It’s no secret that Lehigh is a predominantly white institution (PWI). Walk around campus for a day and it’s clear to see.
Check Lehigh’s website for its Office of Institutional Research and Strategic Analytics and the proof is in the pudding.
Data shows that approximately 59 percent of Lehigh’s 2022 domestic student population is white, with little fluctuation over the past few years.
We appreciate Lehigh’s transparency on the matter. With information so readily available, improvements become possible.
A bit more mysterious, however, is attempting to find information regarding Lehigh’s faculty and staff.
What we do know is that faculty and staff follow a trend somewhat similar to that of our student population’s racial diversity. Diversity in faculty and staff is often neglected when compared with the attention to the racial diversity of our student body.
In the beginning of this month, Lehigh held its first Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DI&E) Town Hall meeting in which Vice President for Equity and Community Donald Outing expanded upon Lehigh’s DI&E Strategic Plan (released Sept. 8, 2021) and how the university intends to evaluate its progress.
Notably, the discussion focused on the lack of racial and gender diversity among Lehigh’s staff and faculty, speaking on how retention in historically underrepresented faculty and staff has been difficult to maintain.
From a student perspective, low retention rates and lack of diversity among faculty and staff is not surprising when we see the faces of our professors almost every day.
To any student at Lehigh: how many of your professors have not been white?
We predict a pretty uneven distribution.
So what is Lehigh planning to do about this?
Lehigh has stated they will be releasing annual reports regarding their progress in diversifying faculty and staff, among other areas.
The goals set by the university regarding both staff and faculty are along the lines of: demonstrating consistent increases in the racial/ethnic and gender diversity of hiring pools, distribution of performance reviews being consistent across factors such as race and gender, staff retention not differing by race and gender and the distribution of those in leadership roles being representative of the broader university’s demographics.
That brings us to our next point. Like we previously mentioned, as a PWI, Lehigh’s demographics aren’t where they should be. So, if we are to make it a goal of ours to ensure that our leaders represent the entire student body, we need to also prioritize the enrollment of students from underrepresented backgrounds.
We can’t expect more faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds to want to work at Lehigh when the majority of our student body is homogenous. And we can’t expect more diverse students to apply to Lehigh when the majority of our faculty and staff are white. There’s our problem.
When there’s barely any diversity in our classrooms, what makes people think historically underrepresented individuals would feel comfortable coming to this school? Would they really feel as welcome as you think or hope they would?
Not to mention, with greater diversity in all spheres comes a greater variety in thought. With greater variety of thought comes a more meaningful classroom experience.
This goes for all other areas of campus as well. Take the Counseling Center for instance. Perhaps more students would feel comfortable using its services if the staff’s experiences more closely resembled their own. Or, take our newsroom for example — we’re a predominantly white editorial board. All across campus, we need more diversity.
Lehigh can’t simply hire more staff and faculty from different backgrounds and hope more students will enroll who are not white, or vice versa. We can’t wait for one or the other to happen on its own. This change has to happen all at once if we are looking for the most successful outcome.
Therefore, we appreciate Lehigh’s written-out efforts focused on students, staff and faculty. But we certainly look forward to seeing action take place alongside their words.