The UMOJA incident struck at the heart of our Lehigh community. Members of From Beneath the Rug, a student coalition of marginalized groups, held two rallies the next day in response.
More than 1,000 community members — Lehigh students and Bethlehem residents alike — gathered around the flagpole later that night to protest and show solidarity with the victims of the attack.
“It is every single person’s responsibility to make sure that things like this don’t happen again,” rally speaker Ralph Jean-Noel, ’15, said.
The attack wasn’t the first time UMOJA was targeted in this manner. Similar protests occurred in Nov. 2006 after a skinned deer head was left on the steps of the UMOJA house.
One month before the 2013 UMOJA incident, students reported finding flyers hung around campus depicting Barack Obama next to a black student with the words “Which one’s the n—-?” written underneath.
Around the same time, From Beneath the Rug held a silent march and sit-in in response to protest discrimination on campus. Reporters from The Brown and White attempting to cover the event were accused of being part of the problem, sparking fights of “he said, she said,” culminating in the editorial board’s publication of two separate editorials addressing the protest.
The paper’s response was cluttered with emotional input, taking away from the message From Beneath the Rug was trying to send. Based on articles from the time, our current board couldn’t even confirm whether the flyers and the sit-in are related or not.
With each new batch of freshmen, the impact of the UMOJA incident fades from reality into memory. As Lehigh’s newspaper, it’s our duty to amplify the voices and concerns of marginalized groups to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future. There are more relevant issues to be concerned about than our own.
One year ago, a Lehigh accounting professor was accused of making inappropriate comments to students after the election of Donald Trump. He asked an Indian-American student how late he had stayed up because “his eyes looked like slits,” and a student of Mexican heritage, “Are you staying or are you going back to your country?”
Even today, we see members of the Lehigh community discriminated against in public. One month ago, The Brown and White reported on an incident where racially-charged language was used at an on-campus social event. An investigation into the incident is still ongoing.
We seem to have improved our communication with the Lehigh community, but we can do better. The quality of life for marginalized groups, through every setback, must continue improving.
Let us be upfront: We’re a fairly liberal editorial board. We believe in social justice and equality for all, no matter what lies in someone’s background.
We also don’t have as diverse a board as we’d like. The number of different groups we involve ourselves in can only stretch so far, so we try to invite people with relevant perspectives to our meetings.
We’ve observed how the dialogue has shifted over the past few years. The 2016 election acted as a tipping point, for better or worse, for many students on this campus.
People today are more likely than ever to speak out for what they think is right, fight for what they believe in and strive for a society where equality is celebrated, not marginalized.
Black Lives Matter. The legalization of gay marriage. Feminism as a way of life, not a fringe movement.
Each national victory is a step toward a more unified society. But every local act of discrimination at Lehigh is two steps backward.
Jean-Noel was, and still is, correct. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to keep Lehigh a welcoming environment for our peers.
To us at The Brown and White, that means positive relationships between our reporters and you, our readers. It means open, honest dialogue about the problems we face as a university and the best path to take moving forward.
The Lehigh community has the power to make positive change on campus. We’ll be right there behind you to make sure your voices are heard.