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.”