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Feds Will Investigate Racial Hostility at Lehigh University

Complaint to Department of Education Office for Civil Rights was filed after November vandalism of Umoja House.

Umoja House (Lehigh University)
Umoja House (Lehigh University)

The federal government is investigating whether Lehigh University has created a racially hostile environment by not adequately addressing harassment complaints made by minority students, according to reports.

The complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights was filed in November by an alumna of the university after a residence hall that houses minority students was vandalized with eggs and graffiti, according to The Express Times.

The graffiti sprayed on Umoja House, a 28-bed dormitory at 101 Sayre Park Road, included racial slurs. Umoja is the Swahili word for “unity.”

Campus police are still investigating the vandalism and no arrests have been made, the newspaper reported.

Immediately after the incident, university President Alice Gast called the vandalism “a cowardly and hateful act” and an “affront” to everyone in the Lehigh community.

“This type of behavior will not be tolerated,” Gast wrote in an email to faculty, staff and students. Gast has since accepted a position as president of Imperial College London and will leave Lehigh at the end of July.

Joseph Santiago January 10, 2014 at 10:25 AM
These misguided allegations, made by completely detached alum, are absolutely ridiculous. As a student at this highly diversified university (with 10% of the student body being comprised of international students), I can say that the administration here at Lehigh handled these incidents with the utmost concern and urgency, stressing that incidents like the vandalism of the UMOJA House would not be tolerated. In addition to sending us multiple emails informing us about the event, the hyper vigilant administration also organized a series of rallies focused on the multicultural inclusion and acceptance at Lehigh. In the past months, the administration also worked with students to create a student group focused on the multicultural experience at Lehigh named From Beneath the Rug (FBR). I read the original article shortly after Magaziner made the complaint and I was absolutely disgusted by how someone, so detached from the student life that is currently occurring at Lehigh, can make a complaint about how the university handles incidents such as this. This is nothing more than a disrespectful attempt to slander an extremely prestigious academic institution that is committed to providing the best possible environment for its students. I know that Magaziner stated that she felt excluded as a female student at Lehigh when she attended in the 1970's, but coming from a scholar who attends the university NOW, and not 40 years ago, I can attest to the fact that Lehigh has been nothing but a completely welcoming and inclusive environment for students of all races, religions, ethnicities, etc. Lehigh's administration could not have put it any better; Magaziner's complaint and allegations hold no merit whatsoever. The only individuals that can truly determine whether Lehigh is a safe environment for students, are the students (and not ones who attended 40 years ago), students who have daily interactions with other students. I can say, without hesitation, that Lehigh University has been more than safe for multicultural students, including the high amount of international students that are currently attending. All of Lehigh’s students are stand-up, intellectual, respectable citizens, no matter what race they belong to. Lehigh’s campus provides for a learning environment that encourages inclusion, not the outlandish accusation of racial hostility. Another thing to keep in mind: authorities still have no suspects in custody for the vandalism of the UMOJA house, this means that this hateful crime may not have even been committed by a Lehigh student and there is no evidence suggesting that it was committed by a Lehigh student either. The U.S. Department of Education should dismiss this complaint, along with its unrealistic accusations and allegations, while focusing more on how students feel the environment is for other races, religions, ethnicities, etc. Lehigh's response to this incident was the best that could have been provided; it was prompt, heartfelt, and most importantly goal-oriented, with hopes to convey the fact that these incidents will no longer be tolerated.
John G. Lewis January 11, 2014 at 01:17 PM
Joseph: Good letter. I attended in the 1980's, and always felt that Lehigh treated all students very fairly, perhaps even better than at many a comparable University. Anyway, on the downside, and without me knowing everything, I dislike how the University has taken over what was formerly known as "the Hill", has kicked out a number of fraternities. They have even come up with this ridiculous concept of a "non-residential" fraternity. The House in question was immediately next to the old Beta house, and was formerly a fraternity itself (I have forgotten which one). Perhaps part of the disillusionment, at Lehigh, is the *seemingly* high-handed manner the University has been treating the fraternities - many of which have been there for upwards of a 100 years. I myself am a little mystified why all this is going on. And not to say this legitimizes anything, but why is there a need for a multicultural House to begin with? There is already a Black student Union, a Gay/Lesbian union/association (the Rainbow Room?) & etc. ... Ok, and this is fine. But a House, a Residence, strictly for foreign students? Perhaps Lehigh reached too far here. (...) In any event, and an aside from the insult that just occurred, the Administration's control and handling of the Fraternities, and their (now sometimes former) homes, is questionable. - John G. Lewis '90

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