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University community rallies for unity

A large crowd gathered in front of the flag pole on the Front Lawn to address issues of intolerance and recent vandalism at the UMOJA House.

A crowd of approximately 1,600 students, faculty and staff gathered on the University Front Lawn Wednesday evening to condemn intolerance and foster unity in the wake of hateful and racist vandalism at the UMOJA House.

The rally was organized in response to an incident that occurred at UMOJA early Wednesday morning. The house was egged, and racial slurs were spray-painted on the exterior of the building and on sidewalks and staircases near UMOJA and McClintic-Marshall House (M&M). The vandalism comes in the midst of ongoing conversations around the campus climate regarding diversity and inclusion.

Students, the majority of whom wore Lehigh gear as a show of community pride, shared their feelings regarding the incident, spoke about the overall campus climate at Lehigh, and encouraged one another to take a stand against bias and discrimination. Afterward, the crowd marched up the hill and continued the rally at UMOJA.

“From now on, it is every single person’s responsibility to make sure that things like this don’t happen again,” said Ralph Jean-Noel ’15. “We should not have to wait until hate is put out in public for us to know that it exists on a daily basis. We need to get together and stand up and demand the change.”

“The UMOJA House is a house of diversity, and these people were attacked with ugly and hateful words,” added Jovan Campbell ’14. “We are all at fault. I challenge us to challenge each other and to challenge ourselves.”

In an e-mail message to students, faculty and staff, President Alice P. Gast condemned the incident and encouraged anyone in the university community with information regarding who was involved to contact university police or file a report anonymously online through http://bit.ly/1bbjnIU or by calling 888-924-4450.

“This is a cowardly and hateful act. It is an affront to the residents of UMOJA, M&M and to everyone in the Lehigh community,” said Gast in the email. “This type of behavior will not be tolerated. The Lehigh Police Department has collected evidence and is investigating the incident.”

The rally was organized by students, including those from FBR (From Beneath the Rug). FBR, which hosted a community discussion on campus inclusion earlier this month, was established earlier this semester to engage the campus community in dialogue on campus climate issues on several topics, including race, gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination; socioeconomic class; and Lehigh’s Greek community and overall social climate.

President Gast, Provost Patrick V. Farrell and dean of students staff members met with residents of the UMOJA house prior to the rally to discuss concerns related to the incident.

“The provost and I are strongly supportive of, and will continue to be involved with the student groups that have come together to make Lehigh a welcoming place of mutual respect,” Gast said in her email. “We all need to stand together as a community against all acts that are motivated by intolerance and aggression.”

Earlier Wednesday afternoon, several professors brought their students to the main lobby in Maginnes Hall to discuss the vandalism and climate issues on campus. The discussion continued in the University Center at Grace Lounge, during a gathering organized by Tyrone Russell, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Established in 1989 in Warren Square residential area, the UMOJA house was created to enhance the campus atmosphere for underrepresented students of color at Lehigh. UMOJA moved to “The Hill” 10 years ago, at the start of the fall 2003 semester. Students hoped that the rally and subsequent march would spark changes to the campus climate.

“There is no longer an excuse for this to happen again,” said Scott Grant ’16. “Injustice exists on this campus; please don’t turn a blind eye.”
 
 Photos by Christa Neu

Story by Karl Brisseaux '11

Posted on Thursday, November 07, 2013

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