Linderman Library was built in honor of Asa Packer's daughter, Lucy Packer Linderman. (Alyssa Taylor/B&W photo)

Lehigh University reports progress on commitments made in OCR agreement

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Lehigh University continues to make progress in improving campus climate by acting on commitments mandated in a Voluntary Resolution Agreement made between the university and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights in September 2014, according to an email sent by Interim President Kevin Clayton on Monday.

These commitments are aimed at reducing harassment and discrimination on campus through training, education and compliance with the OCR. The original agreement was made after a complaint was filed with the OCR, claiming that Lehigh allowed a racially hostile environment on its campus by not responding to harassment incidents.

The first of Lehigh’s developments mentioned in Clayton’s email is the hiring of Karen A. Salvemini to the newly formed Equal Opportunity Compliance Coordinator Position. Although the creation of the position was not required by the agreement, Salvemini will be “responsible for coordinating the university’s efforts and initiatives to ensure compliance with all equal opportunity laws.”

Salvemini, who graduated from DeSales University and Widener University School of Law, is a former associate at Rhoads & Sinon law firm in Harrisburg. According to the email, she has experience with civil rights litigation and equal opportunity compliance.

In addition to the new hire, Lehigh will also be emphasizing compliance by monitoring complaints of harassment and discrimination on campus and reporting any incidents to the OCR.

Lehigh will also be providing online education and training on racial harassment for students, faculty and staff. According to the email, the online training will work to educate the Lehigh community about different forms of harassment. The training is required and is expected to be completed by faculty, staff and students by March 1, 2015.

Along with the training, Lehigh plans to update its Harassment Policy and publish an anti-discrimination statement. The email reports that the new policy will establish an organized system for reporting incidents of harassment. Members of the Lehigh community will have the opportunity to review and comment on the new policy before it is confirmed by the Board of Trustees.

In alignment with the updated Harassment Policy, Lehigh’s new anti-discrimination statement, which will emphasize the university’s “commitment to an environment that does not tolerate acts of discrimination or harassment based on age, color, disability, gender identity or expression, genetic information, marital or familial status, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status,” will be posted on the university’s website and in locations across campus.

Other initiatives promoted by the agreement include the continued efforts of Lehigh’s Council for Equity and Community and the issuing of an annual climate survey to all students, faculty and staff. The last survey of its kind was issued in 2007, according to the email. The new climate survey, which is currently being drafted, will be issued in 2015 after review from the OCR.

“Although much work has been done, there is much more to do,” Clayton wrote. “We are encouraged by the level of commitment on the part of all university constituencies, from students, staff and faculty, administration, and the Board of Trustees.”

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