Four is the number of Lehigh students who have had “close calls” in the last few months.
These students suffered serious injuries and hospitalization due to alcohol abuse, according to an email President John Simon sent to the Lehigh community earlier this month.
Simon’s email detailed precautionary measures Lehigh would be taking to ensure there would be no more alcohol-related “close calls” on campus. The email said Lehigh would be increasing its police presence on and off campus and would be applying its policies to enforce alcohol laws.
On April 10, Student Senate reacted to Simon’s email by sending one of its own to the Lehigh community. The email presented a call to action for students to come together April 26 at 4:10 p.m. in Perella Auditorium to discuss safety concerns and steps students, both as individuals and as a community, can take to foster a safer environment for all.
Dakota DiMattio, ’17, the president of Student Senate, said the immediate response from students after receiving Simon’s email was confusion. She said a lot of students didn’t see a problem with things like the recent “close calls,” which scared student leaders the most.
DiMattio said lives were on the line and these incidents could have turned into student deaths.
“That’s never really happened while we were at Lehigh, so we felt a personal responsibility to respond in some way,” DiMattio said.
She said prior to Senate’s campus-wide email, Senate sent out a preliminary email to all organizations registered on the Lehigh Involvement Connection website asking for their support.
“We identified it as a student problem,” DiMattio said. “We thought it was important to engage everyone in this conversation.”
Matt Rothberg, Student Senate treasurer and incoming president, said the student leaders who responded to Senate’s preliminary email were in support of the email addressing campus safety concerns. Rothberg said he was happy with how many people responded.
“The ones that really care were the ones that were on that email,” he said.
Caroline Jennings, president of Dance Marathon, said her organization supports Student Senate in its efforts to make Lehigh a safer campus, especially after recent incidents. She said Dance Marathon looks forward to campus cooperation and the town hall discussion to implement a safer campus climate.
DiMattio said prior to writing the email, she met with the Panhellenic and Interfraternity councils. Then she wrote the email with Rothberg and another senator. She said both the undergraduate and graduate student senates, as well as the other organizations pledging their support, were incorporated into the final draft of the email sent to the community.
DiMattio said the plan is to continue the conversation after Senate’s email with a town hall. She said one of the things she hopes will come from the town hall is more personal accountability from students.
“I think our ultimate goal is just to have students hold themselves a little more responsible for their actions,” DiMattio said.
She said she hopes to have a candid conversation on how to reach out to those who are “causing problems” because they often aren’t the ones who are coming to these meetings to address the problem.
DiMattio said the town hall will also address how to change campus culture going into the next school year, including a push at the beginning of the year when first-year students arrive.
“When first-years get here, they don’t know about the issues yet,” Rothberg said. “I’m sure they’ll find out, but we want to make it so when they get here, they can be responsible off the bat rather than starting off in a bad place and having to improve from there.”
DiMattio said the focus of the town hall will be how to change campus culture for the better so alcohol-related injuries are prevented in the future.
“Right now we like to say that the trust of the student body is not within the students,” Rothberg said. “The administrators feel that we cannot be responsible for our own safety and well-being, which is totally reasonable given the incidents that have happened, so a big part of this conversation is to figure out a game plan to gain back the trust of the administration.”
DiMattio said because of the lack of transparency on campus, many people weren’t aware of social policy changes occurring throughout the past school year that have been paused after Simon’s email.
“When these hospitalizations occurred, it was like eight steps back for a lot of people who had been working on these projects,” DiMattio said.
She said the town hall will be a way to increase transparency between student leaders and the rest of the school.
“If students want change and want back the rights they had previously, the first step is coming to this town hall, because if they don’t, their voices won’t be heard and the solutions won’t be solved,” Rothberg said. “We want as many people there as possible to talk about what’s going on because that’ll bring about the larger issue, which is the campus climate.”
DiMattio said there will be a panel of actively engaged student leaders at the town hall to facilitate the discussion.
DiMattio is encouraging people to come because she said Senate’s biggest pet peeve is people who complain but don’t show up to discussions and help come up with tangible solutions to the problem.
Following the town hall, DiMattio said Senate will be passing a resolution at its last meeting of the year to articulate what students have committed to and what the next steps forward are. DiMattio said these results will be shared with administrators to reaffirm that students are committed to their safety and education.
“There’s been so much tragedy around underage drinking on college campuses,” DiMattio said. “We don’t want to be the next Penn State or Miami University of Ohio. We do care, and we don’t want our name as a headline.”