Urban Outfitters caused a stir recently when a “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” appeared for sale on the company’s website. The sweatshirt appeared to be bloodstained, causing some to question whether or not the company was referencing a 1970 shooting on Kent State’s campus where four students where killed while protesting the Vietnam War. Urban Outfitters issued a statement that explained the shirt was not meant to be an allusion to the events at Kent State and the apparent blood stains were simply discolorations.
This is of particular relevance to Lehigh University because of the $20 million grant given to the university by Scott Belair, the Co-Founder of Urban Outfitters, for the creation of an entrepreneurship center on Mountaintop Campus. Belair currently serves on the Board of Directors for Urban Outfitters.
This was not the first time Urban Outfitters has created controversy with one of their products. Over the past decade, the company has raised eyebrows by selling t-shirts referencing bulimia and anorexia, t-shirts referencing the holocaust, a shot glass resembling a prescription pill container and a game called “Ghettopoly”. Regardless of the intent of the Kent State sweatshirt, one cannot deny the controversies associated with the brand.
All of this concerns me as a student at Lehigh. I do not pretend to know the extent to which Mr. Belair was involved with the decisions to sell these products and I understand that, most likely, Mr. Belair was not involved in designing these products. But, the fact remains that Mr. Belair co-founded and remains on the board of directors for a company that attempted to profit from the reference of eating disorders, drug addiction and racism in their products. This is particularly disturbing as a Lehigh student who has known individuals on campus who have had eating disorders, have been addicted to drugs and alcohol and have been the target of racism.
I don’t ask that Lehigh give Mr. Belair his money back and I hope that great innovations come from Mr. Belair’s grant. I would simply like for Mr. Belair to explain to the Lehigh community his role at Urban Outfitters and his stance on these matters. How does one reconcile giving $20 million to a university where drug use, eating disorders and racism negatively impact campus life while being on the board of directors of a company that has used images associated with drug addiction, eating disorders and racism for profit.
– Michael DeCrosta, Lehigh University graduate student