Members of the Lehigh community are reacting to the latest petition created by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, which demands the board of trustees rescind President Donald Trump’s honorary degree.
The OMA petition outlined reasons to revoke the degree, chief among them the perceived disparity between Trump’s words and actions and the university’s commitment to anti-racism. Trump was awarded the degree after speaking at a commencement ceremony in 1988.
Chad Williams, director of OMA, said the demands he set forth in the petition are not politically motivated, but rather are strictly a comparison between Trump’s actions and Lehigh’s Principles of our Equitable Community, to which OMA believes Trump has violated.
Williams is expected to officially present the letter and petition to the executive committee of the board of trustees in the near future. The committee will then decide on a course of action.
“OMA believes it is hypocritical and alarmingly tone deaf for Lehigh University to dedicate itself to becoming an anti-racist institution while also publicly showing its support for the rampant white supremacy and outright xenophobia displayed by the current U.S. President Donald Trump,” the letter said.
While honorary degrees are largely symbolic, OMA said by rescinding Trump’s degree, Lehigh is pledging its commitment to changing the campus culture to make it more inclusive to all students, faculty and staff, particularly those who are individuals of color.
Marietta Sisca, ‘23, vice president of the College Republicans, however, said the petition to rescind the degree seems “very performative.” Sisca said the College Republicans are considering writing a letter of their own to the board of trustees to express their viewpoint, urging the board to focus its efforts on helping the campus community rather than on the honorary degree itself.
“I don’t see how rescinding an honorary degree is going to fix racism at Lehigh,” Sisca said.
Hannah Kushner, ‘21, press secretary of the College Democrats, said Trump is a terrible representative of the Lehigh community since he frequently breaks the Principles of our Equitable Community.
In part, Lehigh’s Principles of our Equitable Community states that “every member of our community has a personal responsibility to acknowledge and practice” the rejection of “discrimination in all its forms” and a “commitment to the highest standards of respect, civility, courtesy and sensitivity toward every individual.”
“Now that Lehigh wants to be an anti-racist institution, it makes sense that they would want someone as openly bigoted as Donald Trump to not hold an honorary degree,” Kushner said.
Student Senate sent an email to the Lehigh community on Nov. 9 supporting efforts to revoke Trump’s degree.
Garret Anderson, ‘21, secretary of the College Republicans, said the honorary degree should not be rescinded as he believes Trump’s actions have not violated any of Lehigh’s policies.
“Donald Trump has not done anything flagrantly, or anything racist, to my knowledge,” Anderson said.
This petition to rescind Trump’s honorary degree is the third similar attempt in the past four years. The previous two petitions — one in 2017 and one in 2018 — resulted in the board taking no action. The board of trustees did revoke Bill Cosby’s honorary degree after he was accused of sexual assault by multiple women. The degree was rescinded before Cosby was found guilty of those charges.
With this most recent petition, Williams hopes the commitment from Lehigh President John Simon and Board Chair Kevin Clayton to make the university actively anti-racist will encourage the board to take action this time.
Additionally, OMA is requesting the board provide a rationale for their decision if they choose not to rescind Trump’s degree or abstain from voting.
“We have absolutely no language, no rationale, no reasoning that we can refer to, and I think that that’s just inappropriate,” Williams said.