Dahlia Hylton is a firm believer in the philosophy of paying it forward.
Throughout her life, people encouraged her to take advantage of every opportunity that came her way and she believes these people have guided her professional endeavors.
Today, Hylton serves as the new director of Lehigh’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, where she is a part of an initiative on campus that works to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for students, faculty and staff.
“I would really love to help Lehigh understand the importance of eradicating any type of bias depending on whatever type of social identity that you may hold,” she said.
Breaking down bias has become an increasingly prevalent concept with recent events in the United States, like responses to the white supremacy march in Charlottesville and the potential repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. These incidents have raised questions at universities across the country about their role in supporting marginalized members of their communities.
As a preliminary step in combating bias, Lehigh established the Office for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in February 2017 and appointed Donald Outing as director.
“It’s about empowerment and empowerment from the standpoint of creating opportunities to learn, to broaden our awareness of others, to help us unlearn intolerant behaviors so it’s not the work of this office, it’s the work of this university,” Outing said. “And that’s really what I want people to understand. Our office is about doing the work of the institution.”
Advocacy offices on campus like the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Pride Center, the Center for Gender Equity and the Chaplain’s Office now fall under Outing and his office. Before, these groups were under the Student Affairs office and worked primarily with students.
In their new role, the offices will continue to work with students, but the directors of the programs will also have more authority at an institutional level and will be working with faculty, staff and alumni to develop a stronger and more diverse campus community.
Hylton is a key component in achieving these goals and integrating them into the work of the institution.
Before her work at Lehigh, Hylton served as the director of the Intercultural Center and Multicultural Student Programs at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has a doctorate in higher education administration from Auburn University.
“She comes with incredible values, assets, skills, intellect, research and scholarship that will be incredibly valuable to OMA and the overall institutional office as well as the entire Lehigh University and beyond,” said Henry Odi, the deputy vice president for equity and community.
Hylton said the institutional changes being made at Lehigh are one of the reasons she pursued the director position within OMA. She saw an opportunity to expand her professional portfolio but also appreciated the current trajectory of the university and its advocacy offices.
“I feel like the influence that I will get to have in advancing Lehigh’s diversity and inclusion efforts has broadened,” Hylton said.
Her office will be working with the other advocacy offices as well as Odi and Outing to ensure the Lehigh community understands there is a place for everyone regardless of their race, sexual orientation or gender.
This year, Hylton has defined the Office of Multicultural Affairs’ motto as, “multicultural means YOU too.”
“It’s amazing when I run into students, faculty or staff who feel that they can’t enter the space because they don’t look like me, and this campaign that I am on this particular year is to let everyone know that you are very much a part of the fabric of Lehigh University,” she said. “Just because you may not have as much melanin in your skin as I do doesn’t mean that you cannot contribute fully to the space.”
Hylton plans to create unity on campus through programming, which she sees as her greatest strength. She believes increased programming will not only teach people about new identities but also give them a space to share their own identities. These programs will encourage conversation among people with different ideologies.
“By engaging in these conversations as a community we can really grow as a family in hopes that we can eradicate all types of bias,” Hylton said.
Scott Grant is the graduate assistant for Office of Multicultural Affairs and said he has seen a lot of growth and change occur at Lehigh during his six years on campus.
“I think that over the past year or two the administration has taken steps that indicate that there is more behind those words (diversity and inclusion) and they’re starting to put things in place system wise that give those words weight for me,” Grant said.
In the coming years, the school and the Office for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity plan to continue to grow Lehigh into a university that will be seen as the best model for inclusive excellence across all colleges and universities, and Hylton will be a part of that growth.
She plans to empower the Lehigh community to be proactive in creating a campus without bias.
Hylton will continue to “pay it forward” by helping the university reach its goal of establishing a more welcoming and inclusive community for everyone.