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Eugene Lang leaves behind a legacy of philanthropy

in Around Campus/News by

 

Chair emeritus of the college’s Board of Managers Eugene M. “Gene” Lang ’38 H’81 died early on April 8th, according to an email sent to the student body the same day by President Valerie Smith.  As the namesake of the Lang Performing Arts Center, Lang Concert Hall, and the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility and the philanthropist behind numerous other college-based projects, Lang’s passing marks a moment of significant transition in the college’s history.

“Gene was a giant in the world of education, a champion of the liberal arts, and an acknowledged force in promoting civic and social responsibility among students, faculty members, and educational institutions,” Smith noted in the email.

Lang was born in New York, New York and received a B.A. in economics from Swarthmore. After his experience at the college, he went on to receive an M.S. from Columbia University, and worked in a number of positions in the fields of aeronautics and engineering, eventually serving as a consultant with the Departments of State and Commerce under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.

Lang was known for his philanthropy far beyond the bounds of Swarthmore, supporting programs at other institutions including Eugene Lang College at the New School and the Eugene M. Lang Center for Entrepreneurship at Columbia University.

Swarthmore students know Eugene Lang best because of the numerous levels of support he has provided the college. According to Smith’s email, Lang established, matched, or made possible ten community spaces on campus, including the Eugene and Theresa Lang Performing Arts Center, the Lang Music Building, the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility, and the fragrance garden named for his wife Theresa Lang, who predeceased him in 2008. He also helped to sustain the College’s academic record by endowing dozens of faculty positions and fellowships and student scholarships, most notably the Lang Opportunity Scholarship. According to the Lang Center’s website, the scholarship offers a diverse range of benefits including a $10,000 grant, a designated adviser, and networking opportunities to support the development of a project that creates a needed social resource in the U.S. or abroad.

“Through the Lang Opportunity Scholarship, Mr. Lang provided the vision, infrastructure, and resources that catalyzed my life of service. The work I have done for my Lang project has been truly empowering because it has required me to push myself to do things I did not know I was capable of,” said Raven Bennett ’17.

According to the Lang Center website, the Youth Activist Institute, Bennett’s Lang Project, aims to prevent rape by delivering consent education to high school-aged youth.

“[My Lang project] is only the beginning of my service as Mr. Lang has inspired me to imbue service and attention to justice in all that I do,” Bennett continued.

Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs Liz Derickson ’01 was also a Lang Scholar during her time as a student at the college. She stressed that she was deeply grateful for the Lang family’s contributions to Swarthmore, particularly the LOS program.

“Being a Lang Scholar was a pivotal part of my Swarthmore education, and I continue to find inspiration in learning about the remarkable work of other Lang Scholars. The experience of serving as a Lang Scholar still stands out for me as a motivating example of how rewarding it can be to work tirelessly in kinship with others toward a greater good,” Derickson said.

Derickson’s Lang Project involved continuing and expanding the college’s Learning for Life program in Spring 2000 with fellow student Susie Ansell ’02. According to its website, Learning for Life is a voluntary mutual learning program comprised of student-staff-faculty partnerships that design their own learning projects often resulting in lasting friendships. Learning for Life is a program that still exists at the college today that is open for all students and staff to join.

Director of the Lang Center and Professor of Political Science Ben Berger felt incredibly grateful to be carrying on Gene’s work alongside students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners at the Lang Center.

“Swarthmore has always attracted both intense intellectual inquiry and pursuit of social justice. The Lang Center united them under one roof … [and] makes Swarthmore my ideal intellectual and ethical home,” Berger said.

Berger also referenced Lang’s 1998 essay “Distinctively American: the Liberal Arts College” as a text that influenced Lang Center’s distinct focus on “Engaged Scholarship,” a practice that is focused on connecting the curriculum, campus, and community in fruitful collaboration, according to Berger.

Lang’s passing was also covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Lang is survived by Jane Lang ’67 and Stephen Lang ’73 H’10, as well as Jane’s daughter, Jessica Lang ’92, and Stephen’s son, Noah Lang ’10. Lang is also survived by his son, David, and six other grandchildren, including Lucy Lang ’03 and Joanna Lang ’11, Ben, Dan, Grace, and Jacob, and eight great-grandchildren.

