Lehigh undergraduate students of color at an all-time high

Designed by Anna Simoneau

Designed by Anna Simoneau

Students of color represent 25 percent of the undergraduate student body, an all-time high for Lehigh.

This record number comes as a result of a reorganization of university priorities accompanied by recruiting efforts made to bring more students of color to Lehigh.

This number once hovered around 21 percent a few years ago in the fall of 2013. A lot has changed in the past 10 years in terms of diversity and inclusion, said Henry Odi, the vice provost for academic diversity, who has been a staff member for 28 years.

Odi works as a university liaison on the board of trustees’ diversity and inclusion subcommittee, as well as with admissions to recruit students of color from across the world.

“We became pretty aggressive when J. Leon Washington arrived as dean of admissions and financial aid,” Odi said.

Washington arrived at Lehigh in 2007 and made diversity of undergraduate students one of his top priorities. Washington left Lehigh in August to accept a position at Villanova.

Odi said in the past diversity and inclusion was not high on the list of priorities for the university.

Lehigh has made the conscious decision to proactively and intentionally recruit top talent across the country from diverse backgrounds.

“Lehigh should be a representation of the world,” Odi said. “Not just the country, but the world.”

Odi explained how, since Washington arrived, a clear increase in the percentage of students of color has been seen, and there is still constant improvement. Odi said diversifying undergraduate students is something that must become integrated into the fabric of Lehigh and it does not stop with recruiting.

Odi also puts effort into making sure students of color are not only coming to Lehigh, but staying. Lehigh could successfully diversify, but if the community is not inclusive then the diversity is worthless. Odi said inclusion is simply a byproduct of diversity.

The specific recruiting methods Lehigh uses are attributed to its steady increase. This takes place prominently through Lehigh’s relationship with community-based organizations that serve as college preparation programs.

These organizations are found throughout the country and target students of color with college readiness programs, after-school tutoring and programs for parents. The programs are improving, and Lehigh’s connection to them allows them to send students of color to Lehigh in large numbers.

Odi believes these organizations have a bigger impact on the lives of these students than their actual school districts. The admissions team is also trying to recruit from charter schools, which are prominent in communities of color.

In the past 10 years, Odi said there has been significant differences in both student diversity and in the university’s mindset on diversity. It has become more of an institutional conversation and they have become more intentionally proactive then ever before.

Students can also attest to the changes they have seen. Freddy Coleman, ’17, a senior intern for diversity recruitment, attributes these changes to the programs and resources Lehigh offers for their students of color.

His office has seen large increases in applicants by two of Lehigh’s main matriculation programs, Diversity Achievers Program and Diversity Life Weekend.

Odi said Lehigh still has a long way to go.

“The number can say 25 percent, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like 25 percent,” said Zara Ahmad, ’16, ’17G, a graduate assistant for the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Ahmad said when she visited Lehigh through D-Life in the spring before her freshman year, she was exposed to a Lehigh that seemed more diverse than it actually is.

After five years in the Lehigh community, Ahmad believes it depends highly on where you position yourself on campus. In her Greek organization the number seemed lower, but now working for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, that number appears to hold true.

In terms of what the future holds for diversity and inclusion, university leadership hopes it will increase. It’s an international phenomenon, Odi said, and his hope is that diversity and inclusion will become integrated into the fabric of Lehigh and will no longer be something delegated to a committee, or a few people, but a part of the entire campus.

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