Letter to the editor: Dismantling Lehigh’s echo chamber

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My four years here at Lehigh have been a time of transformation, exploration and deep reflection. I have been blessed with opportunities, experiences and relationships that I truly never could have imagined, and for that, I will always be thankful. As my time winds down here in Bethlehem, I find it rather important to highlight an issue that has been on my heart for some time now. As a progressive, I have always felt emboldened to be able to discuss political issues in the public arena around campus without fear of reprisal, but I honestly cannot say the same ideal has held true for my Republican and conservative counterparts.

Now, I know some may think I am exaggerating the prevalence of this issue, before writing this piece it even crossed my mind that I was, but the more I thought about it the clearer it became. I hail from the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, so naturally growing up I only had a few conservative friends to investigate ideas with. Luckily, Lehigh brought me into close contact with numerous considerate, well-meaning and extremely bright young conservative minds. My conservative friends and I have been able to rationally debate certain topics that have influenced American life, whether it be Donald Trump’s latest tweet or the recent gun control versus advocacy debate, while still being able to maintain a great relationship. These discussions have forced me to develop strong arguments in order to assert my viewpoints, while also giving me the opportunity to truly understand the perspectives of people with a different worldview. Ingratiating myself with those of differing ideologies has been the most rewarding escapade in my time here at Lehigh, and it has truly molded me into the person I am today.

However, I began to notice an alarming change in the exchange of ideas after the contentious 2016 presidential election. Many of my conservative friends began to tell me the fear they had of voicing their opinions in classes and around campus due to the fear of being labeled racist, homophobic, misogynistic or xenophobic. It even got to the point where I had a close friend of mine say that he sometimes has to contort his view on a topic to be more liberal to avoid subjugation by not only his fellow classmates but even his professors. I personally find this phenomenon to be extremely disheartening, and in complete juxtaposition to the true ideals of higher education. The opportunities I’ve had to learn more about the viewpoints of others has forced me to ponder why we all can’t take the time to listen to each other instead of subjecting ourselves to tribalism. I find it crucial to not allow the toxicity of our national political discourse to find its way into the heart of our campus.

We all came to Lehigh in order to expand our horizons and examine new ideas. However, if those on the more progressive side of the aisle continue to be bombastic towards the right, we will sever the ties that hold us together. Moreover, the opportunity to be truly educated will be squandered if one is not given a holistic representation of the various perspectives of the world in which we live. It is imperative that we all take the steps necessary to remedy the circumstances that have led to the degradation of the free exchange of ideas on campus. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to feel as if the ideas that I had were viewed as inferior, and the political atmosphere of the school I loved so much hindered my speech. Fortunately, this is not something I have experienced, but it pains me to know that other students have to deal with this on a daily basis. Though I may only have one month left at Lehigh, I hope I can still make a lasting impact on campus culture in this regard. Any imposition on free speech damages us all, not just those whose speech is under attack.

Nana Amankwah-Ayeh

Class of 2018

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10 Comments

  1. Current Student on

    Very accurate. In many classes, I fear what will happen if I voice my opinions. Heck, I don’t even use my name or Lehigh email address when commenting on here because I don’t want any of my conservative positions traced back to me. The fact that other conservative students feel this way on campus is indicative to some large problems we are facing across the country.

  2. Robert Davenport on

    ” Luckily, Lehigh brought me into close contact with numerous considerate, well-meaning and extremely bright young conservative minds.” This probably implies that there is a mutual respect that makes communication possible.

    Thank you for giving readers a view of an open mind.

  3. Being in the greek community after the 2016 election, I’ve experienced the exact opposite. Most of my house is extremely conservative and are extremely hostile towards liberals.

    • Current Student on

      Greek life tends to be more conservative. Mostly wealthy, mostly white, and generally not art hippies.

      I guess it’s no surprise the administration is trying to destroy Greek life.

