Bruke Mammo, '17, '19G, gives participants in Diversity Life Weekend a tour of campus, starting at the Alumni Memorial Building. The aim of D-Life Weekend is to encourage students from different regional, socioeconomic and racial backgrounds to enroll. (Courtesy of Jennifer Castro)

D-Life disparities: Students react to difference between diversity life weekend, Lehigh culture

17

A thick brown and white envelope laid on the table when Kiara Damon arrived home from school.

Inside awaited informational pamphlets and a letter congratulating her on her acceptance to Lehigh University. Among the documents and flyers — an additional letter:

“Congratulations! You are among a select group of students invited to attend Lehigh University’s Diversity Life Weekend.”

“Why would I want to go to that?” the high school senior thought, as she stood in her home in Brooklyn, New York.

“We want you to be a part of the Lehigh family, so we hope that you will continue to explore the wealth of opportunities available to you here before you make a final decision,” the letter continued.

Damon, ’21, was one of the students invited by the admissions office to participate in its annual Diversity Life Weekend, commonly referred to as D-Life.

The program invites between 75 and 90 admitted students for a weekend on campus to get a feel of what being a Lehigh student is really like. When considering invitees, the school prioritizes students of color who otherwise would not be able to make it to campus.

Before attending D-Life, Damon visited Lehigh’s campus twice. Both times she said she didn’t like it because it  seemed like a predominantly white school.

However, after some persuasion from her mother, Damon reluctantly attended the single weekend that would change her mind and future decision. 

“I came, and I met a lot of diverse people, and it was nice to see that they actually exist on campus,” Damon said.

Lehigh is what some call a “Predominantly White Institution.” About 4 percent of the roughly 5,000 undergraduate students are African American, with Latinx sitting at a slightly higher 9 percent. Overwhelmingly, 64 percent of the student body is white.

Over the course of the weekend, students attend workshops and panels, and meet with staff and current students. They are also hosted by current Lehigh students in either dorm rooms or off-campus apartments.

According to the Office of Admissions, the weekend is designed to expose prospective admits to Lehigh’s culture in hopes they choose Lehigh by the May 1 deposit day.

D-Life weekend was created less than 10 years ago with the goal of increasing diversity in the student body. It is what admissions refers to as a “yield event,” referencing the time period when students have already been admitted but have yet to matriculate at Lehigh. All costs for the weekend are paid by the Admissions budget, including transportation by plane or bus for students requiring alternate travel options.

Each year, complaints arise when D-Life alumni come to Lehigh as full-time college students.

“I felt like D-Life was just to get us to come here,” Damon said. “When I got here it was completely different, so it kinda feels like to me, D-Life was like a dream, almost like a (historically black college or university), and then you get here, and it’s nothing like D-Life, which was black and Hispanic and Asian. We got here, and it was just white.”

Damon is not the only student to feel misled.

Scott Grant, ’16, is a second-year graduate assistant for the Office of Multicultural Affairs. He has played a role in D-Life through hosting and helping to coordinate activities since he came to Lehigh for his undergraduate degree in 2012.

Grant says the misperception of Lehigh’s racial makeup has remained consistent over the years.

“A lot of students do feel as though they have been ‘hoodwinked’ or ‘swindled,’” Grant said. “I don’t know what they are going to do to change it, but that is definitely something that has been consistent throughout the six years that I have been here.”

Ymani Bethea, ’19, who has hosted D-Life students, said she has heard the same complaints.

“People have told me like ‘D-Life kinda lies to you a little bit,’ especially the people of color,” Bethea said. “(Admitted students) feel like they were slightly lied to because you do all of these things with diversity and then you get here and that’s not the way it is when you walk into a classroom.”

Malika Kumbella, ’19, said D-Life weekend was when she saw the most diversity throughout her career at Lehigh.

“I liked getting to see and hang out with people who more looked like me on campus, but once I became a student, I realized they make this whole different impression that this is what campus is like all the time,” Kumbella said.

While some student criticisms of D-Life have truth to them, vice president of equity and community Donald Outing said Lehigh’s intent is not malicious. He said the goal of the program is to give prospective students an opportunity to visit, and Lehigh has always been transparent about racial breakdowns in its admissions information.

“You know the demographics when you come here,” Outing said. “Nobody is trying to disguise who we are and what we are. We are underrepresented in students of color, which is part of why we have the weekend to try to encourage more students of color to matriculate to Lehigh, of the population that apply.”

Outing said he understands where students are coming from. He said the misconception persists because visiting students interact with a concentrated population of Lehigh’s community and often times, the population that is interested in them coming here is mainly those of similar attributes and backgrounds.

Although his office does not run D-Life, Outing said he has established a collaborative relationship with Admissions.

