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Undergraduates engage community in discussion on campus inclusion

Scott Grant '16 (right), a bioengineering major, fields a question from the audience during Thursday's community forum on inclusion.

On Thursday evening, students, faculty and staff members packed Perella Auditorium at Rauch Business Center for a discussion on campus inclusion organized by a group of undergraduate students known as FBR (From Beneath the Rug).

The conversation was led by FBR’s core members—Ralph Jean-Noel ’15, Scott Grant ’16, Brenda Martinez ’15, Kelly Petty ’14, Rawle Sterling ’14, Elizabeth Pines ’16, Chris Naunay ’16, Kevin Jaramillo ’16 and Jovan Campbell ’14—and touched on a wide range of topics, including race, gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination; socioeconomic class; and Lehigh’s Greek community and overall social climate.

At the outset of the event, the student organizers outlined the actions they had taken since the group was formed. The group says they posted fliers across campus to increase awareness regarding diversity and inclusion issues, and explained the planning and execution of the silent protest that took place on campus October 4. They also shared some institutional history regarding similar social movements on campus that were led by previous generations of undergraduates.

“The dialogue was a great discussion, but I most appreciated the end where students [in the audience] gave their own suggestions for institutional change,” said Martinez, an English and journalism dual-major and founder of Dream and Act LU. “I think we have a better understanding of each other, not just as FBR or another group, but as a Lehigh community. We are becoming Lehigh strong.”

Before opening up the conversation for a question-answer period, the students outlined their objectives, which included:

  • A discussion-based cultural sensitivity course required for students across all colleges, created with the aim of creating a more culturally aware and sensitive campus community
  • A summer program for first generation college students to ease the college adjustment process while also offering the opportunity to earn course credit
  • An approval and vetting process among student groups for themed parties
  • Programming and workshops aimed at breaking down divides between privileged and underprivileged students
  • A formalized group of students drawn from across the university community who can ensure that Lehigh is taking continued steps toward fostering a more inclusive environment

After presenting their objectives, the students engaged in an active, civil dialogue with audience members. Some audience members asked the FBR members present to describe instances where they or others had been marginalized, and also asked the students to describe what they believed formal diversity training would look like. Meanwhile, others questioned FBR’s methodology, particularly the posting of fliers that included some provocative racial language as a means of stirring conversation.

The Greek community’s role in campus climate issues was debated throughout the question-answer session. The students representing FBR emphasized that their aim is not to disparage the Greek system, and members of Greek chapters in attendance asked for ways they may be able to hold peers accountable for their actions and to engage in dialogue on cultural issues.

At the end of the event, students said they planned to continue dialogue specifically regarding their objectives, particularly the cultural sensitivity course, at a similar forum in the coming weeks.

"What needs to continue,” said Jean-Noel, a supply chain management major, “is this dialogue about the issues on campus that exist, as well as what systematic and institutional changes that we as a Lehigh community can [make] to have effective change in the long run.”

Students, faculty and staff interested in learning more about FBR or becoming involved in the group were encouraged to reach out via e-mail at FBRLehigh@gmail.com, to follow their website at from-beneath-the-rug.tumblr.com, and to keep tabs with their activity on Twitter at @FBR_Lehigh and by using the hashtag #FBR. 

Photos by Connor Tait '14 and Silagh White

Story by Karl Brisseaux '11

Posted on Friday, October 25, 2013

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