Lehigh hosted a town hall on April 1 regarding the university’s Diversity, Inclusion and Equity strategic efforts and progress hosted by vice president for equity and community Donald Outing along with moderator and director of the Center for Gender Equity Rita Jones. The discussion focused on the lack of diversity among staff and faculty.
The town hall started with Outing explaining the progress the university has made and the work that needs to be done in the future. It then shifted to a Q&A.
Outing said the goal of the town hall was to communicate to the campus community the progress measures they have been working on for the last several months to support the strategic plan that they released last fall and to get tangible outcomes.
Outing recognized the work that Lehigh has done to make the school a better environment for all students such as amplifying the Center for Student Access & Success, which has provided students with the opportunity to study abroad, get a living wage during the summer while they did research or took on internships, and created an emergency fund for students.
He also spoke about the work Lehigh does to diversify the student body and how they are striving to improve diversification of faculty and staff.
“That’s why you will see our initial set of progress measures explicitly focuses on progress around faculty and staff,” Outing said. “Not just bringing our faculty in, because we have had successes in bringing faculty in the past, but we haven’t had as much success in retaining those same underrepresented faculty, whether that is women in STEM or African Americans throughout the institution.”
Holona Ochs, associate professor in the political science department, said she was disappointed with the unevenness of the commitment to Diversity, Inclusion and Equity across the university, which was expressed in some of the questions asked during the town hall.
She said there was some hesitation to commit to Diversity, Inclusion and Equity and thinks more conversations like those at the town hall are needed if Lehigh wants people to feel comfortable.
“They can do a lot more to affirm their commitment to DI&E (Diversity, Inclusion and Equity) at this institution,” Ochs said. “Their hesitance to fully engage with anti-racist objectives and DI&E will make the progress much slower than it needs to be.”
Ochs said she hopes to see increasing diversity at the institution because she thinks more diverse perspectives enhance our ability to innovate, amplify understanding of one another and improve our quality of life.
Jones said some of the progress is not necessarily visible since it is happening in many places and not everybody knows about it; so being able to consolidate the progress on the dashboard available to Lehigh community members is important. She said Lehigh will be building a dashboard to provide updates on those measures.
Conversations are ongoing and Outing is open to meeting with students and answering questions they may have. If individuals are experiencing or seeing inequities, they should reach out, Jones said.
“There is certainly room for growth. If there wasn’t room for growth, we wouldn’t have a plan,” Jones said. “I think positive strides have happened and positive change is happening, and there is more to grow and Lehigh is committed to going there.”