In this Nov. 10, 2016, file photo, protestors gather by the UC flagpole at a silent rally asking Lehigh to revoke President Donald Trump's honorary degree. A third petition in the last four years has arisen recently that similarly asks the board to rescind Trump's degree after the board did not do so the previous two times. (Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

Students react to the latest petition to rescind President Trump’s honorary degree

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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.

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11 Comments

  1. Current Student on

    It’s sad to be a Lehigh student knowing this level of ignorance and willful racism is tolerated by our community and given leadership positions in certain organizations that champion inclusivity, like the Gryphon Society. I certainly am not proud to be affiliated with someone who is willing to state publicly that he doesn’t think Donald Trump has done anything racist / that violates the Principles of Our Equitable community while we are both tasked with teaching our residents what these principles are. Maybe I should remind this young man that our president is credibly accused of sexual harassment and assault by over 20 women, but I have a feeling he’s not interested in listening to the voices of survivors. This violates the first principle, but I also have a feeling he doesn’t care about this to begin with.

    These College Republicans haven’t done anything to make our campus more inclusive, so I don’t quite understand why they are afforded a platform to weigh in on an issue with which they don’t actually have anything useful to contribute. It’s also interesting to me that these College Republicans think revoking the degree is “performative” and functionally pointless, yet they argue against revoking it in the same breath. So much for our university teaching critical thinking and basic rhetorical analysis, looks like a few slipped through the cracks.

    • College Republicans Member on

      To Current Student –
      Do you have any real evidence to show that the College Republicans aren’t inclusive? It could not be more hypocritical to claim that the club is not inclusive while also believing that others with a different viewpoint than yours should not be afforded a platform to share their views. Might I add that it is usually those that scream inclusivity and tolerance from the rooftops like you that are the least inclusive and tolerant to any dissenting or right-of-center perspective in reality.

      Marietta is correct to say that revoking Trump’s degree would be “performative” since doing so would show that Lehigh sees no problem with folding to an angry majority that only raised concerns about this degree once Trump announced his plans to run for president. There is no evidence to suggest that revoking Trump’s degree will magically make Lehigh more inclusive for all its students. That would be done instead through true change by adopting actual policies.

      • Current Student on

        No one is claiming that revoking the degree will magically fix racism at Lehigh and make it magically more inclusive in the same breath, and continuing to repeat this falsehood – one that *no one* who is advocating for revoking the degree agrees with – is a disappointing type of intellectual dishonesty. It’s a step toward solidifying the institution’s own commitment to being an anti-racist institution, and if you’re uncomfortable with our university trying to be a truly more just place that cares about the demands of the *majority* of the campus community, “angry” or not, you can attend another school.

        Do you think revoking the degree and taking more concrete steps toward change for the better are mutually exclusive? They aren’t. Lehigh can revoke the degree, like the majority of students and professors want, and commit to specific policy changes at the same time. Showcases of dedication to something as significant as anti-racism, “performative” or not, are an important step in holding institutions accountable to *their own commitments.*

        Unfortunately for you and the rest of the College Republicans, you don’t actually get to determine what is and is not “performative” action for the university to take when trying to transition to being an anti-racist university. The Office of Multicultural Affairs and Black students – those who directly deal with the impact of white supremacy and racism – have made clear that to revoke this degree is anything *but* performative, as it communicates to those communities on campus that the university is actually interested in hearing and responding to their demands rather than continue to offer empty lip service. Those of us who advocate for revoking this degree know that doing so will not magically transform the campus community overnight. Yet the continued failure of this university to revoke the degree of a man who, by any honest and objective measure, has emboldened white supremacists and elevated known racists to positions of federal leadership, is the failure to truly commit to anti-racism institution wide.

        For what its worth, I am absolutely tolerant of beliefs that are based in objective reality and that do not try to harm those who already experience marginalization. I am actually not interested at all in hearing or affording legitimacy the opinions of members of a political party currently seeking to undo a legitimate election in the interest of keeping someone in power who is responsible for the deaths of almost 300,000 Americans. I am super tolerant of different approaches to public policy – I’d happily debate the best ways to fund public schools and reform our healthcare system to ensure maximum coverage. I am not, however, tolerant of racist and hateful beliefs, ones that happen to define the party you have chosen to affiliate with writ large.

        • College Republicans Member on

          To respond to your question, I don’t believe revoking the degree and taking action elsewhere is mutually exclusive. Perhaps where I respectfully disagree with you about holding Lehigh accountable is with Trump’s degree. I don’t see that as the way to do so for a variety of reasons, but making Lehigh a more inclusive and equitable community starts with instituting campus-wide policies affecting students rather than seeking to revoke Trump’s degree. Revoking this degree will not have a material impact on the University community in the same way that focusing on adopting policies seen as anti-racist would, so why would they focus on this? Maybe this involves a greater discussion about what OMA has done to make Lehigh concretely more antiracist (not as criticism but rather curiosity).

