President Simon, encapsulated the events at the US Capitol on Jan. 6 into 93 words. Ninety-three words that he chose to share, not in an email to the Lehigh community, but on social media.
In two short paragraphs, he wrote about the “sadness and anger” following the “lawlessness in our nation’s capitol” and that he trusts this event will “inspire us to redouble our efforts to unite our country and encourage the peaceful pursuit of governance.”
Writing 93 words seemed to him to be enough of an effort. He even noted that “we have much work to do.”
His message, however, was most notable for what it did not say.
He did not mention how the events of Jan. 6 were acts of domestic terrorism that have shaken our democracy, a principle in which our country is founded upon, to its core. He did not mention how men and women – wearing Nazi paraphanelia, waving confederate flags, some armed – were able to invade our nation’s capitol, vandalize priceless historical artifacts and threaten the lives of working legislators. He did not mention how these violent rioters were met with dramatically less police force than the people who peacefully protested in recent Black Lives Matter protests this past June.
Not once did he mention that President Trump, who at that point, held an honorary degree from Lehigh, was a central proponent of this violent and shameful riot.
However, it comes as no surprise that the response from our university administration be empty and begrudgingly obligatory. They have shown they’d prefer to straddle the fence than take a stance on critical events out of fear of ruffling the feathers of those with the deepest pockets.
On many occasions over the past four years we have seen this idle bystander approach. We saw this when students and faculty petitioned to have Trump’s honorary degree rescinded, but were denied by Lehigh’s Board of Trustees more than once.
We saw this when President Simon issued a statement about George Floyd’s death in which he condemned racism at our institution but couldn’t bring himself to say the words “Black Lives Matter.”
And we saw this last Thursday, when all we got from President Simon was 93 words in an Instagram post about the Capitol riot.
So President Simon, you say “we have much work to do.” But our question to you is, what work are you going to do?
Perhaps a good place to start is to acknowledge the fundamental fallacy that caused the events of Jan. 6 – that it is Trump’s calling the 2020 presidential election fraudulent, and the refusal of others to disavow this lie, that poses a grave threat to our democracy.
And you say “we must continue to affirm our shared responsibility to fight ignorance, model inclusive excellence and embrace the power of diversity.” So why don’t you acknowledge how the riots were a blatant display of the white privilege in our country?
You also say that, “we must play an active role in understanding, candidly engaging in dialogue, and solving the problems of racial inequity and injustice.” So why have your attempts to communicate with the Lehigh community about these issues been vague and lack transparency?
Five people died, and many others were injured in the riot, yet rioters were met by minimal police force and only 82 people were arrested. In contrast, peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors were treated brutally by the police countless times over the past year., and on June 1, a crowd was tear-gassed and 326 were arrested.
Trump told the rioters he loved them and that they are very special, but called Black Lives Matter protesters “thugs,” “looters” and “terrorists.” The difference, however, is the rioters violently attacked the Capitol to stop a legislative procedure integral to our democracy because they didn’t get what they wanted, whereas BLM protestors peacefully acted on their first amendment rights to show resistance to a system that disproportionately targets people of color.
Five Trump officials have resigned since last Wednesday. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and many prominent Republicans, have called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office immediately, and if he declines, says they are prepared to impeach him for a second time, according to The New York Times.
These people planned this attack on behalf of Trump because they were so brainwashed by the lies he has told and continues to tell.
You and the Board of Trustees claim that you are striving for Lehigh to be an anti-racist institution, but the requests of students and faculty who have on countless occasions voiced their concerns about racial inequity within our community weren’t enough to rescind Trump’s degree. It took him inciting an act of sedition–– and then refusing to condemn the Capitol rioters on live television––for Lehigh to finally take action.
On Jan. 8 at 10:16 a.m.,The Board of Trustees announced that Trump’s honorary degree had been rescinded. This time only in a 58 word message.
If this is the “work” that you, President Simon, said has to be done, then that is just scratching the surface—there is a vast difference between just rescinding a degree and actually implementing practices that will make Lehigh a more tolerant and accepting community.
Moving forward, Lehigh’s plan of action to address racism within our institution must go far beyond the vague messages we’ve received thus far, and the diversity trainings and workshops you’ve set in place. It requires transparency and commitment to investigating and fixing the systemically racist practices that contribute to an inequitable community.
Donald Trump is racist, sexist, anti-semetic, xenophobic and a pathological liar. By honoring him for so long, that made Lehigh complicit in his prejudice and lies.
Damage has been done, and there is much work ahead to clean up the debris.
It’s now time that Lehigh’s administration finally listens to those they represent. And uses action instead of words to show their opposition to discrimination in our institution and in our nation.
Take a stand against racism. Take a stand to honor the truth. Take a stand to respect your students and faculty. Help be a part of the change.