Colorful PEZ dispensers fill the walls of Ricardo Hall’s office, neatly lined on wooden stands built by his father-in-law. In front of the dispensers sit framed photos of his family, particularly his daughters, who have played an important role in helping Hall acquire his collection.
Family is important to Hall, Lehigh’s new vice provost of Student Affairs. He said the stars aligned when he heard about the opportunity to work at Lehigh — it afforded him the ability to take the next step in his career all while being closer to family.
Hall previously served in a variety of roles at Wake Forest and Clemson universities and most recently worked as associate vice president of Student Affairs at Miami University since 2006.
Patricia Whitely, the vice president of Student Affairs at Miami, said Hall simply loves working with college students and is able to connect with them to bring about change.
“He is able to enact, embrace and challenge change,” Whitely said. “He is able to have uncomfortable and sometimes difficult conversations, especially around diversity and inclusion, and students respect him as well as enjoy him.”
While it was difficult to leave Miami’s year-round warm weather behind him, Hall said he was excited to arrive at Lehigh as the university was beginning a new plan for the future.
“When the Path to Prominence was introduced, I said to myself, ‘This is so forward-thinking,’” Hall said. “The university recently celebrated its 150th anniversary and now institutional leadership is saying, ‘We want to do even more, be even better, be more prominent.’”
Anne Anderson, an associate professor of finance and head of the search committee to identify the next vice provost of Student Affairs, said the university was searching for someone who could be a change agent during this significant time.
“We weren’t looking for someone who could simply keep the ship afloat, we wanted someone who would actually start steering the ship in a different direction,” Anderson said. “And that direction had to be one that would move us to the next level.”
Hall was on board, but he needed to get all hands on deck.
In order to better understand Lehigh students and become familiar with the campus culture, Hall said he had to take a deep dive into the university. Although the University of Miami has a similar student profile to that of Lehigh, Hall had to acclimate to a new community.
“Lehigh, it’s different,” Hall said. “The pace is different, it’s a little bit slower than in South Florida. Lehigh has a diverse community, both the greater Bethlehem metropolitan area and the campus community, but it’s defined in different ways.”
Hall said he also needed to get to know the university’s town-gown relationship with Bethlehem, as well as the working relationship between students and faculty, to truly see Lehigh through the eyes of a student.
Hall said he spent much of his first months on campus observing and getting to know students in their own spaces. From attending athletic events and checking out tablings on the front lawn to grabbing lunch with first-year students and signing up for Bed Races, Hall said everything he has done was in an effort to gain a first-hand Lehigh experience.
Part of getting and understanding that experience also meant investigating Lehigh’s perceived party culture.
“I would drive around midnight, one in the morning, Thursday, Friday night, just to see what was going on,” Hall said. “I’d watch students shuffling down the Hill, going over to Hillside (Avenue), Fourth Street, Third Street, looking for house parties, and I get that.”
Hall said he understands that Lehigh students want to have fun, like college students around the nation. However, they must do so safely and develop an awareness of those around them, including South Bethlehem residents who are often disrupted by parties on weekday nights.
“Lehigh students have somewhat limited social options,” Hall said. “There is no South Beach for Lehigh students like there is in Miami, so parties are going to happen in the properties adjacent to campus in Bethlehem.”
Soon after he arrived at Lehigh, Hall recognized how many spaces were available on campus and how infrequently they were used on Friday and Saturday nights. Since then, Hall has worked with student organizations to provide further social options, like Late Night Lamberton.
Hall said students think in straight lines and right angles when considering social options, and instead, wants them to think outside of the box when looking for ways to socialize with peers. He said thinking outside of the box will also allow students to better understand what Hall considers Lehigh’s two-sided circumstance.
“There are two perceptions, and one is actually a perception and one is a reality,” Hall said. “First, there is the reality that we are a top 50 institution, which is clear and consistent in the national rankings. Then, there’s this perception that Lehigh is a party school. We have to decide who we want to be.”
Hall said partying is something college students do, but it should not be part of the Lehigh identity.
Much of Lehigh’s identity formation, or transformation, will take place in the coming years as the Path to Prominence unfolds.
Hall said he is developing a new strategic plan with every division of Student Affairs and encouraging his staff to envision what their services will look like when there are 1,000 more students on campus.
Student Affairs will also play a large role in the Bridge West Housing Project as well as the re-envisioning of the University Center. Hall said students will start to think more outside the box, and welcome changes to Lehigh culture, as they watch the university change its physical and social landscape.
“I’ve dug a little bit deeper and heard from students that this is the way it’s always been and we really haven’t thought much to move outside of our box, outside of the social categories we’ve placed ourselves in,” Hall said. “But I’ve also seen a genuine willingness of students to engage and embrace change.”