          I believe that it is misguided to say that OMA and students of any race in particular should be the only ones we all look to in order to make Lehigh a more inclusive and antiracist community. The point of inclusion is to consider all backgrounds and viewpoints, after all. What if an Asian, Hispanic, or Jewish student objected to action led by OMA, for example? Should they not have a say in antiracist policy given that they all face discrimination as well?

          Your final paragraph speaks to my point about your claims of inclusivity. You write that you’re tolerant of others’ beliefs to only then justify your decision to not listen to others simply because you oppose the opinions of Republicans due to their collective stance surrounding the election, for example, which I doubt is the only area that we see differently. By that logic, I could choose to ignore the opinions of my friends that are Democrats simply because Democratic party leaders align themselves with policies and rhetoric that I strongly disagree with. As a separate point of contention, solely blaming Trump for every COVID-related death is to ignore deadly policies such as Gov. Cuomo’s order to admit patients into nursing homes that may have tested positive in New York.

    • To “Current Student” who commented December 10 at 7:36 PM

      It’s even more sad to be a Lehigh Student knowing that if you express a different political view you will be referred to as ignorant and racist. To deny someone a leadership position solely based on his/her political view is blatant discrimination. To equate having a different political view with “violating the Principles of Our Equitable community” seems to directly contradict the intent of the existence of such principles. I have been a female in the Republican club for the entirety of my time at Lehigh and can assure you that when it comes to the topic of sexual harassment no male or female in the club would ever dismiss the accounts of the “survivors.” This was true for allegations made against Trump, Kavanaugh, and Biden. Again, to assume that because someone differs in their political views that they don’t care about an equitable community is wrong.

      Inclusive? The College Republicans have never once denied access to our club based on their political views (even if they differ from ours), their gender, and their race. Again, the ones guilty of being un-inclusive are those who deny someone a voice solely based on that fact that they disagree with them on a political basis. Your final line is a scary, almost Freudian slip of your true wishes for Lehigh. The fact that you feel the University has failed when not all of the students agree with your opinion should be alarming to many. I would argue that a healthy Lehigh Community that fosters “critical thinking and basic rhetorical analysis” is one that contains people who hold a variety of political beliefs.

  2. I don’t understand what you would have the College Republicans do to make “our campus more inclusive”. That is such an arbitrary demand to require people to meet in order to have a voice. Unless you can honestly say that College Republicans have discriminated against Lehigh students (or anyone else), I don’t think that is an appropriate demand.

  3. To “Current Student” who commented December 10 at 7:36 PM

    It’s even more sad to be a Lehigh Student knowing that if you express a different political view you will be referred to as ignorant and racist. To deny someone a leadership position solely based on his/her political view is blatant discrimination. To equate having a different political view with “violating the Principles of Our Equitable community” seems to directly contradict the intent of the existence of such principles. I have been a female in the Republican club for the entirety of my time at Lehigh and can assure you that when it comes to the topic of sexual harassment no male or female in the club would ever dismiss the accounts of the “survivors.” This was true for allegations made against Trump, Kavanaugh, and Biden. Again, to assume that because someone differs in their political views that they don’t care about an equitable community is wrong.

    Inclusive? The College Republicans have never once denied access to our club based on their political views (even if they differ from ours), their gender, and their race. Again, the ones guilty of being un-inclusive are those who deny someone a voice solely based on that fact that they disagree with them on a political basis. Your final line is a scary, almost Freudian slip of your true wishes for Lehigh. The fact that you feel the University has failed when not all of the students agree with your opinion should be alarming to many. I would argue that a healthy Lehigh Community that fosters “critical thinking and basic rhetorical analysis” is one that contains people who hold a variety of political beliefs.

  4. I think this goes to show Lehigh’s lack of transparency and lack of input in choosing honorary degree recipients from students and faculty. I wonder if He ever donated money to Lehigh or made any contributions after he was awarded the “honor” to which Lehigh is quivering about. While I am impartial, what matters is creating a better system in choosing better representatives of Lehigh. According to Penn, they recisended Cosby’s based on credible evidence. Well, what’s credible evidence here? What will it take to change perspectives?

    Let’s not attack current student’s ideas or organizations. Let’s hold the University responsible. Feeding into bullying one group over another does not get anywhere. Let’s also recognize the B and W for highlighting both sides of the story.

    • Bruce Haines ‘67 on

      I want to compliment the B&W for writing a balanced story including comments from the College Republicans.

      Clearly this initiative by a Lehigh administrator is misguided & diverts attention from his job at Lehigh. President Trump accomplished more for minorities than any President in 50 years. He created the lowest unemployment rate pre-COVID for minorities in history. He funded historically black colleges & initiated prison reform that reversed Biden initiative to imprison blacks in the 1990’s. He created Opportunity Zones to encourage inner city investment to help create jobs for minorities that lost their manufacturing jobs to unfair trade abuses by China, Mexico & others.

      This entire initiative is misguided political retaliation.

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