Why do you attend a guest speaker’s lecture?
If your answer to that question is something other than ‘because it was a required fourth hour event’ or ‘because my club sponsored the event,’ come talk to us.
Muhlenberg rarely attracts speakers with enough name recognition to fill a lecture hall. Outside of the annual Center for Ethics programming, events are generally scattered amongst academic departments and interest groups. Too often, low attendance levels define these events.
This is not to say, however, that Muhlenberg students don’t attend any lectures. In particular, this year’s Center for Ethics events, with lectures on the theme of “Troubling Truth,” saw some incredibly well-attended events.
Two of the speakers, Janaya Khan and Sa’ed Atshan, spoke to capacity audiences in the Miller Forum in November and February, respectively. The topics — Black Lives Matter and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the issues of social justice and humanitarianism taking center stage — resonated with the College community, based not only on attendance, but also the conversations that took place both during and after each event. Although, it probably didn’t hurt that many students were also required to attend these lectures by their professors.
So it would seem that when the topics strike a chord with our student body, attendance follows suit — but this is hardly a steadfast rule.
Take last week’s gender violence talk, which was to be held in Seegers and featured a representative from the Crime Victims Council of the Lehigh Valley. Unfortunately, the only audience member in the room was one of our editors on assignment and the event was cancelled. We can only hypothesize why no one showed up — was the event poorly advertised? Were too few students actively involved in the process? Regardless of the reason, our community missed the opportunity to have a conversation on an important and timely issue.
Is it crazy to expect that a liberal arts school would see large attendance numbers at all lectures? After all, the liberal arts hinges on the idea that learning is an ongoing process that occurs outside the classroom. In other words, shouldn’t we want to absorb everything the College has to offer — especially when attending these lectures is essentially risk-free?
And these questions only give rise to additional, related questions of whether Muhlenberg is bringing speakers or topics to campus that students are even interested in. If not, how do we change that?
Maybe the solution is to have more ‘themed’ lecture series like the Center for Ethics, maybe it’s to invest in less speakers and reallocate the funds to more expensive speakers — we don’t know. What we do know is that the current situation, where attendance is largely driven by requiring it as a part of a class grade, negates the purpose of what it means to be a student at a liberal arts college.