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When a community disappears, it may still live on for years in the collective memory of the people who called it home.

This spring and summer, Rachel Scarpato ’08 (Yardley, Pa.), a double major in American studies and anthropology & sociology, is trying to determine if that is the case with Easton neighborhoods that were lost during the city’s massive urban renewal program of the 1960s.

Scarpato is collaborating with Andrea Smith, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

Scarpato’s work is part of the larger Community of Scholars project, “Places of Memory and Ethnic Identities in the Easton Area.” The project also included anthropology and sociology graduate Marvin Snipes ’07, who had been working with Smith since last summer on urban renewal on the city’s South Side.

Smith and the students have been examining the effects of Easton’s development efforts in the 1960s on the city’s Lebanese population.

“It is just so interesting to look at how the planning and development actions of a city can have such personal, lasting effects on its residents,” says Scarpato. “I am also fascinated by the mentality of the city in the 1960s – there was a great emphasis on modernity and it seems that the city and its officials had utterly utopian visions of a renewed Easton.”

Scarpato spent the spring semester looking at documents in City Hall archives and conducting interviews with city planning officials and Lebanese city residents. Over the summer, she and Smith will continue interviewing former residents of the demolished neighborhood to find out how they fared afterwards, and how their former neighborhoods may or may not live on in their collective memories.

Described as a “natural researcher” by Smith, Scarpato enjoys delving into Easton’s past.

“I have had the great pleasure of deciding where I want to go and who I want to talk to,” says Scarpato. “I have had a great deal of independence with this project, which has allowed me to explore all different facets of Easton’s urban renewal program.”

“Rachel took the lead in tracking down sources of information [on this project] in city records, and found a wealth of material through her interviews with city officials. This allowed us to develop a baseline history of the renewal project upon which to build our next phase, which will involve ethnographic research and specifically interviews with former neighborhood residents,” says Smith.

Scarpato hopes to incorporate what she has studied and learned about the City of Easton, urban renewal, and Lebanese population into her thesis work next year.

Scarpato praises the EXCEL Scholars program for giving her a chance to work closely with a professor.

“I don’t think I would have had this opportunity at a larger school. Due to the small class sizes and because the professors genuinely care about the academic successes of their students, students are able to get to know their professors and become involved in research projects,” Scarpato says.

Scarpato is a member of College Democrats and Delta Delta Delta sorority. She was recently invited to join Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most respected honors organization.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Twenty-one students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News