President Gast’s tandem of emails to the student body at-large last week simply reeked of political maneuvering. With everything that is going on in Washington D.C. right now, it’s hardly a surprise that our President has decided to play a similar game here at Lehigh to pass her agenda: hire a Chief Diversity Officer.
She made this clear in her email, entitled “Martin Luther King Celebration 2010.” After a brief remembrance of Dr. King, she moved onto more important things, like transforming Lehigh from the racially and sexually biased campus that she currently sees, and in the process building her resume. In the email, she outlined her plan to hire a CDO to fix the University’s aforementioned woes. In doing so, she decided to bring up the alleged events of racial name calling, which have not been mentioned in any official campus dialogue or in the Brown and White for eleven months. Curious timing to say the least. Sure, those events are relevant to what Dr. King worked for and accomplished in his lifetime. But in celebrating his work, why not focus on the positive, that the events were isolated, and nothing similar has occurred in the past year.
Perhaps this contradictory behavior became apparent to the administration. Cue Thursday’s announcement that hateful incidences have returned to Lehigh. This time it was in the form of a ‘hostile and racist symbol’ in an undisclosed elevator discovered by an unnamed Lehigh employee. The convenient timing of the event, along with the vagueness of the wording in the email, prompts several questions. Before President Gast starts allocating possibly $1 million or more each year for diversity initiatives to cure this campus, we should make sure that there is an actual diagnosis. We can start by getting the answers to these four questions:
1. Why give this incident so much publicity?
Sure, we know the timing played into your favor. But does one symbol in one elevator really justify a campus-wide email? Whoever drew the swastika clearly wanted attention, and President Gast gladly delivered. I’m not saying the incident should be ignored. The University should clearly pursue disciplinary action if they find out who did it. But doing so quietly would have been the best approach. Additionally, it trivializes past and future campus-wide emails sent by President Gast. Are we to treat this event with the same degree of seriousness as the earthquake in Haiti, which also provoked a campus-wide email? How seriously should we take her next email admonishing homophobic phrases found inside men’s bathroom stalls around campus?
2. Why withhold the location of the ‘hostile and racist symbol’?
We still don’t know which one of Lehigh’s extraordinarily slow elevators was host to the symbol in question. Lehigh’s official response, as detailed in the Brown and White article on the subject, is that the location “will not be released so as not to bring unwanted attention to people who frequent that building.” Perhaps we could ask a Washington politician to explain that statement. Unwanted attention? A campus-wide email was sent out, clearly the administration wants people to pay attention to this event. Additionally, most buildings on campus are frequented by literally thousands of students, staff, and faculty. Say the incident occurred in Rauch, are people honestly going to say: “Oh, you go to Rauch every day, therefore you probably drew the swastika.” The answer is, of course not. This was a move to increase the mystery and intrigue surrounding the incident to generate more publicity for it.
3. Why withhold the fact that the symbol was a swastika for five days?
Thanks to the Brown and White, we were told five days after the incident that the ‘hostile and racist symbol’ was a swastika. Apparently, this information was deemed too sensitive at first, and was withheld from the student body. Was that really necessary? As adult members of the Lehigh community, we deserved to be given as many details as possible about the incident, especially as she called on us to be responsible for elevating the level of discourse within the Lehigh community. Again, withholding the nature of the symbol only increased the mystery and intrigue around the incident, which was completely unnecessary.
4. Why did the reporting of this incident correspond so well with your announcement that you hope to hire a Vice President of Equity and Community?
Yes, of course this could be a coincidence. But the two events are simply too close on a timeline to not be related to each other. With that being said, there are plenty of possibilities. Clearly, the University has already made the assumption that the goal of the swastika was to spread hate of some kind. However, it is equally possible that the symbol was drawn by someone who supports Lehigh’s hiring of a VPEC / CDO. Why’s that? Well, there are two reasons:
First, quite simply, someone who supports a CDO has much more to gain from having a ‘hateful incident’ occur on campus, as it goes to prove President Gast’s aforementioned hypothesis about Lehigh. This incident serves that agenda very well, and someone who wants Lehigh to hire a CDO easily could have seen that bringing another ‘hateful incident’ to campus would cause an uproar similar to last semester, which would galvanize support for the hiring of a CDO.
Second, the timing is too good. We haven’t been notified of any ‘hateful incidents’ for almost a year, and then three days after President Gast makes her announcement – poof – we find a hateful incident, one which perfectly supports the need for Gast’s plan. Someone who is truly hateful always has an incentive (in their own mind) to write hateful things. However, someone who would benefit from a perceived ‘hateful incident’ has a limited period during which an incident is beneficial. Clearly, this event occurred within that period.
Before everyone jumps on the “Lehigh is racist, Lehigh is sexist” bandwagon, President Gast should answer these questions. She wants to hire a Chief Diversity Officer – that is her prerogative. But she used this incident to advance those claims, and launched an unfair assault on this school’s character by blowing this ‘incident’ entirely out of proportion. The large investment required for her diversity initiatives should not be based on isolated incidents perpetrated by a mere handful of Lehigh’s 6,000 students. Unfortunately, if her response to this event is any indication, that is exactly
what she plans to do.
Update: Slight wording changes made on 2/13/2010