One of the challenges first-year students face when transitioning to college is finding a sense of belonging, that friend or group of friends, a program, and a course of study where they feel welcome and belong.

That feeling is often made harder when students are a member of an underrepresented group, whether based on their racial or ethnic background, sexual or gender identity, religion, or socio-economic status.

Reginald Jennings ’70 stands with an alumna at an event.

It’s what Reginald Jennings ’70 calls the years when “I loved Lehigh, and Lehigh didn’t seem to love me back.”

But times have changed.

Lehigh launched a Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Strategic Plan that outlined clear goals and actions that the administration would take to create a more diverse community where all feel valued, opinions can be expressed freely, and all are treated equitably.

Jennings, a member of the Lehigh University Alumni Association Board of Directors and former BALANCE chair, now notes, “Lehigh is passionately committed to serving all of its community and ensuring that every student has the opportunity to take advantage of everything that Lehigh has to offer. The university has put in place a breadth of infrastructure to ensure that this occurs. It is my goal over the course of my remaining years for others in my community to experience this love.”

His work and the work of so many alumni, alumni leaders, students, faculty, administrators, and staff has led to Lehigh University Development and Alumni Relations to earn the 2024 Alumni Association Inclusive Excellence Award from Insight Into Diversity magazine, the largest and oldest diversity and inclusion publication in higher education.

Lehigh will be featured, along with 31 other recipients, in the June 2024 issue of the magazine. The university has been recognized by the publication before. For five consecutive years, Lehigh has earned the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award.

Such recognitions come from elbow grease … the kind that Jennings puts in as a leader of an alumni group. Lehigh has several affinity programs that bring together alumni with common cultures and backgrounds, including Lehigh Asian Alumni Network (LAAN), Black and Latinx Alumni Network for Community and Equity (BALANCE), and Lehigh Alumni Pride Association (LAPA).

Those groups have been actively working to engage alumni over the past few years.

Alumni guests at a Dinner for 12 lean in for a group photo at their table.

Over the past three years, nearly 600 members of those groups participated in more than 50 events.

“We hold small ‘Dinners for 12’ around the country,” says Keith Gustafson, associate director, alumni engagement and inclusion initiatives. “Nearly a quarter of attendees from those dinners participated in another alumni event that year, and almost 100 returned to campus for Rivalry, which included a networking night, breakfast with current students, and tailgating celebration.”

The award validates this work and progress being made.

“This award means that the work the BALANCE volunteer family has done, both past and present, has been appreciated and recognized on a wider scale,” says Raven Gaddy ’15, BALANCE chair. “We have given countless hours and profound thought into how we create and hold space for ‘us.’ The students on campus today are not the same students from even 10 years ago, to which I can personally attest. However, we need to make sure their needs are met, and we are working tirelessly with the administration to make Lehigh the best it can be for them.”

Members of BALANCE gather for a group photo

In This Image: Members of BALANCE gather outside on the steps between two pillars.

LAAN members hold a Lehigh banner at their event table with beautiful red decorations on the walls

In This Image: LAAN members hold a Lehigh banner at their event table.

LAPA members sit in chairs at an event.

In This Image: LAPA members smile big as they sit in chairs awaiting the start of its event.

BALANCE members pose with axes at its axe throwing event.

In This Image: BALANCE members hold axes prior to throwing them at a recent event.

A larger group of LAAN and BALANCE members pose for a photo in a restaurant.

In This Image: LAAN and BALANCE members hang together at an event.