Hundreds gathered at a sit-in near City Hall in Bethlehem on June 4, 2020. The Bethlehem community — including Lehigh — has become active in recent weeks in advocating for racial equality and protesting police brutality. (Lucy Kwiatek/B&W Staff)

Lehigh students take action in the fight for Black Lives Matter

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Even with students away from campus, a wave of activism has sprung up as the nation grapples with George Floyd’s death and police brutality and racial oppression more generally.

The Lehigh Students for BLM group was formed within the past week for students to discuss efforts that the community could conduct to make a difference, in light of the events occurring around the nation.  

As of June 6, the GroupMe for the advocacy group has 821 members. The group’s efforts are published on an Instagram account

According to the group’s Instagram, “Lehigh students for BLM was created to unite different campus groups, fundraise for the Black Lives Matter movement, and enact change in our own Lehigh community.” Over 60 student organizations are now in participation.

The group is accepting Venmo donations via @LehighStudentsforBLM. Dominique Ocampo, ‘22, said the fundraising efforts will be split among 51 different Black Lives Matter nonprofits and bail funds.  

On June 4, the group published a petition on its Instagram page demanding Lehigh match the total funds raised by Lehigh Students for Black Lives Matter. In the letter, they shared that in less than 48 hours, the group has raised over $10,000. 

Lehigh students for BLM Instagram page

Anique Groce, ‘21, is a member of the student GroupMe. She hopes to see fundraising efforts and for clubs and organizations to create flyers with links to resources for education on anti-racism. She said she’d like to see more efforts during orientation dedicated to facilitating student conversations on upholding diversity and gaining a greater understanding of what it means to be a minority. 

Besides fundraising efforts, students are calling for more partnered events on campus to facilitate conversations on race, peer workshops, and resources for how non-black allies can support black-owned businesses and how they can productively contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement.  

Raphael Keele, ‘22  started a change.org petition for safer policing on Lehigh’s campus. 

“Because of where I grew up and where I’m from, I always knew to never call the police. That’s just not something people do,” Keele said. “So I figured that the best thing to do was to address the police situation because the movement wasn’t really talking about what we were going to do to address the institutions that are targeting black lives. So I decided to take the initiative to bring up this fact.”

Petition for safer policing on Lehigh’s campus

Lehigh Police Chief Jason Schiffer spoke out about the injustices that Floyd faced and the role that officers play in a community in a thread on Twitter on May 29. 

 Keele’s initial goal with the petition was to do a formal investigation of the police, but hopes that it will create long-lasting effects through implicit bias training and to have a form of data collection for students to understand the demographics of who is being arrested by LUPD. 

As of June 6, the petition has 1,553 signatures. 

“I hope non-black students continue to act as passionately and productively as they have been right now,” Ocampo said.

Students and administration hold dialogue in town hall

One day after Simon and Clayton responded to the open letter, BSU and the Student Senate co- hosted a Black Lives Matter Town Hall on Zoom on June 4. Simon, Schiffer, Nathan Urban; the new provost, Ric Hall; the vice president of student affairs and Donald Outing; the vice president for equity and community, were all in attendance. 

The Zoom call could only allow up to 500 participants and, at times, reached the full 500-member capacity. Undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and alumni were all represented on the call. 

Eve Freed, ‘21, the president of Student Senate, began the call with a statement from Senate and then introduced the town hall’s moderators: Will Constant, ‘21, the vice president of BSU and Hank Portney, ‘21, the vice president of leadership for the Senate. 

Simon, at the beginning of the call, expressed his apologies to students and his intentions to listen to the Lehigh community and particularly to black individuals. 

The following topics were discussed on the call: personal experiences with profiling on campus, treatment of black students at off-campus parties, endowing funds to programs such as LUSSI, the need to diversify faculty and staff, having more resources available for students from marginalized communities, the way the university promotes diversity on campus, having more resources for black international students, changes in course curriculums to allow for more race education, changes in content for first-year orientation, having required race education programming at least once a semester, and the university matching the donations raised by the Lehigh Students for Black Lives Matter Venmo campaign.

The honorary degree President Donald Trump holds from Lehigh also came up on the call, with participants highlighting the numerous incidents in which Trump has said and done harmful things to individuals from marginalized communities. The university’s Board of Trustees has twice taken no action on rescinding the degree — once after a student-led petition and once following a vote from faculty supporting the revocation of the degree. Speakers noted the university rescinded Bill Cosby’s honorary degree in 2015, following sexual assault accusations. 

In reflecting on the current situation in the country, Gabriela Montes, ‘20 ‘21G, recalls the summer before she started at Lehigh when people had begun to record police encounters and share them publicly. She believes that this is still happening, four years later.

Montes said that something about this time feels different to her, though, with the pandemic still around and three deaths being actively promoted and protested in the media. 

“I’ve never seen such national protest, every city has had protests with big showings,” Montes said. “Maybe this is the last straw for everyone and maybe some real change will finally happen.”

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