Students and Faculty gather around the flagpole to protest hate crimes on Monday, April 9, 2018. Several students and faculty spoke about how they felt about Lehigh's culture. (Sam Henry/B&W Staff)

Campus community reacts to racist vandalism

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After Yukai Yang, ’18 was arrested and charged with ethnic intimidation, institutional vandalism and criminal mischief for vandalizing his roommate’s property, President John Simon sent out an email response to the campus community. Students decided this wasn’t enough.

On April 9, students and faculty members met at the UC flagpole in a walkout against hate crimes. Students spoke words of encouragement, sang and discussed ways to change the campus climate.

Students and faculty decided this still wasn’t enough.

LUPD Chief Jason Schiffer speaks at an open mic in front of the UC flagpole at the protest against hate crimes on April 9. He applauded the Lehigh community’s efforts in speaking out against the recent vandalism. (Sam Henry/B&W Staff)

Now, several campus organizations are working to promote dialogue about hate crimes and build a stronger sense of campus unity.

Liz Hill, a coordinator for the department of sociology and anthropology and a chair of the Council for Equity and Community, said the vandalism violates Lehigh’s Principles of Our Equitable Community.

“For me personally, it really bothers me that someone feels that this is OK,” Hill said. “But, we continue to move toward this equitable community where people feel safe and feel they can grow and thrive here.”

Jennifer Swann, the director of student success and a chair of the council, said more dialogue and an understanding of diverse perspectives are key to ensuring incidents like the vandalism do not happen again, especially as Lehigh expands.

“The next step is for everybody to burst out of their silos,” Swann said. “The easiest and most important thing to do is to turn to the person next to you and have a conversation. Don’t make any assumptions and to talk to them. You’d be surprised what you can learn.”

Julianna Gimpert, ’20, the event manager chair of the Circle of Sisters, an organization designed for women of color, said the group’s mission is to foster sisterhood, women’s empowerment, self-care and professional development. The Circle of Sisters, along with other campus groups, helped organize the walkout not just in response to the most recent incident of vandalism, but also previous hate crimes that have occurred on campus.

“I honestly wasn’t surprised (the most recent vandalism incident occurred), considering the history of Lehigh,” Gimpert said. “I did feel like this kind of incident got people who don’t usually think about the issue of racism to share their opinions, so this was a prime time to organize in order to make changes on campus.” 

Gimpert was immediately reminded of the UMOJA incident that occurred in 2013.

Hill, Swann and Gimpert agreed the university’s response to this incident was different from those in the past.

“I was very pleased with the (campus) reaction with the swiftness of the email going out, how quickly they caught the perpetrator, and that they announced they caught the perpetrator, which hasn’t been true in the past,” Swann said. “The students responded right away with the rally. All of that is not typical Lehigh.”

Council for Equity and Community student representative Daniel Moncada, ’18, wants to continue his work toward a more inclusive Lehigh community, especially in response to the racist incident. 

“Since I’ve been dealing with diversity and inclusion during my time at Lehigh, an incident like this can be discouraging,” Moncada said. “But it also makes me want to work even harder toward these causes.” 

Diversity and inclusion have become a bigger initiative and challenge on campus, especially as the student profile continues to change with the Path to Prominence. 

“When I got (to Lehigh) 20 years ago, it was all white males with backward baseball caps,” Swann said. “It’s not that way now. There are several different cultures that bump up against each other all the time, and these are cultures who don’t normally see each other in their daily lives. Suddenly, you have all these cultures interacting, and they don’t know how to interact.”

These changes, combined with a long-established campus community, have consequently caused challenges in understanding different cultures.

Gimpert lamented the separation between white and non-white students on campus and the struggle of bringing awareness to all groups of students, even those who don’t feel directly involved in incidents like the vandalism. 

Labels like socioeconomic status and Greek organization, rather than individual personalities, are what Moncada thinks contributes to the isolation of groups on campus.

