Despite recent concerns over the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, senior administrators sat down with prospective students over Zoom on Dec. 8 to talk about the university’s commitment to diversifying their undergraduate population.
Director of Admissions Bruce Bunnick and Vice President of Equity and Inclusion Donald Outing worked in tandem to educate and inform these students about the nature of diversity at Lehigh as well as efforts being made to encourage it.
Outing discussed the four on-campus offices that cater to students’ needs on issues of diversity and inclusion: the Center for Gender Equity, the Pride Center, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Student Access and Success Office.
The university sees these offices as a way for them to take a more systematic approach to ensure inclusion, Outing said. He said they can always do better and emphasized that diversity, equity and inclusion is not a destination, rather an ongoing journey.
The university is working to allow for all students to have equal access to experiential learning opportunities such as research, internships and studying abroad, Outing said. The diversity of the student body has come into sharper focus, especially as the university’s plans to add 1,000 more undergraduate students over the coming decade through its Path to Prominence plan has officially begun.
Not everyone on Lehigh’s campus may have previously had the resources or the knowledge to explore these high impact experiences, and the Student Access and Success Office is working to bridge the gap.
“This is a community effort, a university effort,” Outing said. “You’ll see that it is our faculty, staff, alumni, student body, that are engaged and assuring that all of our students have the opportunity to participate in these opportunities.”
The number of students participating in these high impact programs has increased, he said.
“Everything from our internships out at the NASDAQ center in Silicon Valley, to those traveling to Shanghai, to those interning at the U.S. State Department, are actual experiences that our students have been able to take advantage of,” Outing said.
Some students believe there are still many diversity and inclusion problems that need to be fixed and have done their part to address it.
Chloe Sider, ‘20, and Nina Alameno, ‘21, both started the Diversity Peer Educators program to help transform Lehigh into an actively anti-racist institution by bringing awareness to the student body.
“We wanted to tackle the issue we thought was the biggest on campus: the lack of diversity and inclusion and racism on campus,” Sider said.
Alameno said diversity and inclusion remains a big problem at the university and Diversity Peer Educators is working to enact change in ways Lehigh facilities can’t. Alameno said Diversity Peer Educators exists to facilitate the conversation.
“What’s lacking at Lehigh is that there is no discussion of it,” she said.
Bunnick and Outing, during their talk, provided prospective students with a statistical breakdown of the racial makeup of Lehigh’s undergraduate student body.
But Sider said the statistics are an inaccurate reflection of life on campus.
“A percentage is out of a whole, but you would have to assume that everyone in that percentage is equal to give it a basic percentage,” Sider said. “That’s just not the case at Lehigh.”
Alameno said Lehigh misleads it’s prospective students and gives them a false sense of what the student body is like.
“It’s unfair to students who want to see what the real student body is,” she said. “When they are coming to Lehigh, to see advertisements of people that look like you and to then come to school and realize that is not the case is an issue.”
Sider said the students should have the ability to feel proud of the institution and their actions in response to diversity issues.
“We are so literally segregated that once you leave the picture-perfect advertisements of Lehigh, people are physically separated from one another,” Sider said. “It is not only classes or acceptances, it is a community where people are pushed to one side.”