More than a thousand members of the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities packed the University Center front lawn for a rally Wednesday night in response to the vandalism of the multicultural UMOJA House early that morning.
The rally was led by eight “core members” of the group From Beneath the Rug, or FBR, which formed earlier this semester. Since its formation, FBR has been working to “represent and fight for marginalized groups on campus and people who feel like their voices aren’t and should be heard,” according to core member Kelly Petty, ‘14.
Signs bearing messages such as “All oppression is connected,” “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” “What will you do to end the silence?” and “#oneLehigh?” bobbed above the heads of the crowd.
Many students wore Lehigh apparel to promote a united front.
“Let’s just get one thing clear,” said Rawle Sterling, ’14, one of FBR’s core members. “This rally is not a celebration of any sort. This is not a pep rally. We are here in support of the victims who had to witness that atrocious event that took place last night.”
Sterling spoke in reference to the eggs that had been thrown at, and derogatory terms spray-painted on and around, the UMOJA house early Wednesday morning.
“These are acts that Lehigh cannot stand for anymore, and should not stand for anymore,” Sterling said. “To celebrate Lehigh is to celebrate this perpetuated act of sexism, racism, all types of things that we see in society every day, all things that Lehigh claims they’re changing when they’re promoting global leadership. It is time that we take a stand.”
“The UMOJA House is a house of diversity,” he said. “There are residents in that house that are Caucasian, Asian, international students, African American, and Hispanic members –all of this very community. These are the same members that were attacked last night with ugly and hate-filled words.”
After addressing the crowd, FBR’s core members invited individuals to speak out about their personal experiences with marginalization at Lehigh.
“People feel that they aren’t a part of FBR,” said Sterling. “What you guys have to understand is that everyone here is FBR. We are all from beneath the rug.”
Several dozen people lined up for an opportunity to address the crowd.
“This is not just about racism,” said Mayra Juarez, ’15. “It has to do with so much more than racism. It’s all about privilege—that people don’t understand what they have.”
“The fact that someone had the ‘privilege’ to be able to write that says a lot about this campus,” she said. “If they’re crazy enough to do that, what else are they crazy enough to do?”
“I came here last year for Diversity Life weekend, and it made me want to come to Lehigh,” said Caroline Gonzalez, ’17. “But, when I got here, all of this began to happen. My question is: when I hosted a kid for DAP [Diversity Achievers Program], when I host kids for D-Life, and I tell them all to come here because we want more diversity…what am I really getting them into?”
Many speakers also recognized how marginalization extends far beyond Lehigh’s boundaries.
“Personally, I think it’s disgusting how we treat the ‘townies’ or the people who live in ‘the ghetto,’” said Aidan Din, ’16. “When I go into South Bethlehem, I don’t wear anything from Lehigh because I don’t want to be seen as a Lehigh student. That’s unacceptable.”
“We should be embraced by the community, and we should embrace them,” Din said. “There’s a lot of animosity on both sides of the field, but I think a lot of it starts on our end. We need to think of how we conduct ourselves not only on campus, but off campus as well. This is a shared community.”
After just more than an hour, the group made its way from the lawn to the UMOJA House itself. Police cars were stationed both along the route that students followed and outside of UMOJA.
Members of FBR lined up on the steps beside the house at the location where the graffiti had been found hours earlier. Individual speakers then ascended the stairs to continue addressing the crowd below.
“We all stand here in solidarity to know that Lehigh supports inclusion,” saidRalph Jean-Noel, ’15. “Lehigh supports this house. Lehigh supports Lehigh. We are Lehigh. We are diverse, and we need to accept our differences, and we need to address the hatred and the disgust that happened here last night.”
When Paige Malter, ’14, heard of the events Wednesday morning, “I was disgusted,” she said. “I was just appalled that there are people who would do something like this—that there are people who think that this is an acceptable behavior.”
“This incident that occurred at this location last night is an atrocity,” Jean-Noel said. “We’ve all come together to talk about everything that we go through as individuals and how we are responsible for even the wrongdoings that occur on this campus. We brought you here to this location tonight so that you could understand. This spot is where it happened. This spot is where it started. But it’s not where it ends.”
“I think it’s great to see so many people come out for any cause at Lehigh,” said Nick Leight, ’16. “You can’t even get this many people at a football game that are sober. Just seeing Lehigh students come together for one purpose is great, I think, especially when it’s a cause like this.”
“If you see somebody doing something wrong, even if it’s not as terrible as spray-painting things on the sidewalk, even if it’s just a little comment, do something about it,” said Leight. “Don’t just let things slide and figure that other people will solve them.”
“I want this community to be safe for everybody,” Malter said. “The administration and students should try more to be more of the community that we say we have.”
“From now on, it is every single person’s responsibility to make sure that things like this don’t happen again,” said Jean-Noel. “We should not have to wait until hate is put out in public for us to know that it exists on a daily basis. We need to get together and stand up and demand the change.”