June 2, 2020, 9:40 p.m.: Over 1,000 individuals affiliated with the Lehigh community have now signed the open letter, released earlier today, to President John Simon and Board of Trustees Chairman Kevin Clayton.
That’s up from 200 signatories just six hours earlier. Faculty, staff, students and alumni have all signed the letter. Lori Friedman, Lehigh’s director of media relations, said the university has no response at this time.
The letter calls on Simon, Clayton and the university as a whole to do more to oppose racism, stand up for racial justice and take actionable steps to create a more tolerant community in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. The letter particularly calls out Simon’s May 31 email to the campus community.
The Brown and White will continue to follow this story and report on its developments. You can read the full letter here.
June 2, 2020, 2:55 p.m.: As of publication, almost 200 members of the Lehigh community have signed an open letter to President John Simon and Board of Trustees Chairman Kevin Clayton regarding their response to the death of George Floyd.
The letter, which you can read in full, demanded anti-racist actions and declared that Simon didn’t say enough about the situation in his May 31 email to the university. The letter to Simon said valuing black lives is more than a simple statement.
“We were dismayed that your May 31st email did not name either the murder of George Floyd or the concrete anti-racist actions that you, as the leader of our institution, are advocating,” the letter said. “’Peaceful dialogue,’ ‘respectful debate,’ and ‘shared values’ are terms that deny the material realities of the loss of black lives across the United States, by presenting black death as something we can respectfully disagree about.”
The open letter said systematic racism remains a part of Lehigh and that Simon’s email “perpetrated that inequality.” The letter went on to say Simon’s administration has continued long standing policies that disempower people of color. Faculty, staff, students and alumni have all signed the letter.
“Outsourcing food services, housekeeping, and childcare services, for example, denies important benefits to these essential workers,” the letter said. “Our leadership is overwhelmingly white. Lehigh’s climate is still unwelcoming to students, staff, and faculty of color. Racist events, inside and outside the classroom, are framed as one-off, individual bad acts, rather than an opportunity for university leadership to take action against institutional racism.”
The demands in the letter included: true living wages and benefits for all Lehigh employees, fully funded ethnic studies and critical race studies, holding public listening sessions so the president and top administrators can listen to community concerns, divesting from any relationship with the Bethlehem Police, providing an educational requirement for students that focuses on histories of racial and ethical inequalities, diversify the workforce at all levels and provide meaningful support for black students, faculty, staff and other groups.
The letter said this pandemic, which has hit Lehigh hard financially, is another reason that Lehigh must take immediate action.
“COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color and low paid, essential workers,” the letter said. “It has also demonstrated how vital the arts, humanities, and sciences are for our very survival as a society. It is time to dig deep into our endowment to make a truly just Lehigh. At this moment, Lehigh needs true leadership and innovation. Our true path to prominence requires us to invest in justice.”
Criticism of the school’s response to George Floyd’s tragic murder on May 25 has taken place on social media, too. The school has faced a blistering reaction on both Simon’s personal Instagram page and the university’s Instagram page in recent days.
Hours before Simon’s May 31 email to the school in which he condemned hatred and bigotry, Simon posted several photos of him enjoying a walk around campus. The post was flooded by about 70 comments, mostly from students, expressing their disappointment about the lack of action the school has taken since Floyd’s death on May 25.
“Systemic racism is the cause of these deaths; that cannot be a subject of ‘respectful debate’ without further denying the humanity of those who have died,” the letter reads. “Systematic racism is part of Lehigh, as an institution, and your email perpetuated that inequality.”