New class of Lang scholars named

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A new class of Lang Opportunity Scholars has been named for 2014. The Eugene M. Lang Opportunity Scholarship Program selects six sophomores each year to “receive funding to conceive, design and carry out an Opportunity Project that creates a needed social resource or affects a significant social change or improved condition of a community in the United States or abroad.”  The Lang Scholars for the class of 2016 are Efua Asibon, Alexander Brooks, Erin Ching, A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, Michaela Shuchman and Ciara Williams.

“Part of what’s exciting is that every year, the mix of interests, projects, and locations is different,” said Executive Director of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility Joy Charlton. “Also of note is year is that all six scholars use education as a strategy for change. Their foci, however, range broadly, from environmental sustainability to consequences of homicide, to social mobility and gender inequality.”

Brooks and Murray-Thomas both tapped into their own childhood experiences to create projects that will benefit children who find themselves in situations similar  to ones they were once. Brooks’s project, the Student Equity Action Network (SEAN), grew out of his experience combating discrimination and racism while growing up in Palo Alto. What began as a tutoring and studying network formalized into a general support group.

“We started meeting with our friends and with a parent network for students of color to provide support systems for students and to prove to ourselves and our peers that we were not merely sources of inconvenient statistics but individual agents in our own educations and lives,” Brooks said.

Brooks plans to use his Lang Scholarship to strengthen and expand the work that SEAN already does, as well as introduce new programs and resources like access to chromebooks for families who cannot afford them. Additionally, he hopes to provide access for professional tutors and courses for the SAT, PSAT, ACT, which most students in Palo Alto have. He also plans to help provide significant scholarships to help pay for the steadily increasing price of attending college. The aim of SEAN is to help students overcome “every single one of the many obstacles that students face along the daunting path to college that especially first generation, poor, and minority students may not have the support to overcome.”

Murray-Thomas’ proposed project, SHE Wins Institute, is a summer leadership program for 13 to 16-year-old girls who have lost a parent or sibling to homicide. Combining therapeutic and social justice models, SHE Wins aims to help students develop a lifelong civic-minded framework and commitment to civic action. The program will serve a cohort of 12 girls from Newark, New Jersey for five weeks. Students will be pushed to contemplate solutions to real-world issues through a curriculum anchored in social justice. The program will culminate with a group

“proposal” that will be presented before local politicians and other community stakeholders that addresses one of their community’s most pressing issues.

“The opportunity to help empower girls from my community  way will be a privilege of a lifetime,” Murray-Thomas said, who lost her father to urban homicide at a young age and wants  the need to help young women in similar situations. While she’s worried about successfully implementing the therapeutic component of the program, given the varying levels of grief students will be coping with, she’s excited to be learning with and from the students and see their growth throughout the program.

Ching plans to use her passion for bicycles, mechanical skills and experience with community-based bicycle programs to implement a bicycle empowerment program. Her proposed project is a modification of a program she went through in high school, and will aim to confront gender inequality in a northern Indian community. She will be working with EduCARE India, an independent NGO and Community Benefit Organization based in northern India, to establish a bicycle mechanics program for young women, train local community members to coordinate and sustain the program, start a bike share program to serve the community and ensure the program’s financial sustainability.

“I think that the most challenging aspect of this program will be deciding on what success looks like. While my program aims to empower young women, empowerment is not an easy thing to measure,” Ching said. “Many leading figures in the gender politics of development talk about the ‘realization of rights’ as a qualitative measure of women’s empowerment, but what are rights and how do we define them?”

Asibon plans to create SustainAbility, a periodic teacher training program which will also serve as a platform for special educators in Ghana to brainstorm ideas and to involve in policy making.

“People with special needs in Ghana struggle to survive because they have been relegated to the bottom of society. In Ghana, there is almost no provision made for people with special needs. It is almost as if they are not a part of the country’s population,” Asibon said about her motivation behind this project. “It is heart-wrenching to see people with special needs begging on the street of Accra. It is not okay. They have unique strengths but that should not rob them from having equal rights and access.” She has big plans for SustainAbility, and hopes to create a world-class technologically advanced special school in Ghana that one day will serve not only the country, but other countries as well, which ties in well with her career plans of becoming a human rights activist.

