleton and Lawrence in a dramatically different way than their Wisconsinite counterparts.
However, as a Lawrence historian schooled to shy away from sweeping positivist declarations –such as those above—I would argue that to truly understand and capture the history of our university, one necessarily views its past through the lens of our individual experiences here.
The hilarious portrait of Greg Griffin from his 1978 LUCC run gains additional meaning for me due to my having met him at Griff’s Grill over the summers, just as our photos will for future Lawrentians.
By delving into the archives, one can understand that the Warch Campus Center does not just represent easily-accessible food, mail and meeting spaces. It also marks the tenure of a president who took Lawrence in a state of crisis and left it as a renowned liberal arts college.
The gold names, on wooden plaques in Memorial Hall, of Lawrentians lost to war encourage you to ask yourself what you are going to do with your education.
Although there is more history at Lawrence than can be captured in a column or a few hours in the archives, I highly encourage current students to delve into our university’s past. I certainly have learned a lot and heartily thank Erin Dix for her assistance.
If I have learned anything from writing this column, it is that one cannot truly say “This Is Lawrence” without understanding what it was.