Edit Desk: Apathy at Lehigh

5

Eli Fraerman

The shocked faces of my parents, the excitement in my voice, the approval from my friends: “That’s awesome,” they would say.

All of these were reactions when I got into Lehigh. I was very unsure if I would get in, so when the day came, it felt amazing. I was so happy to have the chance to go to a school with fantastic academics, excellent social opportunities and, with my interest in sports journalism, division 1 sports.

I came to school the next day flaunting a Lehigh shirt. I was so proud of my accomplishment.

Today, it can be easy to forget the reason why I, and others, came to this amazing school. Caught up in our work, we too often forget the pride that we once felt to go here. Collectively, there is very little school spirit at Lehigh.

It seems easier to be prideful of this school before and after graduation. Shouldn’t our time spent here be where we feel it most? Too often, it isn’t.

Late last month, Lehigh basketball legend C.J. McCollum had his jersey retired during a thriller of a game against Holy Cross that was decided by only two points.

The 2,804 people in attendance marked the most highly attended home game since Lehigh lost to Holy Cross in the Patriot League Championship three years ago in March of 2016.

The stadium was just 50 percent full.

A Lehigh team that generally has a realistic shot of making the NCAA tournament every year hasn’t exceeded 50 percent attendance in three years.

On March 7, Lehigh defeated Army in the Patriot League quarterfinals in a game that only had 1,546 fans in attendance, roughly 28 percent. This game was on the Thursday before spring break, so students were still around to go to the game.

It is hard to imagine that at 7 p.m. on a Thursday that students would be overly consumed by other activities. The reality is not that Lehigh students are too busy with other extracurricular activities to cheer on a Lehigh sports team that had a chance to make the NCAA tournament.

However, the reality is that most people don’t care. School spirit at Lehigh is a joke.

Even football, which would conceivably captivate more of an audience, suffered this past year with the best attendance sitting at around 41 percent of the 16 thousand individual capacity.

While sports are an easy way to detect apathy at Lehigh, that is not to say apathy isn’t present in other parts of our school’s culture.

In my time at the school, I have heard multiple people say that the only things to do at Lehigh are to “work and drink.” While these statements may have been declared jokingly or in gest, it is undeniable that some see their Lehigh experience as this basic.

Like most universities, Lehigh has an abundance of clubs to get involved in and an also boasts plenty of networking opportunities. But, the ability for students to get involved does not always transcend past this.

We understand that Lehigh students chose to go to school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, not, say, New York City. Opportunities for extracurriculars and social life in Bethlehem are inherently going to be more limited than they would be in a major city. However, Lehigh’s problems with apathy go beyond that.

Amid the issues surrounding the administration’s clear frustration with Greek life, it is necessary to take a step back and assess why Greek life became such a staple and tradition at Lehigh.

Greek life emerged as a way for students to unite in when there was a greater need for activities that fostered student involvement.

While there is undoubtedly a plethora of more ways to get involved at Lehigh and give back to the community than there were when Greek life was first present at Lehigh in 1872, the culture of the school has remained much the same.

It is obvious that the administration is at a crossroads with where the school is at now and where they want it be. Lehigh is a top notch academic school and there are continuous initiatives to take Lehigh to new heights, potentially even establishing it as a school that could be in the conversation as an equivalent to some Ivy League schools.

With that being said, we need to also facilitate more ways to get involved on campus both on social and extracurricular levels. Lehigh students as whole have failed to get involved much beyond their friend groups. Of course, there are some individuals who have found ways to be involved in several initiatives on campus, but most struggle to do so.

In a time in which Lehigh wants to change the reputation of the school, there needs to also be a change in culture. We should not forego our traditions, but rather enhance them and create an environment in which apathy isn’t something that defines us.

Why hyper focus on growing the school physically before we eliminate the apathy that hinders us emotionally?

Eli Fraerman, ’21, is an assistant sports editor for the Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected] 

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5 Comments

  1. Bruce Haines ‘67 on

    Excellent article that is very evident by those of us who graduated years ago where Lehigh tradition & school spirit was genuinely embraced.

    Basketball was never the traditional sport that galvanized Lehigh but Wrestling was & continues to be king for those of us from prior eras thru the 1980’s era. Secondly was football where the game was the highlight for weekend dating & not the tailgate party.

    Lehigh fraternities were not the alternative to create school spirit but clearly were supporters of school spirit enjoyed by all. Dorm students used to be the first in line to get into overflowing wrestling matches to sit at matside to watch little Lehigh take in a Big Ten or Big 8 opponent intimidated by the Lehigh faithfall home mat advantage at Grace Hall or in Stabler.

    Your point is so valid about Lehigh lack of spirit. The current desire to move off campus & become an adult by sophomore year decimates leadership on campus in fraternities & dorms. Moving off campus used to be something disdained for lack of engagement & seniors had first priority for on campus housing because that was where they wanted to live to be part of that spirit.

    Sad state of affairs & your article bears significant discussion among students/alumni/staff if Lehigh desires improved recognition. Lehigh peer rankings have dropped dramatically over the past 30 years. All this is a key part of the reason with reduced Alumni engagement also significantly observed. .

    • Robert F Davenport Jr on

      Your descriptions of :”how it was” are spot on. Basketball had an enthusiastic following during your years (I am ’68). I wonder what would have happened if Pete Carril had stayed at Lehigh instead of going to Princeton? I don’t know about the student support he had at Princeton but the national interest was high.

  2. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    I’m going to say it’s because women were brought to Lehigh as undergraduates because the marching 97 was understaffed for many years during the integration process. That’s too simple and the addition was needed and has been a good thing. The cause is culture change. Today’s world is more individualistic and more biased against conservative ideas. If the white male alumni liked it, it is suspect. The white males did have school spirit and did support basketball and football, even through often dismal seasons. This is a generalization and a bit of overkill but the culture of the current student body is the reason.

    I believe the expansion of the student body is also a cause as well as the decrease in local support. There has not been a Bethlehem newspaper for a long time and the Allentown Call Chronicle’s home team is Penn State. How many students were fans of Lehigh before matriculating; how many of those still are fans of their favorite college while growing up?

    The current Lehigh coaches and athletes seem to me to be on the whole superior in motivation and skill to those of bygone years; they now play in a highly competitive league. They deserve support. They, like the student body are indicative of a changing culture

  3. Embarrassed to Be Associated on

    “Potentially even establishing it as a school that could be in the conversation as an equivalent to some Ivy League schools.”

    It once was….

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