One of these relationships is with Jade Eggleston, the assistant director of diversity recruitment. Since she assumed the role two years ago, she said the admissions office has acknowledged concerns about the difference in the racial makeup of the program and Lehigh as a whole. The office has particularly been working to dispel the misperception of the program’s objective.

“Students come to D-Life, and they are surrounded by all of these students of color, and then they come to campus in the fall and are like, ‘This is nothing that I anticipated,’” Eggleston said. “So one of the things that we did last year was a panel called, ‘Stay Woke.’”

The panel was run by Tyrone Russell, the former director of Multicultural Affairs. Eggleston said as an African-American male, he was able to be transparent — sharing testimonies from current Lehigh students about their experience transitioning into college.

Eggleston works with students who were yielded from D-Life, the program’s E-board, a campus group called Admission Ambassadors and the two admissions diversity interns to continue to improve the experience of the program.

Both the admissions office and Outing hope to grow D-Life and continue expanding diversity on campus. Despite criticism, the perception of the program itself is largely positive, successfully increasing diversity at Lehigh. Yields from D-Life increased from 40 to 60 percent in 2017, contributing toward the class of 2021 being the most diverse in Lehigh’s history.

While D-Life serves as a key event in diversity recruitment, Outing said it must fall into a larger strategic plan to increase the pool of applicants of students of color.

“We can increase the yield, but the yield of what?” Outing said. “So we have to really increase the pool of students of color who are interested and are applying to Lehigh.”

Grant said any negative perceptions of D-Life aren’t about the weekend itself, but rather the on-campus culture once students arrive. By increasing diversity and strengthening institutions for these students once they arrive, racial barriers won’t seem as apparent because the environment is more inclusive.

“I would love to say (to a Diversity Life student), ‘This is not how it is all the time, but what is consistent is that you will have a family here and the institution is focused not only on recruiting you guys but keeping you here,’” Grant said.

Damon, who has had both positive and negative feelings about Lehigh, said she has adjusted to the cultural shift.

She said she is happy her mom made her attend D-Life and recognizes it is difficult to make the experience realistic, while also continuing to yield students. She said the problem lies within the school’s culture and hopes to see more improvement in the future.

“Actually, I don’t think it’s that D-Life should change,” Damon said. “But more that Lehigh should change.”

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17 Comments

  1. Amy Charles '89 on

    How can Outing be so blind about this? The man’s in the wrong job.

    Donald: the problem isn’t the 64% white demographic. The problem’s that you’re getting those kids from white enclave towns and neighborhoods.This is an antique problem at Lehigh.

    I went to a majority-white city highschool that had more students than Lehigh did. Most kids had no money. Some kids were already parents. There wasn’t a racial socioeconomic chasm the way there was between Lehigh and South Bethlehem. My friends were from all over the map: poor white, upper middle class white and Asian, Yankee-forbear Wasp, immigrant middle Eastern, poor black, immigrant east Asian, immigrant eastern European, Puerto Rican, people were from all over, some going to college, some not. Nobody thought a whole lot about these things on an ordinary day – we were just all together.

    Lehigh taught me a racism tightly intertwined with class and privilege, and I didn’t even know it was happening till my senior year, when I was looking through high school pictures and suddenly seeing race instead of people — and in every instance there was “black and poor” v. “me and like me.” It was a horrible experience. These had been my friends, and that was how I’d learned to look at them. Lehigh taught me this ugly gated-city private-cops racism that I suspect will never be completely scrubbed from my mind. Just in its everydayness: that was Lehigh’s world that I’d been living in and becoming part of for over three years. I don’t forgive Lehigh for it.

    It made a toxic environment for black and Latina friends at Lehigh. I do not know of a single black alumna from my time who has any desire to go back there to visit. I don’t know that any have.

    In other words, the problem isn’t mostly-white. The problem is mostly-segregated. Not in the arrangements on campus so much as the arrangements of the minds of the white kids showing up – kids who grew up in politely racist, quietly supremacist upper-middle-class white enclaves, and are just carrying what they learned with them.

    • Robert Davenport on

      Excellent point.

      I would think that the cost of attendance at your high school was nowhere near the cost of Lehigh tuition. The cost of a Lehigh education undoubtedly causes the skew toward upper class students. There may even be the same skew within minority groups.

      For those who eschew Lehigh, I hope they at least benefited from the education that they earned.

      • Robert—Lehigh has long been “need blind” in the admissions process, meaning that the admissions counselors do not see the applicants’ financial aid application status, if any, when evaluating candidates. This is unlike “need aware” admissions practices, such as those of Lafayette, that do take an applicants’ ability to pay tuition into account when deciding whether to admit the student. Additionally, in 2015, Lehigh committed to meeting full demonstrated financial need. In other words, Lehigh guarantees that a combination of scholarships, grants, work study and loans will meet the difference between the full cost of attendance and a student’s calculated expected family contribution. In other words, there’s no reason for Lehigh’s price tag to scare away interested students of any racial, ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, or other background.