Shuchman is drawing upon her love for theater in the creation of her project – The Stage of Life. This project aims to give middle school students in Philadelphia the tools gained through the study of acting to use in their everyday activities, such as community building, conflict resolution and the ability to tell stories.

“I feel like a lot of us have a story we want to tell, but are too afraid to share it or don’t know how. Theater is a way to do this. The end goal of every year of the project will be that the students of the class put up a show that we have created together through the sharing of our stories in class. Though this will be a dramatized version and a combination of all our stories, it is the story of us as a community that the students now have the ability to share with the members of their own communities,” she said. The main challenge that Shuchman is anticipating is the long term sustainability of her project.

“Finding ways to have a change be sustained beyond one’s immediate involvement confounds even the most seasoned social change agent,” Lang Scholar Program Adviser Jennifer Magee said, echoing Shuchman’s concerns.

The Chester Green’s Environmental Education Program, which aims to collapse the distinction between the natural, home and school environments, is Williams’ proposed project. Williams is a Chester native who worked on environmental justice projects in Chester throughout her high school career. According to the college website, her project will work towards empowering Chester residents through concrete experiences. The aim of the program is for the Chester residents to achieve environmental literacy, and to ultimately have 35 Environmental Justice Ambassadors who are well-versed in the principles of environmental justice and are responsible for teaching others.

All Swarthmore sophomores are eligible for the Lang Scholarship, with applications due each fall. The Lang Scholars for the class of 2016 offered freshman interested in the scholarship different pieces of advice, ranging from planning as early as freshmen year, to having a specific focus that also exposes them to a wide range of experiences, to letting their love and passion be the engine behind their proposed project.

The Lang Scholars from the senior class present their projects to the campus community on Friday, March 28th, 12:30 – 2:00 p.m., in Science Center 101.

 

Swarthmore Receives Largest Gift In History of The College

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In what amounts to the largest gift ever received by the college, philanthropist and businessman Eugene Lang ’38 has pledged to donate $50 million to help Swarthmore complete its latest fundraising campaign. The announcement of Lang’s donation comes on the heels of the release of a finance report that shows definite but slow economic growth for the college, and will largely go to the completion of the college’s strategic plan.

But while Lang’s donation has just become public, it has been in the works for quite some time. “We started talking about it last summer,” said Rebecca Chopp, President of the college. “He was interested in the facilities need and the direction of the strategic plan.”

Over the next several months, specifics were considered, which, Chopp said, is typical of large donations. “These things are always a process of discussion. First you discuss the ideas, and then only much later do you get around to the details of the money,” she said. According to Chopp, it was only several weeks ago that particulars, like the exact amount to be given, were worked out.

The donation is the latest in a long series of gifts from Lang, who is the college’s most prolific benefactor. Indeed, one can see the effects of Lang’s contributions all over campus, from the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility to the Lang Performance Arts Center. “His philanthropy touches almost every aspect of the college,” said Chopp.

But for Lang, it is not about the numbers. Indeed, Chopp emphasized that Lang’s donations came out of an affinity for the college and students. “He’s given very frequently, and he refuses to talk about the total of his gifts, because for him it’s not about the money, it’s about the college,” she said, adding that of the many scholarships he had provided, most were in another person’s name.

Regardless, the donation will be immensely helpful to the school’s efforts at completing its recently launched capital campaign. “It does mean we can move much faster with the implementation of our strategic plan,” Chopp said.

While the strategic plan, which was approved by the Board of Managers in December of 2011, calls for the implementation of a wide variety of initiatives, it places a special emphasis on improving the resources of the engineering, biology, and psychology departments, which are in need of improvement. Thus, at least part of Lang’s donation will go to related causes, like bettering their facilities.

However, the final allocation and distribution of Lang’s gift is still an open question, and it will take time as well as discussion with faculty and others before the administration determines specifics. “We’ll just have to do the Swarthmore thing we always do,” said Chopp. “We’re very thoughtful people, and we’ll look at the options.”

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