Faculty, staff and students enjoy a recent Chat and Chew gathering, one of the programs sponsored by the new Joint Multicultural Program.
Jeff Fleisher, a visiting professor in Africana studies and anthropology, often finds himself mediating candid discussions with his students about race relations and thinks these exchanges could form the foundation for positive change at Lehigh.
“There are these great moments that I have in my classroom where we discuss topics ranging from diversity to race relations,” Fleisher says. “I think that ultimately, if these discussions occurred on a larger scale and people really took a look at these issues, we could really effect change on the current climate here at Lehigh for African-American, Latino and other underrepresented students.”
Fleisher’s experience and background in Africana studies will be put into practical application as he takes on the role of academic director for the new Joint Multicultural Program. The program, funded this year by the Provost’s Office and the College of Arts and Sciences, will work to improve the climate for underrepresented students, act as a liaison between the faculty and Student Affairs, and create and support multicultural programming. The idea grew out of a series of faculty discussions on creating a bridge between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs on the issue of diversity, Fleisher says.
“Within Student Affairs,” says Fleisher, “there are a number of staff members whose primary focus is to create diversity programming, address concerns of underrepresented students related to the climate on campus and to initiate ways to improve this climate. There is a lot of concern on the faculty side about these communities of students and we deal with the issues they face in the classroom.”
Programming and mentoring
Fleisher hopes to develop programs that work in conjunction with and complement the current Student Affairs programming.
Stephan Coggs, assistant dean of multicultural affairs, says that partnering with Fleisher and the Joint Multicultural Program will help Student Affairs to reach out and educate more students on issues of diversity and multiculturalism. “Having a liaison to help us reach out to faculty will also allow us to use these valuable resources to enrich our programming,” he says.
Other initiatives of the program include:
• The utilization and establishment of the Umoja House as a central place for Lehigh students, faculty and staff of all races to conduct multicultural and diversity programming and discussions. The Joint Multicultural Program will also work with Residence Life staff to augment existing programming to better meet the needs of the Umoja House residents.
• A mentoring program that will match minority students with faculty mentors who will help them navigate through life at Lehigh, make decisions, and enrich personal growth.
• An alumni program that will create connections between alumni of color with current Lehigh minority students.
• Compiling baseline data on diversity issues by working with Institutional Research and Student Affairs to hold focus groups and survey a diverse set of minority students to learn more about the motivation and reasoning behind retention and enrollment.
• Partnering with various student organizations and departments on programming and acting as a resource for multicultural programming efforts throughout the campus community.
While Fleisher admits that the Joint Multicultural Program is not a comprehensive answer to the universal problems of diversity and multiculturalism, he feels that it is beginning to address these issues at Lehigh.
“Lehigh needs a comprehensive diversity plan in place and we are working towards one,” Fleisher says. “In the meantime, we need to begin serving the current underrepresented community of students at Lehigh and giving them more reasons to stay.”