The Lehigh principles of our equitable community are much more than posters on our walls and documents

that we sign. They are enduring principles that we count on to guide us during times of difficulty and doubt. We are at such a moment when it is necessary to reflect on what these principles mean, not in just their words, but in how they are enacted in our lives at our university. A tragic incident off campus has changed the lives of at least two students and left many more of us questioning, speculating and seeking answers about the reasons for conflicts in our community. We know less than we want to know. Differing accounts in the media and on campus increase our uncertainty. We are impatient for answers. The criminal justice system and student conduct process will determine the facts and this will take time. Waiting for fact-finding processes, whether in the justice system or our student conduct system, does not help overcome our uncertainty, but it is an enduring

principle of our society’s definition of fairness and due process. Additionally, federal law protecting the privacy of student records will mean that the results of our student conduct system will not be made public. One thing we cannot do, now or in the future, is rely upon rumors for answers or allow different hearsay accounts of the incident to divide us. So where do we turn when the answers are not there when we want them? We look to our principles. Our principles are about respecting one another, working to promote understanding and creating an environment where we can be ourselves, and enjoy and appreciate one another. This mutual respect and understanding can be harder than it sounds. It may make us uncomfortable to learn that others may perceive us very differently than we see ourselves. There may be many times when we think that we understand one another, only to find that we

have inadvertently insulted or slighted somebody. We must constantly be mindful of the effects of our words and actions. We can talk about understanding and yet we cannot hide behind excuses for misunderstanding, dissension, or hatred. Not understanding is not good enough. The recent incident has served as a catalyst for some among us that often feel marginalized in our community and experience that their voices are not heard; whether due to the color of their skin, religious beliefs, gender, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation. We are a community of people—we need to talk and listen to one another so that we better understand one another. We need to work to achieve understanding by challenging our own assumptions. We must always confront and reject discrimination in all its forms. This means openly and immediately pointing out to others when somebody has been wronged. Stand up and be vocal. We affirm each other’s inherent dignity by treating one another with respect and kindness. This can be as

simple as smiling as you hold the door, or saying hello to people that you meet on the walkway. I was recently with a group of students and talking about the culture in our country where we work across boundaries. Compared to many other cultures, in America, we have a great capacity to collaborate with our fiercest competition. We feel, somehow, that if the competition is fair, if the playing field is level, we can respect and find common ground with those with whom we have great differences. Academics and athletes alike will look to their fiercest competition to build the strongest team to win the contest or get the job done in the best way possible. We know inherently that differences between us make us stronger. Many successful people from all walks of life attest to how beneficial it is to team up with diverse groups of people. We know that people with different backgrounds, talents and temperaments working together can achieve great things. It is this strength that our nation’s founders saw when adopting the motto “E Pluribus Unum”—out of many, one—for the seal of our nation.

Every day, in discussions in classrooms, residences, practice rooms and playing fields, we must affirm this unity and support each other’s right to think and speak as guided by personal belief. We all gain by listening to each other with ears and minds open to new ideas and different ways of viewing the world. These days there are few great role models for respectful disagreement. At a university we value rational and respectful debate to learn and seek truth, so we must create those models for ourselves. We all must foster an atmosphere where discussion, disagreement, and on occasion, changing one’s mind are encouraged and supported. Our principles are fundamental to our collective commitment to live and learn in a community of respect. We are joined together at Lehigh by of our common interest and love of learning. We recognize and celebrate our individuality and our differences while realizing the importance of our collective actions.

Share your thoughts and ideas with me: pres@lehigh.edu. - Lehigh University President, Alice P. Gast.
 

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