        • Amy Charles '89 on

          Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t work out so well for a lot of students admitted need-blind and offered generous packages the first year. The university’s definition of “demonstrated need” — and Lehigh isn’t alone in this — gets squidgy, meaning that families that genuinely cannot afford to pay much of anything, because it’s about all they can do to stay housed and fed and keep a car running, and take care of basic living expenses, get told that in order for the kid to stay at the fancy school, they have to come up with impossible money. It may not be impossible money for the well-paid officers telling the families these things, but for the families, it’s a crisis after years of painful sacrifice to get the kid to where he his. I used to watch this happen at Lehigh. If you want to see a kid panicked to the point where he can’t eat or pay attention in his classes, this drama will do it.

          The other problem is that it’s one thing to be admitted academically and another thing to be admitted socially when you’re going to a school full of rich kids, particularly rich white kids who live in rich white enclaves. Someone posted in these comments not long ago about having gotten a fraternity bid he’d had to turn down because no way could he and his family afford the social dues. I can remember being taken to an upscale mall and waiting around while my friend got her nails done — I got hungry while I was waiting, but found that in this mall, I couldn’t even afford to buy a brownie. I have a pretty good idea of what would’ve happened to me in that mall if I’d been wandering around on my own, not shopping and black.

          Part of going to college is the relationships you form there. If you’re effectively priced out of those relationships, that is in fact a serious thing to consider in choosing a school. It’s worse if there’s active prejudice and hostility. Look at Boromom and Current Student here. If your mom’s a wage worker at a school because she’s trying to fit work in around taking care of you and your brother, and you’ve got people like Boromom (though I hope not her kid, and btw, Boromom, stop stalking your kid through his college paper) and CS basically telling you that your mom’s a lazy ho who chooses to be poor or is being rightly punished for bad life decisions, and that they resent your fin aid, do you really want to come to this school? I sure as hell wouldn’t. Lehigh isn’t that special academically, and there are much less expensive schools around with far more diverse student populations.

          Some time ago the head of the College Board made what he thought was a wonderfully generous offer in making Ivy access easier to very poor students. He was baffled, a year or so later, to find that they weren’t taking him up on it. But he was a guy from a very well-off family who’d gone to top schools, and he had absolutely no idea why these places might be a torment for people who weren’t similarly privileged. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was offended by the idea. And it’s his right to be offended by the reality, but a reality it remains.

          If you haven’t been in a position where you or people you’re close to have actually had to use these programs yourself, it’s as well to regard your notions about how they actually work as wishful.

          • @Amy Charles, I won’t comment and stoop to your level because to be honest when I read your posts, I agree with you 75% of the time. When you start angrily and sarcastically attacking people, generalizing and spewing your hate for Lehigh and all white people, you lose all credibility and show your true colors. I pray you find inner peace at some point in your life. God Bless.

            • Amy Charles '89 on

              At what point did you begin confusing “disgust with radical selfishness and quietly racist privilege hoarding” with “hatred for white people”?

              As for Lehigh, that’s right, I’m not a fan. I’d very happily give back my degree and sever all connection to the place if I could. If you want me to be able to do that, Patrick Farrell’s the man to email.

          • Current Student on

            Nice strawman! No, I actually understand that many people who aren’t well off are because of misfortune, accidents, bad luck etc. So maybe stop assuming what my position is on certain issues before putting words in my mouth.

            And never would I tell a kid they shouldn’t be at lehigL because of their financial situation. I agree Lehigh should be cheaper, there are great students who don’t come here bec6of the cost.

            But hey, whatever fits your intolerant narrative.

    • Current Student on

      You’re right! Lehigh should stop accepting the best white students and start only accepting only the white students that come from diverse areas! Those darn white kids who only want to study and have a good time with their friends (those they can relate to in some way) instead of having diversity and equality shoved down their throat every five seconds.

      Maybe telling these white kids who want to study and have fun with friends in Greek Life that they’re a problem and causing racism at Lehigh isn’t the correct approach. I can’t believe how radical the average leftist is. It is frankly disgusting to hear people saying that, because I came from a well off mostly white area, I am contributing to a problem simply because of my existence and enrollment at Lehigh.

  2. Until the high cost of attending Lehigh is reduced drastically to appeal to many diverse students and backgrounds it will never change no matter how much financial aid they offer. Lehigh will always need the full ride students to offset the cost and guess who that is? Guess Lehigh hasn’t figured that one out yet with their annual increases. @Current Student, be proud of who you are. I’m sure your parent’s worked hard and sacrificed much to save for your college tuition as me and my husband did for my children’s education.

