Contact Committee traces its roots to a 1965 weekend-long event established by the Interfraternity Council. The IFC wanted to combat the negative image associated with Washington and Lee’s fraternity system and provide a forum for learning outside the classroom. The symposium was called ‘Contact’ and aimed to bring students into direct contact with prominent newsmakers and lesser-known experts in various fields.
The theme of the first event was “The American Experience and its Implications for the Individual Citizen, the American Nation, and the World.” The featured speakers were Thomas Wicker – New York Times Washington bureau chief, Douglas Cater – Special Assistant to the President Johnson, and James Silver – author, professor, and historian.
A 1965 Ring-Tum Phi article described the first weekend as an “intellectual symposium for the student body.”
After social critic Michael Harrington spoke at W&L in 1966, Harrington wrote an article in the New York Herald-Tribune praising the program. Harrington wrote that Contact had given him reason to hope that “the competitiveness and the status-hunger of the American middle class will produce a new generation of college-educated idealists.” He marveled that W&L, a school known for being a bastion of Southern tradition and nobility rather than any real political activism, had received his radical suggestions so well.
These weekend events later evolved into a speaker series that now brings prominent speakers to campus throughout the year.
Contact committee speakers have been as diverse as poet W.H. Auden (1972), filmmaker Spike Lee (1997), and humorist Art Buchwald (1974), who drew one of the largest crowds in Contact history when more than 1100 people packed into Doremus Gymnasium to hear his speech.
Contact has far surpassed its original goal in adding an intellectual side to the fraternities’ image. Student interest has sustained Contact, and Contact’s speaker choices and committee format will continue to reflect on the interests and character of the student body for years to come. Contact is an entirely student-run committee and receives its funding from the Executive Committee of the student body.