Beginning in 1971, the Whitworth campus came to a kind of communal halt twice a week at 11:15 a.m. Students, faculty and staff converged on Cowles Auditorium to attend Forum, where they heard a variety of voices, from on and off campus, expressing diverse perspectives, exploring ideas, and discussing the state of society. The lecture series was designed in response to students’ criticism of chapel, which until 1970 was mandatory and had assigned seating. Forum gave students one-quarter credit based on at least 50 percent attendance.
Forum presentations featured a wide range of topics and experiences. Students who had participated in the Central America Study Program or a transcontinental bicycle trip recounted their adventures. A scientist examined advances in genetic research and an expert discussed world hunger. A poet read from her work; dancers expressed interpretations of light and dark. Christian thinkers like Tony Campolo were regular guests. Occasionally, the college booked a well-known guest, such as film and television star Ed Asner, who spoke about human rights on behalf of Amnesty International in 1988.
Alumni often presented in Forum, sharing about their post-college paths. For many students, annual awareness weeks represented Forum at its best, when a Monday speaker would present one side of a major hot-button issue (the pro-choice position in abortion rights, for example) and a Friday speaker would discuss the alternate view (in this case, the pro-life position).
Though Forum’s reputation among students waxed and waned through the years, the series endured for nearly three decades. Alums often speak of their memories of a moving speech or an artistic performance they witnessed in Forum that made a lifelong impression upon them.