      • Amy Charles '89 on

        The Greeks seem to do a fine job of that themselves, not just at Lehigh but around the country: all they have to do is keep on committing crimes, breaking agreed-upon social codes, and behaving reprehensibly. I don’t see Mustard & Cheese and Ultimate clubs getting hauled off to court and the Title IX office on the regular.

        There’s a raft of studies linking privilege and wealth to lower levels of empathy and law-abidingness, and while they’re more descriptive than explanatory, they do position the Lehigh Greek-goings on as unsurprising. But I guess it stands to reason: you get wealthy, privileged kids in secret societies part of the point of which is back-having and some old-fashioned good-ol-boyism, and what’s the point of all that in the first place? To see that the usual rules don’t apply, and that you’ll be assured, down the line, of special favors and cover. The admin will smile benignly at your crimes, I mean hijinks, your brothers will have your back, and nobody will go outside the circle. And we’re in a time when there’s suddenly far less tolerance for this kind of privilege-hoarding.

        It’s taken a long time to get here, and I was going to say that the first cracks were financial, not social. Lehigh started tightening up when it became clear that insurance was going to get unmanageably expensive if they didn’t get some of the frat behavior under control — that was back in the ’90s. But that was socially-driven, too: there was less tolerance than there had been for hazing deaths, frat boys’ drunken crimes, sexual assaults, these sorts of things, and parents were going to court. Suing the universities. States’ and district attorneys were going after the universities, too. And at the same time the universities were finding themselves sued successfully by women and minorities who had years’ worth of evidence of facemelting levels of harassment and discrimination. Which is why the insurance became expensive.

        The interesting thing is that all this goes back to long before you were born, if you are indeed a current traditional-age student. Which means you’re trying to defend mores and wave-bys that haven’t been acceptable in the West in about 50 years. That’s not conservative; I knew and respected conservatives. That’s retrograde. How did you come by these notions?

        • Current Student on

          I have been convinced that either you’re a Lafayette troll or you have no idea how Lehigh operates in 2018.

          No, Greeks are not the only ones that have off-campus parties. In fact, Greeks aren’t the only one who throw pretty wild off-campus parties. Many clubs do the same exact thing.

          But when something bad happens at a club party, who gets blamed? The individual (probably why it doesn’t really make news).

          When something bad happens at a Greek party, who gets blamed? The (white, straight, cisgendered, wealthy, male) organization.

          I am definitely not saying some Greek organizations haven’t caused their own problems, but I am saying Greeks get blamed more for incidences because it can be linked to liberal buzz-words (toxic masculinity, racism, rape-culture, etc.). And not that none of it exists, but people scapegoat the Greeks as a way to subtle push an agenda. No one would dare try to push an agenda on a club as those are more diverse and it wouldn’t be successful.

          • Amy Charles '89 on

            Okay, I’m open to hearing about Lehigh activity clubs’ socially destructive criminal behavior. Which clubs are spraying racist graffiti and telling their members to go engage in a long list of frankly gross behavior and public sexual activity in order to stay in the club? Which ones are committing violent crimes? Who’s got a problem with sexual harassment and assault?

            I’m all ears.

            • Current Student on

              I really like how you associate the act of individuals with the organizations as a whole. Well two students in sig chi did some horrible stuff one night so therefore fraternities are guilty?

              I don’t understand how you associate acts of individuals with the organization as a whole. People on the left seem not to understand how personal responsibility works. An individual does something dumb – punish the individual. It’s a slippery slope when you blame the group for the actions of one.

              But yes, there are clubs that drink to excess. Honestly, I think I see more people throwing up and blacking out more at certain clubs than at almost any fraternity. The behavior these students engage in isn’t restrictive to Greek life, it’s college party culture, at least in 2018. A lot of my friends at other colleges say the same thing – not even a Lehigh specific problem.

  4. Jacqueline M Schoettle on

    try again…….we are surrounded by TV, Facebook, computer input……….Unfortunately, when I hear our President speak…….always blaming the past administrations as being stupid, dumb…I scream!!!……HE just turns me off!

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