Collegian Editor (longest-serving Features Editor)
On a typical day, when a La Salle student opens their email, they will doubtlessly recognize the name of Tara Carr-Lemke from the plethora of emails about upcoming lectures, forums and guest speakers. Perhaps less recognizable in the important work she does to help promote vital conversations on campus about contemporary concerns and social justice issues by helping to organize the weekly Explorer Cafes.
Tara Carr-Lemke, the director of the Explorer Connection and Service Learning, credits La Salle’s mission statement– with its call for students to engage in the “free search for truth” — as a motivator for the weekly Explorer Cafes and other events hosted by her office, the Explorer Connection.
“There is a desire to discuss issues of social justice and contemporary society that touch on concerns of equality, equity, and right relationships,” Carr-Lemke explains.
As Carr-Lemke sits in Starbucks, with the schedule of Explorer Connection events before her on the table, it’s evident that she’s excited for those types of discussions to take place.
This semester, topics range from philosophical discussions of how “the city landscape affects individual agency” hosted by Dr. Whitney Howell of philosophy (Oct. 12) to the “Ramifications of Politically Incorrect Speech” hosted by Dr. Marjorie Allen (Nov. 16) to a highly-anticipated post-election reflection hosted by Drs. Michael Boyle and Miguel Glatzer (Nov. 9).
“There’s no overall theme except the creation of an intellectual space outside of the traditional classroom,” Carr-Lemke says, noting the diversity of the cafe topics and hosts. “The hope of most of our programming is to stimulate an environment of intellectual inquiry so there’s a campus climate of continual engagement with contemporary issues.
The Explorer Cafes are developed from Carr-Lemke’s conversations with faculty members who have specific interests, student suggestions and the work of a committee which works to provide cafes based on campus conversations, such as last year’s forum on YikYak, the controversial app accused of providing people with anonymous avenues of hateful discourse and bullying.
The cafes, which are held weekly on Wednesdays between 3-4 p.m. in the Holroyd atrium, are simply some of the most visible events hosted by the Explorer Connection, a vital part of community-engaged learned at La Salle. They began in 2009 and have become a weekly staple for La Salle’s seeking minds ever since.
According to its website, “The Explorer Connection promotes programs that engage the La Salle community with diverse perspectives, fostering an environment where inquiry, innovation, active participation, and self-reflection are encouraged.”
“We want to provide an informal environment where students can speak up and the community can learn together,” Carr-Lemke notes. “It fosters interdisciplinary and intergenerational conversations between faculty, students and staff. I think students are sometimes surprised when they find out how stimulating these conversations are.”
Students will particularly find a lineup of election-related events hosted by the Explorer Connection outside of the Explorer Cafes to be particularly stimulating. The “La Salle Votes!” lineup is designed to both inform students and also encourage them to vote.
“We wanted to create a space where historical trends and contexts are thought about and discussed in terms of this election,” Carr-Lemke explains. “This is not the first time that we’re talking about issues like immigration or nativism in this country. We’re trying to place today’s election in the larger story of the United States.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 21, Dr. Hanycz will open a student panel titled “Why I am Voting in this Election” in the Holroyd atrium. At this event and several other of the La Salle Votes!” events, information for voter registration and absentee ballots will be provided to La Salle students.
A highlight of the series will be a lecture hosted by Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., director of the Center for African American Studies and a religion professor at Princeton University. Glaude will be discussing topics in his recent book Democracy in Black and the value gap between the value of white lives and the lives of people of color.
Tara Carr-Lemke credits a concern on campus by some students who feel uncomfortable to talk about contemporary political issues in such a tumultuous election year, where candidates are so quick to engage in inflammatory and uncivil rhetoric.
“I believe that students want to have authentic conversations about real issues while recognizing a tension and anxiety about those conversations,” she says. “Learning how to talk with those with whom we do not agree is vitally important to beginning to understand the larger world outside of La Salle. It will help us address personal, local and historical wounds and eventually help us to create social justice”
Carr-Lemke, who worked for years in human rights and advocacy with Latin American immigrants prior to employment at La Salle in 2009, is no newcomer to attempts to create justice in her world.
“Students are grappling with questions that are intellectual and moral and ethical,” she says. “These are questions that don’t always have one right answer. They are dynamic and shifting topics just as people are dynamic and evolving.”
According to Tara Carr-Lemke, valuable conversations about important topics are vital to helping secure justice in a rapidly and dynamically changing world. And if past years have been any indicator, the La Salle community will continue to agree with attendance, questions, and participation of the invaluable Explorer Connection events.