In this file photo from 2015, Lehigh President John Simon sits in his office in the Alumni Memorial Building. Simon sent an email out on May 31 to condemn racism following the killing of George Floyd. (Gaby Morera/B&W Photo)

Q&A: President John Simon on first Lehigh-Lafayette week at home


Although he made an appearance at last year’s Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry game at Yankee Stadium, the 151st game will be President John Simon’s first time experiencing the lead up to the game. The Brown and White sat down with Simon to talk about his first experience with the rivalry week.

Q: How are you looking to spend your first spirit week and rivalry game as president?

John Simon: I would say attending a lot of student and alumni events and celebrating Saturday’s win.

Q: What was memorable about your first experience with the rivalry, which happened to be the 150th meetup of the game?

JS: I think what was memorable to me was how the whole community embraced me as part of the community when I showed up in New York last year. Because no one would’ve known me because it was a matter of weeks, maybe a couple weeks after the announcement. But I really felt that everyone embraced me as part of the family. It was just great, and I attended two parts of it. I attended the wrestling match at the New York Athletic Club, which was a tremendous amount of fun, 34-3 over Columbia I believe. I met a lot of people there, I met the team. Mike Caruso was there, Joe Sterrett explained a lot of things to me about the scoring in wrestling. And then Brad Scheler had gotten me a suite in Yankee Stadium for the president’s office and some of my family – I went with one of my sons. I met a lot of alumni and spent an awful lot of time in one of the really large rooms where alumni were gathering. It was just a totally welcoming experience. It was really a sense of community, I had a great weekend. It sold me that I had made the right decision.

Q: What are you most looking forward to or have liked the most so far during the spirit week?

JS: I think there were a couple things that I really liked, and I think the best example has yet to come. I’m really looking forward to this afternoon and hoping to catch a piece of it because I’m tied up in the Gruhn lecture and then coming back for dinner. But I hope to see a portion of the bed races. But I love the student spirit and how the group that put together the beanies to try and actually beat Lafayette in a different sort of way, I think that’s really cool. I don’t think I’ve experienced most of the spirit of the week yet, I think after the bed races I have about 97 people in here, in this office, Friday morning at 10, so I think there are pieces that I’m really looking forward to. I think there’s a lot of alumni engagement around this, there’s a brunch between both schools that I’ll be at. It’s a pretty intense week of events tied to the rivalry, so I’m trying to enjoy it all. So I don’t have a favorite yet, but I could tell you on Sunday.

Q: What about Lehigh’s spirit is different from previous institutions that you’ve worked at?

JS: I think every university has its own version of spirit. I really like the response of the community to brown and white Fridays. So what I’ve seen so far in a limited four-month view is there’s a lot of school spirit that goes across the semester rather than just tied to one event. I’ve been at other institutions where whether it’s a single sport or a single event that takes place that the university is what’s needed to bring that spirit out. But I actually think there’s a reasonable amount of school spirit that’s just sort of always there that sort of bubbles up over the top with things like this week and stuff like that.

Q: What do you think about the perceived lack of school spirit and support at other athletic events that are not the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry game?

JS: I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I’ve met with a lot of different student groups and discussed this topic of whether it’s attendance at other sporting events or whether it’s attendance at Zoellner events. So my current thinking on that is there are a lot of options that are presented to you on how you can spend your time. And this is a small student population compared to somewhere like U.Va where I was just at. So the percentage of students needed to make something look crowded at U.Va is a much smaller percentage of the student body than the percentage it would take here at Lehigh to be that same perception. At the same time I think people do view the distance between here and Goodman as a barrier, but I haven’t seen much greater attendance at something like volleyball or swimming or something like that, and that’s a simple walk away. So I don’t think the total explanation is one of distance and transportation, but it could be as simple as just the multiple opportunities that pull on student time — clubs, sports, arts events, things that happen in South Bethlehem — and the size of the population and how it distributes. So I think for me the jury is still out. I love going to sporting events, and I’d love to see more attendance. I was at the first two home women’s games for basketball, and I know that there could be better attendance, but I don’t know if it’s a transportation issue.

Q: What team do you predict will win?

JS: I think I predict that we’re about to start a really long winning streak. I’m looking forward to an unblemished record in the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry. I think such sports rivalries are great.

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