On Jan 29, Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics posted a video to its YouTube page of Professor of Economics, Frank Gunter, giving a lesson on the “Three Myths of Poverty” as a part of the school’s Kitchen Table Talk video series.
He claims these myths to be that “poverty is mostly connected to race,” “poverty is a generational curse” and that “the poor have no agency.”
These statements are not only false and damaging, but are also blatantly racist.
The Lehigh community is outraged. The video, and responses to it, were shared and reposted by many students across social media platforms.
Unsurprisingly, Lehigh’s response to this was, yet again, lackluster and disappointing.
The Lehigh College of Business posted a statement on their Instagram account about how their Kitchen Table Talk video series is meant to encourage discussion, and based on the student responses to the video, they plan to post more videos on the topic of poverty and race with more diverse perspectives.
Nowhere in this response did The College of Business disavow the falsehoods in the statements made by Professor Gunter. Nowhere did they apologize to Lehigh students and faculty for publishing the video. And nowhere did they acknowledge that this was an act of racism, and that by posting it, they were condoning and encouraging these racist behaviors within their curriculum as well.
However, they did decide to take down the video once it received negative traction.
Lehigh continues to claim that they are in the process of making Lehigh an anti-racist institution. But if they think that they will accomplish this goal by inviting students to the occasional Zoom workshop to discuss race and diversity or by requiring the completion of an online inclusion training program, they are very wrong.
Lehigh needs to hold themselves, and their faculty, accountable and stop denying the racism that is clearly present on our campus. And not just when they receive backlash for something they’ve done wrong after the fact.
Lehigh gave no explanation about the thought process that went into the publishing of this video, no apology and provided no references to plans or steps they will take moving forward in order to prevent something like this from happening again.
This video may not be reflective of the thoughts of all Lehigh faculty and curriculum. However, as students we should be able to respect our professors and accept what they teach us to be knowledgeable and truthful.
The posting of this video begs the question: Is Lehigh comfortable with its professors teaching students false information?
In an interview with The Brown and White, Gunter said that he doesn’t care if people attack his data or his analysis, but took issue when his character was in question. “Attack me?” he questioned. “You don’t know me.”
Gunter, choosing to stand by his statements and not apologize for his insensitivity during a time of heightened awareness toward race inequality, shows how greatly Lehigh needs to look at who is teaching its classes and better evaluate what professors are claiming and producing on behalf of the school.
Lehigh has consistently shown that they would rather remain idle with any potentially controversial issues, and will only ever speak up and do “something” when they have no other choice because their community is forcing them to do so.
It shouldn’t have to take backlash from the Lehigh community for the school to even comment on these issues.
This reactive action method that Lehigh continues to take only takes us further from the university’s proclaimed goal of creating an inclusive campus and anti-racist institution.
Lehigh must create a proactive plan of action that will not only help prevent the spread of racist misinformation, as displayed in this video, but will also encourage understanding amongst the community that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.
If Lehigh wants their students to believe that change is going to happen, it shouldn’t wait for student outrage over acts of racism from Lehigh faculty for a statement to be issued. And more importantly, these statements should not call false and insensitive claims, as the ones Gunter made, a “positive” thing because it encouraged “discussion.” Rather, they should be called for what they are— racist.