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Council for Equity and Community hears from campus community

A mid-day town hall meeting called by the university’s Council for Equity and Community (CEC) was held Monday to gather feedback from the Lehigh community on a series of initiatives identified in the panel’s first town hall meeting in early September.

The gathering drew roughly 100 students, staff and faculty members, and primarily focused on a comprehensive action plan that is expected to be completed by the year’s end and submitted to Lehigh President Alice P. Gast.

Michael Raposa, professor of religion studies and CEC co-chair, welcomed attendees and encouraged them to share their opinions with the 14-member panel that was convened in late March to build an inclusive campus community.

“Our purpose here today is to listen and respond—we envision this as an open dialogue in which you do most of the talking,” he said.

Carolina Hernandez, director of Lehigh’s Community Service Office and CEC co-chair, initiated the discussion by posing questions on possible initiatives that included implementing a proposed mandatory curricular requirement on racial and gender studies, hiring a chief diversity officer, designating a welcoming and inclusive student center, and recruiting a more diverse student body through the admissions process.

Need for "intellectual depth"

The bulk of the two-hour discussion focused on issues related to the proposed required curriculum and mandatory community service component that could begin with the university’s integrated first-year experience.

William Scott, professor of history and director of Lehigh’s Africana Studies program, suggested these requirements might be part of a broader range of options, but felt “the classroom strikes me as the place where we really have an impact on a young person’s mind, and where we can expose them to new and exciting ideas.”

Seth Moglen, associate professor of English and instructor in the Africana Studies program, concurred, arguing that students are “speaking for a need for sophisticated conversation,” and expressed a concern that significant discussions on issues related to diversity would not be grounded in “a deep, solid base of knowledge” that could be provided by a dedicated faculty member.

“We need to be very careful about creating a program that lacks intellectual depth,” he said. “I just don’t see a seminar as a solution.”

His comments prompted CEC member Yaba Blay, director of the university’s Multicultural Studies program, to ask: “If it is bigger than a seminar, are we talking new faculty members? And until we have the resources to do that, will we utilize the resources we do have?”

Lori Bolden McClaind, assistant dean of Lehigh’s Office of the First Year Experience, agreed that new student orientation provided an opportunity for discussion, but cautioned that it could only be viewed as an introduction.

“It can’t stop there,” she said. “It has to continue through a student’s academic experience at Lehigh.”

Most of the students who spoke at the meeting supported mandatory community service learning experiences, as well as a clear declaration of that requirement through the admissions process so that Lehigh would attract a civic-minded student body.

Zahir Carrington ’10, a sociology/anthropology major from Philadelphia, raised the issue of Lehigh’s recruitment efforts and questioned the university’s commitment to attracting more students of color.

A series of additional questions about the recruitment process were responded to by Dean of Admissions Leon Washington, as well as several members of the admissions staff, who outlined the university’s efforts to attract students from diverse backgrounds from all over the world.

Washington and others lauded the success of events such as Diversity Weekend, but several attendees questioned why the spirit of inclusiveness could not be sustained once students matriculate.

“D-Life Weekend is one of the highest yield events—where students select us,” Washington said. “We really are holding our own against highly selective universities all over the country—and we’re talking about a very small number of students who are very heavily recruited and in some cases, bought. My question is, do we not do that event, and have even lower numbers?”

Throughout the discussion, the CEC co-chairs reminded attendees that this is an ongoing dialogue, and that students, staff and faculty should feel free to continue to share opinions and suggestions with CEC members.

Recognizing that many do not place great faith in committees, Raposa said “there is something quite different about this motley crew. The president has convened this group, and we are submitting our directives, with budgets attached to them. I can’t get into a time machine and jet forward a few years and tell you how this is going to work out, but I do feel there is something about this group and what we’re committed to accomplishing.”

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Monday, December 01, 2008

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