“I’m not sure if the way in which people form groups is a Lehigh problem or a college problem,” Moncada said. “But people on this campus need to begin an open dialogue, step outside of their comfort zone and pursue a new perspective.”

One proposal Gimpert put forth was to send affected students and faculty members to fraternities and sororities in an effort to educate Greek members of discrimination on campus.

“If you have people who, in their own mind, believe that racism or Lehigh’s culture don’t apply to them, they’re not going to show up to these open forums to have these important conversations,” Gimpert said. “If we brought the information to them, that would be much more beneficial for the campus.”

Moncada, who is worried about Lehigh’s future, expressed optimism in the wake of this incident.

“My hope is that our comeback will be better than our setback,” Moncada said. “I hope we can grow as a whole and learn from this, while not burying it under the rug. Let’s remember it and use it as a point to improve and get better.”

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6 Comments

  1. Susan Magaziner on

    Dear Jordan,

    Thank you for your reporting. Very well done,

    I just wanted to note that the student arrested and charged is the ALLEDGED actor. The perpetrator of the hate crime is alledged, arrested and charged, but not convicted or sentenced. The actor remains innocent at this time.

    This is important to know, as it is also critical that we all remember that everyone is entitled to respect and inclusion and we must not rush to judgement or labels based on classes of protected populations. In fact, as the alleged actor is reported to be a Chinese foreign national student, and identifies as of Chinese national origin, the alledged actor is considered a “ class of protected person”, class of national origin, just as and equal to the protections that the victim, “ class of race/color is granted. It is important to report allegations of alledged perpetrators rather that influence conclusions in judgement due to race, color, ethnicity or national origin. Although I trust this was not your intention, oftentimes we can forget that all of us carry invisible and undetected prejudice that can be a form of innocent bias. There is always a backstory and there are facts surrounding this crime that are unbeknownst to the Lehigh community. We must always keep an open mind and work to practice every profession, especially journalism, with personal bias or predetermined

    Racist and hateful acts on a college campus are unlawful and the US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Philadelphia, still has the UMOJA House incident of November 2013 wide open. Lehigh remains under federal jurisdictional authority at the present time, and this recent racial hate crime falls under the auspices of the open case and the Office for Civil Rights as well as Clery Campus Crime, a part of Student Financial Aid (FSA), each a separate Department of the US Department of Education. Therefore, all of this is relevant to the presently monitored open case, at which racially hostile environment was alledged, and which is at issue in Docket No 03142021, opened for investigation on 1-6-2014.

    Thank you again for your reporting as well as the consideration of my thoughts.

    Very Best,

    Susan

    • Center for Ethical B&W Commenting on

      Susan—Would you be treading so cautiously if the alleged perpetrator was a white cisgender man? Why are you cautioning against allegations by referring to the perpetrator as an “ALLEDGED actor” and implicating HIS minority racial, ethnic, and national background as something we should be afraid of offending, at the expense of another minority victim no less? Is offending the perpetrator’s Chinese-ness more important than standing by the attack on the victim’s blackness? You’ve leveled heavy accusations of racial prejudice and discrimination against Lehigh University in your class action lawsuit, but you seem to have no problem discounting the minority victim’s account. After complaining that The Brown and White has treated Yukai Yang so unfairly, you should close out with a tweet that “you had some very fine people—on both sides.”

      • Amy Charles '89 on

        I love how these people talk about their mad eng/biz skills, but when it comes to race suddenly they can’t handle more than one variable at a time.

        Here’s help: http://bfy.tw/1Fs3 . You’re welcome.

    • Center for Ethical B&W Commenting on

      No, what we had here was one student, alleged to be Yukai Yang, enter the victim’s room (which they allegedly shared), damage the victim’s television and bed, and write “N—– GET OUT OF HERE” on the victim’s desk. Was that a failure to communicate? Seems to me that the perpetrator can communicate just fine.

      • Robert Davenport on

        By my definition of communication, you are correct in what you write. By this definition, is there communication by the perpetrator’s roommate to the perpetrator? Is this racism or an inappropriate extreme reaction to certain stresses?

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