Editorial: It changes in waves

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On Nov. 6, 2013, a member of the Lehigh community who was later expelled, egged the Umoja house and spray-painted slurs targeted at minorities. The campus united against the act and later that day held a rally where students shared their experiences with microaggressions, discrimination, hatred on campus.

As the campus population changes with new students, we can’t run the risk of forgetting our past. We’ve come to learn that history tends to repeat itself when it’s forgotten.

In 2006, a skinned deer head was found on the steps in front of the multicultural house. If we forget about the Umoja incident of 2013, who is to say it won’t happen again seven years from now?

It’s not about the specific incidents, though. These acts of hatred shed light on the problems that reached a tipping point. It’s easier to recognize them when there’s something tangible in front of us, but that shouldn’t be the case. The culture of discrimination still exists, both at this institution and on a national level.

We can’t forget our shared past, and the class of 2020 must be told of our recent history. But, more importantly, we can’t forget to look beyond the surface and understand the context from which these events stemmed. All of us need to remember what happened before us, and more importantly, why, to see what the school has been doing to improve itself. Only by understanding this can we as students actively become part of that change.

In the years following these incidents, Lehigh has been trying to bring new initiatives to foster diversity and create a climate of inclusion. Even when efforts have been made, there’s still a long way to go — and so it’s important for the class of 2020 to know of this past and be a part of this change.

Lehigh’s campus culture is comprised of its own mix of complex issues. Negative things, like the Lehigh look away, the Greek and non-Greek divide and the culture of apathy, may seem like elements of campus that have been set in stone since the beginning, but we must remember — the student population completely changes every four years.

Only by making first-year students aware of the way their individual actions can affect the campus culture can we start the tides of change. The peer pressure to immediately fit in makes people conform and not question the way things are done — yet this questioning of the status quo is what we desperately need in some occasions to move forward.

Once you come to campus, getting acclimated to the culture is a big component of freshman year, but that in no ways means that you have to like everything you encounter. By challenging the status quo and recognizing the areas in which Lehigh can improve, each individual can make a change.

We can decide to fight back against intolerance in the many forms it has been presented these past few years. We can decide to be less apathetic to what is happening around us. We can decide to explore what Bethlehem offers and create better bonds with the community around us.

Incidents such as the incident at the Umoja house are troubling, but more troubling is the fact that in two or three years, they will no longer be a part of the collective memory of the student body — and so it will be easier to slip back into these intolerant behaviors.

Lehigh has done so much good in students’ lives. It’s an exemplary academic institution, and it’s up to us to make it have an exemplary social atmosphere. We’ve been making the first strides, but the rest is up to the future students to continue the legacy that we have started.

Instead of sitting on the sidelines of change, be that change. There’s no point in complaining that there’s low attendance at games if you don’t go to some yourself.

One person can change a lot if they put their mind to it, and by joining organizations suited to your interests or what you hope to change you can have a hand in making this change happen.

It will be the class of 2020’s duty, as Lehigh students, to make sure the next generation doesn’t forget the past and keep informing each new class with that collective memory.

Because when you don’t know where you came from, how do you know where you’re going?

The future is in their hands now, we just have to pass down the keys.

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1 Comment

  1. Amy Charles '89 on

    Hey, I admire the spunk, but don’t kid yourself.

    If you want the culture to change, you have to understand that you guys are mayflies as far as the institution’s concerned: by the time you figure out where you are you’re halfway done, and then you’re out the door and the contact is primarily about donations. All admin has to do is wait you out, invite you in to say your piece, leave you feeling good. They’re already making plans and budgets for after you’re gone, they live three to five years ahead minimum.

    If you really want to do something, it’s that part about donations you need to pay attention to. That and who’s in administration. And you have to use your giving concertedly, identifying the kind of administrative leadership you want to see at Lehigh, and putting on the pressure to hire people who’ll make an environment in which the changes you want to see can flourish. Student initiatives seldom take root without administrative support. That takes considerable work and commitment — you’ll do a lot of research if you really want to see change — but it’s quite effective, especially if you start looking at those trustee roles. Trustees hire presidents.

    So, for instance: if you want Lehigh to be less racist, less bigoted all around, less tolerant of criminal football players, but all these social wonders seem to be highly concentrated amongst fraternity brothers, then you have to recognize that your dollars are competing with fraternity alumni dollars. Because the fraternity alumni dollars are supporting social admin who will look the other way and be tolerant so that the fraternities can survive (and keep giving), rather than (say) decide to stop renting houses on the Hill to fraternities. My guess, actually, is that at this point it’d be a considerable relief to admin to have a strong group of alumni come and make it possible to do such a thing.

    If you’re thinking ahead, you’re also thinking about current trustees. Who are they? Do you know them? What do they want? What do they know about you? Maybe you had better meet them. Here they are: http://www.lehigh.edu/annualreport/leadership/index.html

    Just look at all that money and all those men! Money money money, men men men. I see hardly any women in there. Fewer than a quarter of the trustees, and only two women in Lehigh’s leadership — a whopping 12%. Why is that, do you think, keeping in mind that Lehigh went co-ed in, I believe, 1972? How do trustees become trustees? And what has that got to do with those changes you want to make?

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