After Yukai Yang, ’18 was arrested and charged with ethnic intimidation, institutional vandalism and criminal mischief for vandalizing his roommate’s property, President John Simon sent out an email response to the campus community. Students decided this wasn’t enough.
On April 9, students and faculty members met at the UC flagpole in a walkout against hate crimes. Students spoke words of encouragement, sang and discussed ways to change the campus climate.
Students and faculty decided this still wasn’t enough.
Now, several campus organizations are working to promote dialogue about hate crimes and build a stronger sense of campus unity.
Liz Hill, a coordinator for the department of sociology and anthropology and a chair of the Council for Equity and Community, said the vandalism violates Lehigh’s Principles of Our Equitable Community.
“For me personally, it really bothers me that someone feels that this is OK,” Hill said. “But, we continue to move toward this equitable community where people feel safe and feel they can grow and thrive here.”
Jennifer Swann, the director of student success and a chair of the council, said more dialogue and an understanding of diverse perspectives are key to ensuring incidents like the vandalism do not happen again, especially as Lehigh expands.
“The next step is for everybody to burst out of their silos,” Swann said. “The easiest and most important thing to do is to turn to the person next to you and have a conversation. Don’t make any assumptions and to talk to them. You’d be surprised what you can learn.”
Julianna Gimpert, ’20, the event manager chair of the Circle of Sisters, an organization designed for women of color, said the group’s mission is to foster sisterhood, women’s empowerment, self-care and professional development. The Circle of Sisters, along with other campus groups, helped organize the walkout not just in response to the most recent incident of vandalism, but also previous hate crimes that have occurred on campus.
“I honestly wasn’t surprised (the most recent vandalism incident occurred), considering the history of Lehigh,” Gimpert said. “I did feel like this kind of incident got people who don’t usually think about the issue of racism to share their opinions, so this was a prime time to organize in order to make changes on campus.”
Gimpert was immediately reminded of the UMOJA incident that occurred in 2013.
Hill, Swann and Gimpert agreed the university’s response to this incident was different from those in the past.
“I was very pleased with the (campus) reaction with the swiftness of the email going out, how quickly they caught the perpetrator, and that they announced they caught the perpetrator, which hasn’t been true in the past,” Swann said. “The students responded right away with the rally. All of that is not typical Lehigh.”
Council for Equity and Community student representative Daniel Moncada, ’18, wants to continue his work toward a more inclusive Lehigh community, especially in response to the racist incident.
“Since I’ve been dealing with diversity and inclusion during my time at Lehigh, an incident like this can be discouraging,” Moncada said. “But it also makes me want to work even harder toward these causes.”
Diversity and inclusion have become a bigger initiative and challenge on campus, especially as the student profile continues to change with the Path to Prominence.
“When I got (to Lehigh) 20 years ago, it was all white males with backward baseball caps,” Swann said. “It’s not that way now. There are several different cultures that bump up against each other all the time, and these are cultures who don’t normally see each other in their daily lives. Suddenly, you have all these cultures interacting, and they don’t know how to interact.”
These changes, combined with a long-established campus community, have consequently caused challenges in understanding different cultures.
Gimpert lamented the separation between white and non-white students on campus and the struggle of bringing awareness to all groups of students, even those who don’t feel directly involved in incidents like the vandalism.
Labels like socioeconomic status and Greek organization, rather than individual personalities, are what Moncada thinks contributes to the isolation of groups on campus.
“I’m not sure if the way in which people form groups is a Lehigh problem or a college problem,” Moncada said. “But people on this campus need to begin an open dialogue, step outside of their comfort zone and pursue a new perspective.”
One proposal Gimpert put forth was to send affected students and faculty members to fraternities and sororities in an effort to educate Greek members of discrimination on campus.
“If you have people who, in their own mind, believe that racism or Lehigh’s culture don’t apply to them, they’re not going to show up to these open forums to have these important conversations,” Gimpert said. “If we brought the information to them, that would be much more beneficial for the campus.”
Moncada, who is worried about Lehigh’s future, expressed optimism in the wake of this incident.
“My hope is that our comeback will be better than our setback,” Moncada said. “I hope we can grow as a whole and learn from this, while not burying it under the rug. Let’s remember it and use it as a point to improve and get better.”