Our Politics Editor, Henry, sat down with Daniel Rey and Ben Thrasher, who founded the Lafayette Club in 2016.
Named after Marquis de Lafayette, the club invites speakers from a broad range of areas to talk to students on how the world works and their perspective on current affairs. Naming the club after the revolutionary fighter who sailed from France to America aged just nineteen to fight for liberty and democracy, Rey and Thrasher wanted to promote these values to a university demographic. Past speakers have included Former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Tawakkol Karman, and Campaign Manager for Hillary Clinton’s most recent Presidential campaign, Robby Mook.
How and why did the Lafayette Club get started?
BT: Dan and I started the club because we were getting quite frustrated that our friends studying in London and Oxbridge had access to such a great range of events and in St Andrews we didn’t have events like that. So we wanted to bring these speakers to St Andrews to try and broaden the perspectives of the community and also show that St Andrews is a very reputable university and people do care about us.
DR: There was a gap in the market. For example, other societies that do similar topics might organize a conference and invite academics from Edinburgh or people who they think are reasonable, and we wanted to see what the boundaries were, and whilst that’s been quite difficult we’ve proven that we can get some great speakers to come here.
How do you go about choosing who you are going to invite? And how then do you go about inviting them?
BT: Okay, so this is the simplest part of the whole process. We’ll be reading the newspaper, watching the news, reading a book, whatever, and we’ll see someone who we think is interesting and we will simply send them an email. We’re very proud that we haven’t used any contacts or personal connections. We try and find their email online and we send them an invitation. And we just wait. And we pester them until they reply to us.
Do you have a success ratio of positive responses?
DR: The percentage of success must be about a couple of per cent.
BT: Max one to one point five per cent. But the percentage of replies is increasing because we’ve got a good series and we’re a little more reputable. But it’s still asking a lot of people to take time out of their schedule to fly up to Scotland. Because the people we try to bring up are people currently leading their field, so they obviously have very hectic schedules.
You’ve sort of preempted my next question. Is there anyone you wouldn’t invite to speak? And would you comment on the current issue of free speech and who can and cannot speak on university campuses?
BT: It’s just us two inviting people to speak. And one of the things we’ve got to be careful about is not inviting people who we don’t like. I feel it’s our duty now we’ve got a good following here that we open our platform up to everybody, and those who are scared of being offended, this is not the right thing for them to be doing. If we didn’t want to get anyone up here who we didn’t agree with, who we didn’t offend, then I don’t think we’d be doing our job properly. Let’s take Brexit for an example;
We’re both Remainers, but we still think that it’s our duty to invite people who are key-Brexit campaigners because they are still leading forces in our society and they shape our society.
But you guys don’t actually ask the speakers any questions, you leave it up to the audience during the Q&A. There’s no guarantee that they are going to be interrogated.
DR: Yeah, that’s true. That’s problematic I suppose about the format. We’re open to changing the format somewhat. But what we like about the format is that it’s someone giving a pitch, then it’s open for students can then ask questions based on that. What distinguishes us from the Oxbridge Unions, for example, is that they have a membership fee, so they have a certain group of people who go to their events, but for us you can just go to the events that interest you, and you get quite different demographics. So when we get a speaker they seemed to get grilled on the topic.
What’s the future of the club now you guys are graduating?
DR: We really want it to continue in St Andrews and create a culture that lives on. And we’re happy to have anyone who’s interested and wants to help out to meet us. We’re not exclusive in anyway. Hopefully this will be the first society that exists in both St Andrews and William and Mary.
Finally, what can we look forward to this semester?
BT: One of the events I’m most excited for in this series is for Maria Sebregondi in March and she created the Moleskine notebook. She founded the company which is now worth $150- 200 million now, and so she’s talking about the power of creativity.
DR: Basically how you can get people to pay £20 for a notebook that costs 50p in Tesco.
You can buy tickets for upcoming Lafayette Club talks on their website.