The Council for Equity and Community, which works to promote inclusion among students from different groups and backgrounds on Lehigh’s campus, distributed a survey to assess students’ perceptions of diversity on campus and to generate conversation.
The council, which consists of students, faculty and staff members, serves as “a campus resource and agent of cultural change,” according to its page on Lehigh’s website. The Umoja house — a multicultural residential space on campus — was vandalized in 2013, and two students were charged with ethnic intimidation last semester. More than 60 percent of students who attend Lehigh are white, according to the Office of Admissions, and the council works to open discussion about these items.
“I see some of the same stuff over and over, culturally,” Jese Camilo, ’17, said. “People make a lot of cultural comments and just laugh it off, and I felt uncomfortable in those situations.”
Jay Glucksman, ’18, said Lehigh’s social inclusion of different cultures is lacking.
“(It) could be better, could be worse,” he said.
Glucksman said he believes students sometimes say offensive things because of ignorance.
Glucksman also said there is an aspect of white privilege on campus that he feels should be addressed. Camilo said he has been in situations in which he, along with several other students of various ethnic backgrounds, were either kicked out of or not let into certain social groups by other students. He said they then watched as white students were allowed in moments later.
“People tend to say nothing is happening on campus when it comes to diversity and inclusion,” said Tyrone Russell, the director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
The results of the survey will provide the council with opinions about the issues on campus so they can then address them and facilitate more conversations.
“I think it’s just a comfort that folks have with what’s perceived to be the norm,” Russell said. “People don’t understand where exclusion begins because it seems so normal.”
Russell said the acceptance of different cultures by members of the Lehigh community has improved over the years, and Lehigh as a university is doing well in terms of supporting inclusion. Russell said people are becoming more vocal about these issues and conversations about culture and diversity are improving.
Karen Salvemini, the Equal Opportunity Compliance Coordinator, works with the Council for Equity and Community to make sure the issues on campus are being talked about and addressed.
“I think our university has come a long way, but I think we still have a lot of work to do,” Salvemini said.
Some of this work includes changing the way students view different cultures and people of ethnic backgrounds through the creation of safe areas where students can go to discuss these issues or hang out. The Office of Multicultural Affairs, which is located on the second floor of the University Center, serves as a lounge area for students to relax and chat. The office also hosts guest lectures, programs and group discussions to promote discussion about diversity and the issues surrounding diversity on campus.
Russell said inclusion cannot be accomplished through tangible programs alone, and he believes students need to continue to think beyond themselves so a welcoming atmosphere is created where all students can feel comfortable. He said students need to think about why they matter and why others matter as well.
Glucksman said he was eager to take the survey because he saw it as an outlet to voice his opinion and continue these discussions.
“It’s one of my responsibilities to speak up on campus,” Glucksman said. “I don’t want my voice silenced.”