        • Amy Charles '89 on

          I’m sure you do work hard.
          So do many, many other people who don’t have what you’ve got.

          It is also entirely possible that you’ve had help along the way that other people haven’t had. I’ve known a lot of successful people, some of whom started off in poverty or whose families lost everything in war along the way. I’ve yet to meet a successful person who didn’t luck into one or more of these things:

          – free help from one or more people who were well-placed to help
          – a strong and supportive family
          – brains, or at a minimum canniness
          – decent physical health
          – huge energy
          – strong mental health, including resilience
          – talent of one kind or another
          – freedom from overwhelming caregiving burdens
          – birth into a social class that provided a wealth of opportunities
          – birth into a wealthy and well-connected family
          – leave to reside and work in a stable and supportive place

          Someone who has few or none of these things can work harder than you and me put together, trying to get ahead, and still die early and poor. All the things on that list are gifts. They aren’t equally distributed, and there’s no merit rating for them; you just have them. That’s the nature of privilege. And it’s why it’s unseemly to get sour about supporting other people’s children’s education. You had what it took to be successful. Congratulations. Not everyone else does. Their children are their own people, and also deserve opportunity. Who pays for it? You. That’s part of what you win when you succeed: the privilege of helping people who aren’t your own, but with whom you share a society. You know, the one that made it possible for you to make a success.

          (Personally, I think the money’s better spent at a state school — helps more kids, quality gap is trivial in the end — but whatever.)

          I have these conversations a lot. Often the well-off person I’m talking to is so invested in this myth of “I did it through my hard work” that she’ll resort to blaming other people for having disabled children, for needing eight hours’ sleep a night, for not having a strong and helpful family, for any of those things. Anything to avoid recognizing that (a) yeah, you got help; and (b) it obliges you to turn around and help in meaningful ways that actually opens the doors for others.

          That second part is sticky, because people don’t often want to see what it takes to push those doors open and keep them open. It’s a lot of work, and it means you give back a lot of what you worked hard to get. But there’s an amnesia surrounding the vast amount of work that went into creating the opportunity for one to succeed in the first place — not to mention the favors stuffed into one’s pocket along the way that others didn’t get, by nature or by other people.

          You don’t have to send kids to a school that costs $67K a year. If you do, though, and if you’ve been blessed with the ability and opportunity to make enough money to do that, then for god’s sake don’t gripe about helping other people’s children, too.

      • Current Student on

        I am sorry for my well-off upbringing. I apologize for the success of my parents and my whiteness. I should never have been accepted to Lehigh, despite my GPA and SAT being well in-line with an above average student. If only I wasn’t so white, maybe we wouldn’t have racism problems at this school.

        Jeez, does the intolerant and regressive left understand how twisted and backwards their views are?

        • @current student, don’t feed into it. The “entitled” will never see your logic and will hate no matter what. Pity them since they are part of the problem.

          • Amy Charles '89 on

            Oddly enough, the main thing I learned at Lehigh was an upper-middle-class sense of entitlement as vast as a Montana sky.

            I work with a lot of people who grew up with nothing. You know what they don’t have? A sense of entitlement to anything. Because any crumb at all looks huge to them. It’s why it’s so easy to take advantage of the poor: any tiny favor looks like a bounty from where they are. And they get told by people like you that they deserve nothing anyhow, and for the most part they believe it. They believe it to the point where they have trouble accepting things they’ve earned many times over.

            I used to wonder how some of the girls I went to school with were so effortlessly demanding. They got what they wanted, too. I realized after decades that they were demanding in this manner because they genuinely believed they were entitled to a life involving a ritzy home, high status, all sorts of things that frankly hadn’t even occurred to me. I’m not saying they didn’t work; they did. Some even worked hard. But they had nothing but contempt for other people who worked and didn’t demand and/or get the world, and it was amazing to me how they managed to simply drop such people from their minds as sort of not-people.There didn’t seem to be any reflection, either, on how it was that they were able to demand and get such things, or why it is that the trick doesn’t work for everyone. It was like air to them. It was like the license plate I saw once on a BMW: ASK GET.

            It’s a hell of a bluff, though, and it’s a valuable thing to learn, especially if you’re not a man, or rich, or white. “Learn” is operative: you have to learn that attitude about what you deserve and are simply entitled to, and Lehigh does an excellent job of reinforcing what a lot of the kids there are trained in from birth.

            And yet people like you go around talking about how people who don’t have, or think that those who have shouldn’t be hoarding everything to themselves, are “entitled”. Amazing. I guess that’s how you keep the everything, though.

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