Charles, '68G, and Ruth Marcon in 2016. The couple has given a $2.5 million dollar gift to the university to establish the Marcon Institute. (Courtesy of Lehigh Valley Community Foundation)

Lehigh receives $2.5 million gift to create Marcon Institute for research and study on racial injustice


In an April 23 community-wide email, Lehigh announced it will be establishing an institute dedicated to the research and study of influences and perspectives on racial justice. 

Charles, ‘68G, and Ruth Marcon donated a gift of $2.5 million to create the Marcon Institute. They said they hope to provoke a dialogue on racial injustices as well as create awareness of how pervasive racism is in America. 

Erin Firestone, senior director of marketing and communications in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, said the institute will provide undergraduate students a way to get involved in projects that connect students with local partners, in order to encourage legislative change. 

According to the university’s press release, undergraduate scholars—who will be called Marcon fellows—will work to enact change in the areas of social justice and anti-racism. 

“This gift and the institute will foster a new generation of students with a lifelong commitment to advocacy, help dismantle systemic racism, and positively affect the lives of people in the Lehigh Valley and beyond,” said Lehigh President John Simon.

When reflecting on how to enact the changes he saw fit, Marcon knew the research must be affiliated with an organization that would allow the Marcon Institute to become a sustainable operation. 

Marcon grew up in West Bethlehem and has had ties to the Lehigh Valley since childhood. He said his experiences in the Lehigh Valley are what encouraged him to give back to the community. 

He chose to establish the institute at Lehigh after discussing the subject with Deborah Sacarakis, former director of Zoellner Arts Center, for nearly two years. Sacarakis connected Marcon to Donald Outing, vice provost for Equity and Community, who helped turn the idea into a reality. 

The Marcons have previously contributed to supporting Zoellner Arts Center, the Lehigh Fund, and the Linderman Library renovation project, among others.

Marcon said he worries for the safety of his grandchildren, four of whom are biracial, and has become more sensitive to the issue of racism in recent years. 

“We’ve seen the movies where a traffic stop goes bad, we’ve seen ‘The Hate You Give’, ‘Queen and Slim,’” Marcon said. “These things happen, and people get killed.” 

While waiting in line behind a Black man who was asking a white man to shine his shoes, Marcon said he was interested in the exchange. Marcon reminded himself, “I am not a racist,” although he knew it was racist to make that observation. 

This event confronted Marcon with the significance of race, and confirmed his suspicion that racism is everywhere. 

He hopes the institute will motivate social change. He said you cannot have a political discussion of social issues without thinking about how deeply racism impacts that particular issue. 

“Racism is everywhere, and most people are not aware of it. It’s just there, like the air we breathe. No one ever thinks about the air we breathe,” Marcon said. 

Outing said this donation will enhance the university’s already present appetite for social justice, and will be a source of history. 

Outing believes Lehigh’s own campus climate will improve as a result. Higher education is responsible for developing leaders of character that are going to empower agents of change and advocate for new policies, new practices, and know how to go about that, he said. 

“I would like (Marcon fellows) to be conscientious, thoughtful, caring people who really have a passion for social justice,” Marcon said. “My hope is that they, and the institute, can create a voice that is heard far beyond our community to highlight and eliminate racial injustice.”

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  1. Amy Charles '89 on

    Stony ground, man.

    Well-intentioned, but I sure hope somebody’s going to be ready to push whoever staffs this place to where they need to be. I have zero confidence that they’ll go on their own, or that they’d be allowed to if they were so inclined.

    • This is a slippery slope as it has the potential to foster continued Marxist philosophy to destroy law enforcement with the false narrative that Police kill black criminals more than white criminals.

      The real story that needs addressed is black on black crime in inner city America with gangs & drug lords replacing fathers as mentors & idols for young teens.

      Funding college kids to be spoon fed this left wing propaganda is dangerous. Even the black community would agree that the problem isn’t the police but lack of leadership in their communities.

      • Amy Charles ‘89 on

        Hey comments mods: flagging for racism. You don’t have to put these things through and the world is already aware that there are plenty of racists among Lehigh’s alumni.

  2. Enough Already on

    It is painfully obvious after reading this article as well as Lehigh’s announcement at:

    that the Marcon’s are obsessed with white guilt and living in terror of being stigmatized as being racist.

    Shelby Steele, a Hoover Institution scholar, makes clear in a short Youtube video what I mean by the above observation. Steele is the author of a book titled White Guilt that is devoted to explaining this sort of problem.

    It is painfully obvious to me that the purpose of this Marcon Institute to brainwash its “Marcon Fellows” into subscribing to the discipline of Critical Race Theory (CRS).

    Many people don’t even know what it is. It is clearly explained in this essay:

    As you will see when you read it, it is a repackaged Marxist un-American movement designed to destroy capitalism, and put an end not only of private property, but also of individual rights, equality under the law, federalism, and freedom of speech.

    Unfortunately, CRS has numerous professors who subscribe to this foolishness.

    Lehigh DOES NOT need a Marcon Institute to make things worse.

    Lehigh should return the Marcon’s money with a “thanks, but no thanks”.

    Better yet would be to look at the array of counterproductive efforts and programs throughout Lehigh and consider eliminating them as well.

    A good place to start would be to go to page 4 of Lehigh’s organization chart which shows the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity.

    Everything shown on this page should be eliminated.

  3. Enough Already on

    I have read this article as well as Lehigh’s article about the institute at:

    It appears to me that mission of the institute will be to brainwash its “Fellows” into being disciples of Critical Race Theory (CRT)

    Many people are unfamiliar with what CRT entails. This article provides an excellent tutorial as to what it is about:

    As you will see, CRT is in reality a radical Marxist movement with a mission to destroy capitalism, eliminate private property, and equality under the law.

    I note with interest where the article discusses Ibram X. Kendi. To wit:

    “. . . Critical race guru Ibram X. Kendi, who directs the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, has proposed the creation of a federal Department of Antiracism. This department would be independent of (i.e., unaccountable to) the elected branches of government, and would have the power to nullify, veto, or abolish any law at any level of government and curtail the speech of political leaders and others who are deemed insufficiently “antiracist.” ”

    I’ve long been disgusted at the array of radical leftist black activists that Lehigh invites to campus to speak. There appears to be a total lack of diversity of thought with regards to black issues.

    Lehigh needs to change its ways and create an atmosphere where there is a diversity of opinion on the hot button issues of our times.

    Several black academics come to mind who could do just that and include Shelby Steele, Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, and Condoleezza Rice.

    Other blacks who conceivably might accept an invite include Ben Carson – former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Peter N. Kirsanow – Commissioner on the US Commission on Civil Rights, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

    A non black retired academic and essayist Joseph Epstein could bring a worthwhile perspective to the topic of political correctness. This link provides that perspective:

    It should be required reading for everybody shown on Lehigh’s organization chart. Especially those who consider themselves to be superior moral beings because of their “wokeness”.

  4. Robert Davenport on

    Wow. White guilt, Critical Race Theory, racist and anti racist.

    Seemingly, the intent of the Macrons is to do good with their generous gift. It is Lehigh’s responsibility to do so to the best of their ability. Obviously the battle for the use of the money has begun. Choose wisely Lehigh.

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