Op-ed: Continued Lehigh apathy

Kerry Mallett, B&W staff

Kerry Mallett, B&W staff

After four years of being a student here, I know that Lehigh students have no shortage of opinions, particularly about campus and administrators. In off-campus basements, walking to class, in dining halls and on the mobile app Yik Yak, I have heard many conversations about how students feel as though administrators don’t care, or that student complaints about campus fall on deaf ears.

I have been lucky enough to work with a lot of administrators on addressing campus issues, especially during my four years on Student Senate. I know that they do care, very deeply, about students and our campus.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that the average student here does not have a lot of face time with administrators.

An event last Thursday sought to change that. The student engagement and unity committee of the undergraduate Student Senate organized a town hall with incoming president John Simon; Brad Scheler, the current chair of the Board of Trustees; and Pat Farrell, the provost.

Lehigh undergraduate and graduate students were invited to come and ask any question or voice any concern to our current — and incoming — leadership of the university.

Important issues like off-campus housing, the role of Greek life, student health, diversity and inclusion, and the continued existence of programs like Arabic and Global Citizenship were all brought up, and addressed by each member of the senior leadership.

In many ways, this event was a huge success — students were able to voice their concerns and the leadership team was extremely receptive to the questions and concerns brought forward.

In response to a question about the continuance of the Global Citizenship program, Brad Scheler encouraged students to use their voice, in the form of writing, to communicate our concerns with President Simon and other administrators. President Simon echoed Mr. Scheler’s suggestion.

Those who know me know I have no shortage of opinions, and I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to use my voice in many contexts on campus, from writing editorials for this paper to discussing campus climate with board of trustees members and serving as president of Student Senate XXVII.

And so, I am heeding Mr. Scheler’s advice and writing this op-ed because there was one aspect of the event that was not so successful.

Excluding members of Student Senate XXVII, there were only about two dozen students in attendance.

This estimation includes graduate students that attended, and so that means that about 24 of almost 7,000 students exercised their ability to talk face to face with the people who are leading Lehigh. That’s .34 percent of the student body.

Apathy is something that runs deep in the Lehigh student body — that is something that I am well aware of. And yet, after the incidents of last school year, I thought that our student body had moved in the right direction of being more engaged and in-tune with campus issues.

Maybe I was too naïve and optimistic. But, if we want to have changes happen on campus, we need to stop complaining about them behind closed doors and start speaking to our administrators—because they want to hear us, and they make time in their schedules to do so.

You can’t be heard if you don’t come to the table — or in this specific case, the town hall.

For those concerned about the lack of attractive off-campus housing, you could have heard about Provost Farrell and Mr. Scheler discuss how they work with local landlords to ensure that Lehigh students are treated fairly.

For those concerned that the administration “has it out” for Greek life, you could have heard President Simon talk about how he has seen its value through his father’s experiences, and how Brad Scheler appreciates his Lehigh Greek experience, but knows that we have to continue to adapt to modern day.

For those who have other concerns about campus that were not brought up, well, if you attended, you could have brought them up.

It is an exciting time for our campus, as a new president can bring a new set of ideas and new energy to the direction of our university. While I am leaving campus in just a few weeks, I am excited to see where Lehigh will go in the next few years. I am, and always will be, proud to be a Lehigh student, soon to be alumna.

But if I could see one thing change about Lehigh in the next few years, it would be that students would take ownership of their opinions and ideas and actually act on them.

See an injustice? Address it. Have an idea or criticism? Talk to someone who has the power to change it.

I in no way want to undermine the efforts of those who organized or attended the town hall. It was a brainchild of two fantastic senior committee chairs of Student Senate, and I am so glad they organized it and that President Simon, Provost Farrell and Mr. Scheler were so excited and willing to participate.

Yet, it brought to light, yet again, an issue that is endemic on our campus. Stop being apathetic and speak up, Lehigh students, because there are people who want to hear your opinions.

Kerry Mallett, ’15,  is The Brown and White‘s managing visuals editor and the president of Student Senate XXVII.

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