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Prof: LVC students regret impact of Lynch demand

Written by Daniel Walmer/Lebanon Daily News | Dec 11, 2015 9:04 AM
Lynch_Lebanon_valley_college.jpg

Lynch Memorial Hall has become a national focal point after Lebanon Valley College's Black Student Union mentioned it would like Lynch Hall to be renamed due to its negative connotations. (Photo: Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily)

Protestors' targets for campus equality ranged from faculty diversity to LGBTQ+ concerns

(Annville) -- A group of Lebanon Valley College students demanding reform in the name of equality regret that one request -- altering the name of Lynch Memorial Hall because of its suggested racial overtones -- overshadowed the others by garnering national media attention, professor of religion Jeff Robbins said Thursday.

The students provided a list of demands, including issues of faculty diversity, handicapped accessibility, and LGBTQ+ concerns, at a Dec. 4 campus security forum. However, it was their concern about the academic building named for Dr. Clyde A. Lynch, the college's president from 1932-1950, that prompted national media attention -- and widespread ridicule on social media -- earlier this week.

That meant negative publicity for some LVC alums, like 2006 graduate Kevin Shiner.

"I'm embarrassed, because I have friends and colleagues who say, 'didn't you go to that school?'" Shiner said. "I thought it cheapened my degree. It was ludicrous."

Shiner said he has trouble believing that anyone walking by the hall would think the name "Lynch" is a reference to a racist practice.

However, that concern was just one small part of a much larger group of demands, including a lack of diverse faculty and a curriculum focused on "normative" Western history, said Robbins.

"Their race makes them feel like an outsider at an institution they love dearly," he said.

Diversity

A copy of the demands was not made available to the Lebanon Daily News, but a list was published by CBS 21. They included:

  • An increased representation of minority communities among school faculty, administration, and the board of trustees
  • Required sensitivity training for faculty and staff
  • Expanded staff to support students of color and LGBTQ+ students
  • Easier access to buildings for the disabled
  • Housing accommodations and gender-inclusive restrooms for students identifying as transgender

Protests regarding equality also aren't new at Lebanon Valley College. Tito Valdes -- a 2014 graduate who is of mixed Puerto Rican and African-American racial heritage and is gay -- remembers the student "Unity March" in 2012 that came with a similar set of concerns. The level of student activism tends to come in waves, and declined after that protest period, he said.

Many of the issues raised in both protests were the same, particularly the lack of a diverse faculty. Valdes said he's had one non-white teacher in his entire schooling career that includes grade school, college, and law school. Associate Professor of History Michael Schroeder also said there is a lack of African-American faculty members, and "frankly, that needs to change."

College spokesman Martin Parkes agreed that the school has "work to do" in the diversity of its faculty, although he said there are some minority professors, primarily Hispanic professors.

The student population has about 13.1 percent African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students, a number that has remained relatively flat in recent years, Parkes said. The school attempts to promote a diverse student body through outreach to minority populations.

"One thing we believe here is that the more inclusive and diverse the environment, that enhances the educational experience for all of our students," he said.

Lynch Hall

Another LVC alum, 2006 graduate Bill Rice, said he is supportive of many of the students' concerns about racism and sexism, but in hindsight they made a tactical mistake by presenting the Lynch issue.

"That's the only thing that people hear, and they don't take it seriously," Rice said. "I just feel like it's a shame that a legit movement seems to be delegitimized by adding on a silly demand."

Of all the student concerns, LVC Chaplain Paul Fullmer said the demand that Lynch Memorial Hall's name be changed was the most quickly resisted by forum attendees last Friday and was pulled off of the list of demands "right away."

There are about 60 to 70 buildings on campus, and most are named in honor of a person, Parkes said. While LVC follows the common practice of naming buildings after donors, most are actually named for individuals like Lynch who contributed to the success of the institution.

Campus response

Fullmer said the Dec. 4 meeting was actually encouraging. While it was "strong language" for the students to refer to their requests as demands, "I think most of us kind of looked past that to see, 'what are the needs?'"

The student concerns also need to be taken in the context of the "Black Lives Matter" movement and nationwide concerns about racial injustice, Schroeder said.

"I think the vast majority of what they're asking for is reasonable and sensible, and the institution needs to respond," he said.

In a written message Wednesday, campus president Lewis Thayne said "we stand with our students" and affirmed their inclination to be civically active. He will listen to the demands and to use them as a guideline for a comprehensive plan to be presented at a Jan. 21 Symposium on Inclusive Excellence.

Parkes said that doesn't necessarily mean all the demands will be met.

"Listening is not necessarily the same thing as agreeing on every one," he said.

The college and its faculty are committed to curriculum and campus inclusivity, Robbins said, but that is unfortunately sometimes "deprioritized" in favor of economic pressures.

Valdes also thinks  college President Lewis Thayne is not ignoring student concerns, but those concerns are balanced against the college's financial need to continue to receive aid from its alumni, many of whom are critical of the protests.

Members of the college's Black Student Union, which led the student protests, did not respond to requests for comment.


This article comes to us through a partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF.

 

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