Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. faced backlash from its student body after a poor response to the global protests against the lack of action taken regarding the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Just a few days after Floyd’s murder, Muhlenberg’s official Instagram account posted a photo of a lacrosse player a few days after protests had started. The purpose of the post was to address athletic achievement by a student, and the Muhlenberg student body saw this as an incredibly disrespectful action to post on their social media as if nothing was happening. Students commented that they had lost respect for Muhlenberg after this post. The picture has since been taken down. A few days later, Muhlenberg’s official Instagram posted a picture of the Bell Tower atop the Haas Building on campus, a symbol of Muhlenberg, and addressed the death of George Floyd, as well as the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. This post has accumulated almost six hundred comments in the past five days since it was posted. Students claimed that they wanted the school they love so dearly to truly live up to its “accepting” and “tolerant” labels that it refers to itself as. One student writes, “Your inaction speaks fear louder than your empty words.” Other comments, “A statement isn’t nearly enough. ACT.” This post remains on their public Instagram profile. Three days later, on June 2nd, Interim President Kathleen Harring released a formal apology for their action, or lack their-of. A community-wide email was sent out with a formal apology from President Harring. The subject of the email was, “Taking Responsibility.” The letter reads:
“Dear students, faculty and staff,
I want to acknowledge that I have heard you. You have made it clear that our response to the injustice and racism against Black Americans has been inadequate. In the vacuum of a relevant message from the College on social media, one of our posts featuring athletics became a sounding board for the community. We removed that post for another, in turn silencing voices. This was wrong and should not have taken place. All of the comments from the deleted post have been cataloged for review in addition to those on the most recent Instagram post. There is no excuse and we are working to change and do better.
I also want to address some of the comments directed toward our students on Instagram. I want to be clear that I support our students in having agency and voice in our community and sharing their discontent and outrage with us. The current climate in our country and in our own community is one that invokes a sense of fear, anger, and anxiety for Black people and other racially underrepresented groups. I urge everyone to stand in support of our students, to show empathy, to listen deeply and then to take action, as I intend to do.
I recognize my own racial privilege and I am committed to continued learning and understanding of race. I am also talking with my Black colleagues and thought-leaders on campus to develop a set of immediate actions that move us forward as an inclusive institution. I value their professional and personal perspective, but also respect their need to care for the things they find most urgent in their lives at this difficult moment.
Finally, each of us must decide how we will act. A number of you have provided suggested resources and many of them are included in the list published on our website. I encourage everyone to find some way of engaging in what is a difficult struggle against undeniable racism in America. Whether you choose to attend a vigil, a protest, donate time or money, write to your mayor, governor or member of congress, change will only come if we all work together. We share these resources on white allyship and anti-racism to educate yourself, to look within at your own actions and inactions that perpetuate racism, and take personal and community action.
Kathleen E. Harring
A partial segment on this apology was posted to Muhlenberg’s Instagram. On this post, they advised students to follow the link in their bio to read President Kathleen Harring’s full response, as well as find links to resources to figure out how to help. This response from President Harring will hold Muhlenberg accountable for progressing and making the school a safe, welcoming, and educated space for black students, as well as other students of color.
Muhlenberg College has been able to acknowledge their students’ anger, discomfort, and passion, and hold themselves accountable for their original lack of action. Progress is not made overnight, but now students will be holding Muhlenberg accountable for change in the near future. Other major colleges and universities should take notes on how properly and respectfully respond to the outcries from their students.