The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Longtime professors Suzanne Westfall, Deborah Byrd to retire

Professors Suzanne Westfall (left) and Deborah Byrd (right) each built up integral programs of the college. (Photos courtesy of Lafayette College)

After a combined eight decades of service to the college, theater professor Suzanne Westfall and English professor Deborah Byrd will both be retiring in 2023.

“It’s been quite a ride,” Westfall said. “When I first came here, there were no [theater] courses. There was a public speaking course taught by a guy named Mike Coombs. And that was it. They hired me to fill in for him when he went on sabbatical. And then the rest is history, as they say.”

It was under Westfall’s guidance and expertise that the college developed its theater department.

Speaking to the value of a theater-specific department, rather than just cross-registration with other departments that might study works produced for the stage, Westfall said theater students and faculty recognize that they’re engaged in a study where “everything is hooked to everything else.”

Theater, Westfall explained, is a unique academic area where one must look towards all “the visual, oral and textual” elements.

Like Westfall, Byrd is also to credit for spearheading a program that, when she arrived at the college, did not yet exist.

“We really pushed for years for a Center for Community Engagement and I was the first director of it,” Byrd said. “Now it’s merged fully with the Landis Center. But the idea was to bring the volunteer and extracurricular, and co-curricular and curricular all together under one umbrella.”

As a result, the college’s positive interactions with and contributions to the Easton community “really just exploded,” Byrd said. “[It’s been] a wonderful collaborative experience.”

Looking back, Byrd said that Lafayette has been the “perfect” institution to dedicate her professional career to.

“Lafayette is one of those places that truly valued teaching as well as scholarship and that really tried to create a sense of community and urge people to care not just about their own professional careers, but about the well-being of the department and the college,” Byrd said.

With that said, since the 1980s, Westfall has been frustrated by and has tried to advocate against the reality that “the arts in general at Lafayette College are marginalized.”

Westfall added that she’d “give [the college] about a D in terms of supporting the arts in general,” and said that one can point their finger at “the entire American culture” as evidence of this missing focus on the arts.

“People will spend … $500 for a seat to a big athletic game and not $50 or $10 to see theater,” she said.

Westfall hopes that, in the future, more “students learn to take advantage of the incredible [art] resources around them that presently are marginalized.”

Westfall and Byrd said that the most fulfilling part of their careers has been seeing their students succeed.

“The skills that my kids go away with are marketable in any field … Nothing you learned in theater is wasted in any other field. And, in fact, it’s enhanced … I’ve been very gratified to see my students figure that out,” Westfall said.

Byrd said that she has “students that are like [her] sons and daughters that are out there.”

“I still stay in touch with them years — decades even — later.”

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