Three percent of Lehigh students identify as black or African American and 9 percent identify as Hispanic, while 62 percent of students identify as white, according to the Lehigh at a Glance page.
To create a more diverse university, the Admissions Office hosts Diversity Life Weekend to bring accepted students who represent regionally, socioeconomically or racially diverse backgrounds to campus. These sorts of applicants are less common at Lehigh.
The goal of Diversity Life Weekend is to encourage students to enroll, and the Admissions Office works to depict life at Lehigh as accurately as possible. This effort includes addressing some of the racial issues that have plagued Lehigh’s past. Group leaders discuss previous incidents such as the egging and vandalism of the Umoja house as well as the lack of diversity on campus.
Brennetta Thames, ’18, is a past D-Life participant who liked that students and staff openly spoke about the Umoja house incident.
“The way a platform was created for Lehigh students who experienced those events to express and detail what happened and their feelings spoke to me the most,” Thames said. “It made me more confident that there were people who understood, students and staff alike. These issues need to be opened up and discussed. It is beneficial to everyone.”
Thames and Teresa Castillo, ’17, enjoyed their Diversity Life Weekend experiences, but Castillo said the program painted an inaccurate picture of diversity at Lehigh.
“When I got here I was caught off guard,” Castillo said. “My impression after D-Life was that I was shown a representation of the norm at Lehigh, but I was wrong. The diversity at Lehigh was largely limited to my D-Life group and facilitators.”
Castillo was a first-year student when the Umoja house was vandalized, and she said she spoke with other students the night of the incident who felt that Lehigh was not accurately depicted during Diversity Life Weekend.
“I loved D-Life, but I felt like it was not an accurate representation of the real Lehigh, and it should be modified in order for potential students to be aware of this in order for them to not feel overwhelmed when coming to a campus in the fall which feels different that the one they visited in April,” Castillo said.
According to Freddy Coleman, ’17, an admissions intern who helps to plan D-Life, conversations are had with prospective students that detail the struggles Lehigh has with race and diversity.
“Spring semester after the Umoja house incident, (it) was a big issue when it comes to diversity recruitment,” he said. “We were struggling with how to address it because it wasn’t something that we could just push under the rug. It was something we had to talk about explicitly, honestly.”
So they did, Coleman said, and the result of honest and constructive conversations about changing campus culture was the recruitment of the most diverse freshman class in recent years.
Diversity Life Weekend will be held from April 8-10 this year. The program has gradually grown over the years — there were about 50 participants in 2005, and that number doubled to 120 participants in 2008. In most recent years, that number has risen steadily to about 150 attendees. While figures change every year, about 60 percent of students who participate in Diversity Life Weekend choose to enroll in the fall semester.
A big component of Diversity Life Weekend is the time participants have with current students. The opportunity to converse directly with students is meant for the prospective students to determine if Lehigh is appropriate for them based on the experiences current students have had. Participants spend the night with students in both on- and off-campus residences.
Winston La, ’18, was a past Diversity Life attendee and said the experience helped him to make an informed decision about Lehigh. He said his host spoke candidly with him and described Lehigh as a place where students “play hard but work harder.”
Diana Melendez, ’16, enjoyed her first visit to campus and has hosted students herself. She believes it is critical to be honest with those who attend Diversity Life Weekend.
“It’s important to let attendees know about the incidents we’ve had because we aren’t the only campus facing these issues,” Melendez said. “By talking about it, we are opening up opportunities for students to come to Lehigh and get involved in positive changes.”