Allon Vitenson, '17, writes on the Wall of Hate on the STEPS Lawn. The wall, which is part of a Global Citizenship capstone project, will eventually be replaced with a Wall of Healing. (Gaby Morera/B&W Staff)

Campus works toward more inclusive community


Lehigh has placed a renewed focus on promoting diversity on campus in the past few years. In an email sent April 28, President John Simon updated the Lehigh community on campus climate and recent efforts to increase diversity.

With several ongoing projects such as a campus-wide audit and the Lehigh Survey, and continuing conversations about the CORE report, the university has collected data and analyzed it to implement changes around campus to promote diversity.

For the campus-wide audit, Karen Salvemini, the school’s equal opportunity compliance coordinator, is working with the Council for Equity and Community to review “all activities related to diversity and inclusion programming, training and other educational efforts,” according to the email. Members of the campus community had the opportunity to complete a survey about diversity at Lehigh.

The online harassment and discrimination program, the creation of the Vice President of Equity, the Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble, diversity in hiring practices and the creation of an endowment for the expansion of Africana studies at Lehigh were all designed to improve the campus climate.

“Increasing diversity on campus is a big topic, including recruiting (faculty, staff and students), retaining those who come, developing a climate of inclusion so we all benefit from the diversity around us, helping folks be successful in achieving their goals (finding friends, getting into a major you find exciting, graduating, for staff and faculty — contributing in meaningful ways), and more,” wrote Pat Farrell, the provost and vice president for
 academic affairs, in an email.

Simon’s email also highlighted the smaller efforts around campus through different offices, organizations and communities. Activities such as DanceFest, LeaderShape and Without Walls Global Citizenship capstone “Wall of Hate/Wall of Healing,” were some of the programs that have helped to foster an inclusive community.

Farrell said members of the Office of Admissions have been working to recruit students from a larger geographic range of the country and as well as internationally. He also said there has been constant improvement in first-year orientation to welcome new members to the Lehigh community.

“The list of activities is long, the number of faculty, staff and students engaged with the work is significant, and I hope the results are visible,” Farrell wrote.

Allison Gulati, the associate dean of students and director of strategic initiatives, said the campus-wide audit is an attempt to collect data about perceptions of the initiatives to improve the campus climate.

“It’s hard to figure out what your next strategic initiative will be until you have an audit of what all is happening,” Gulati said.

The CORE report was put together by members of the Lehigh community who analyzed the campus experience to make recommendations to improve the campus climate in multiple areas, including ways to unify and diversify the campus.

“There certainly are elements of diversity and inclusion in where students live and what that life is like, but that’s not all that CORE is about,” Farrell wrote. “Students experiences among academics, social life and residential life are interconnected, so there is no easy separation of them from each other.”

One such initiative will be implemented next year when first-year students have the opportunity to live with second-year students in residence halls. Gulati said this initiative will allow students to make different connections.

Farrell said some of the bigger suggestions, such as building more residence halls, are still being discussed. Other suggestions, such as modifying the campus social policy, have been adapted throughout the year in one form or another.

“I think some of those experiments are already being tried — for example, limited parties with alcohol for those of legal drinking age,” Farrell wrote.

Gulati said Lehigh’s efforts to improve the campus climate are ongoing. She also said Lehigh has made significant progress but still has a bit to go. Kirsten Hernandez, ’19, said she believes it is on students to improve the campus climate.

“Honestly, I don’t think Lehigh does that great of a job of being diverse,” Hernandez said. “Not that it’s the institution’s fault, but racism is so prevalent here even if not everyone experiences it every day.”

Gulati said the university is committed to creating a diverse environment, but this will take “time and sustained effort.”

“This work is lifelong work for any organization or community because you constantly have new people coming into the community and new issues that are going to come up,” Gulati said. “So that’s our focus right now, making sure that effort is sustained across all aspects of the student experience.”

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