Dear Lafayette to hold events with Greek organizations, continues ongoing initiatives

Three+members+of+the+Dear+Lafayette+Coalition+have+joined+The+Monroe+Neighborhood+this+school+year.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Fatimata+Cham+23%29

Three members of the Dear Lafayette Coalition have joined The Monroe Neighborhood this school year. (Photo courtesy of Fatimata Cham ’23)

Hank Scheffler, Contributing Writer

Two years after Dear Lafayette’s inception, the group shows no indication of slowing down efforts to combat systemic racism and insufficient equity on campus.

The tie between the greater Lafayette community and Dear Lafayette, a group which was founded amid the nationwide Black Lives Matter Protests to ensure racial justice on campus, is largely evident this month. Dear Lafayette intends to work with the Interfraternity Council (IFC) and Panhellenic councils to engage in a Black History Month fundraiser the week of Feb. 21. Dear Lafayette also intends to hold events and fundraisers for Women’s History Month and the Black community within Easton and the Lehigh Valley later this semester.

“We are also working to support [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] efforts, Criminal Justice Awareness week and upcoming Disabilities Awareness week in March and May,” Fatimata Cham 23, member of Dear Lafayette and Director of Student Government’s Equity and Inclusion Committee said.

Marcus Alston-Lukasiak ‘24, vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for IFC noted that he is excited to see the strong efforts from Dear Lafayette, and the increase in support for the movement by Greek Life.

“It’s great to see that time has not slowed down Dear Lafayette’s efforts and that they’re still pushing strongly for reformation. We have also seen every Greek chapter respond earnestly with support for the fundraiser,” Alston-Lukasiak said. “This movement doesn’t end after February, the entire campus must shift to a mindset of equity and we hope it starts right now with mass support for Dear Lafayette’s fundraiser.”

In the summer of 2020, the Dear Lafayette Coalition submitted a 28-page letter to the Board of Trustees and the administration. The first and largest section of the letter covers 87 demands ranging from specific requests like “a 15% increase in the admittance of BIPOC students” and the “donation of $2 million to the Easton Affordable Housing Program,” to systemic requests such as “the abolishment of the housing tier system which perpetuates evident socioeconomic class distinctions.” 

The second half of the letter, titled “Being Black at Laf,” detailed 42 experiences undertaken by Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) students and alum that highlights the degree of racism existent on campus. 

One of their demands, a raise in campus minimum wage, was partially achieved by working with the Office of Campus Life and Student Government.

“We noticed that some of our demands had been met,” Cham said. “Our demand to raise the minimum wage was also pushed forth with the work of the student government and Dear Lafayette further amplifying this issue.” 

In fall 2021, Annette Diorio, vice president for Campus Life, met with Student Government to present avenues that the college wanted to take in raising the minimum wage. Following a meeting in December with the Faculty Committee on Student Life, the administration declared that it would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25. This increase began on Jan. 1, 2022.

While the original request made by Dear Lafayette with regard to the minimum wage demanded “an increased campus minimum wage from $7.25 to $12.50 per hour,” the group still expressed satisfaction in knowing that they opened the door for yearly wage evaluation.

“This past year Dear Lafayette has been primarily focused on community building and collective action,” Cham said. “We have noticed that the reception of Dear Lafayette is mostly positive…people want to collaborate with us, engage with us and support us in our efforts.”

Further success in Dear Lafayette’s endeavors is evident in the newly consolidated housing tiers. In the same meetings with the Student Government and the Faculty Committee on Student Life, the campus life division of the college advocated with Dear Lafayette to minimize the number of tiers within the housing system. This year, the school downsized to three distinct tiers and expressed further desire to consolidate more. This led to an increase in cost for tier one housing.

The school is looking towards combining the tiers in the future into two instead of the standing three, Diorio said.

“First, we will collapse the housing tiers from five to three (‘22- ‘23) and then from three to two for the year after (‘23- ‘24),” Diorio wrote in an email.

Consolidating all housing under one price is unlikely, however. Tier three–off-campus housing–relies on landlords and utility companies that stray from college policies. If the college were to combine each living space under one price, this incorporation of off-campus housing would increase the housing costs of on-campus students. 

“We have continued to work with the administration on points of contact and how to go about reaching our goals regarding our demands,” Cham said.

According to Cham, the most important aspect currently of Dear Lafayette’s mission is that they are constantly and consistently working towards bettering the campus.

“The group’s demands are a work in progress. The work does not end with Dear Lafayette,” Cham said. “It is just the beginning. Some of the goals we set may continue to evolve into other student goals and projects.”