The new space officially opened to students, faculty, and staff as a ‘Community & Inclusion Resource Center: A Library for Everyone’

Library and Technology Services welcomed over 75 members of the Lehigh community to Fairchild-Martindale Library on Wednesday as it celebrated the grand opening of the newly created LTS CIRCLE -- Community & Inclusion Resource Center: A Library for Everyone -- an area where students, faculty, and staff can study or relax in a welcoming space surrounded by books, periodicals, movies, and other materials that support Lehigh’s DEI and antiracist priorities.

The grand opening coincided with the inaugural events in the space -- two Lehigh student panel discussions, part of the Traveling While Black Community Conversations presenting series, sponsored by the Zoellner Arts Center. The series runs through March 31.

Greg Reihman, Vice Provost for Library and Technology Services, opened the celebration by thanking numerous people from the Lehigh Libraries and campus partners for their involvement in creating the new space, including Jasmine Woodson, Assistant Director of Instruction and Outreach & Education Librarian, Phil Hewitt, Senior Engineering Librarian and Collections Strategist, Jesse Pearson, Director of LTS Administrative Services, Justin Patterson, LTS Business Manager, and Dr. Henry Odi, Lehigh Deputy Vice President for Equity and Community and Associate Provost for Academic Diversity.

The project, two years in the making, meets a need for spaces for conversations, presentations, and study about topics related to diversity, inclusion, equity, and anti-racism, said Reihman. “Our hope is to partner with faculty, students, and staff to host many conversations here like the ones tonight.”

Boaz Nadav-Manes, University Librarian, introduced the first of two panel sessions, Traveling While Black (Internationally) Through the Education System, where Lehigh students discussed their experiences studying abroad. The panelists included students who together have studied in over a half dozen countries including Sierra Leone, Ireland, Dominican Republic, Italy, and Antigua, as well as an international student from Zimbabwe, who studied in both Wyoming and New Mexico. Each shared why they chose to study abroad and what resources they consulted to help make their decision, described the joys, surprises, and challenges they encountered in their journeys, and offered advice for others who are interested in traveling abroad.

Moderated by Antonio Ellison from Lehigh Study Abroad and Woodson, the panel included Hajer Sabil, Tino Chibvuri, Kareem Hargrove, Alleyna Jean-Philippe, and Oluwafunmbi Ojo.

“I was so very impressed with Lehigh’s students openly sharing their experiences and thoughts with our community members and feel that I have learned a lot about the ways they see Lehigh connecting to their lives in their personal and educational journeys,” Nadav-Manes said. “That level of honest and relevant conversation is exactly what the LTS CIRCLE is meant to encourage and promote.”

During the discussion, students addressed questions and topics that ranged from the practical -- how do you cover expenses for these trips? What happens when your passport expires last minute? -- to the profound -- How do you approach new cultural norms that may run counter to your own values?

“The wisdom of our student panelists reminded me how much power and possibility lies in not just creating but in actively nurturing spaces for our students of color, first-gen students, and LGBTQ+ students to find connection and belonging,” said Woodson, adding that this is what she hoped and imagined the LTS Circle will encourage and sustain.

Following the first panel session, guests had time to enjoy refreshments, mingle, and continue engaging conversations in overflow areas outside the CIRCLE.

Mark Wilson, Executive Director of the Zoellner Arts Center, opened the second discussion, Traveling While Black Through the Education System, a conversation about the intersection between race and higher education. Student panelists included Lehigh students Risa Nkululeko, Justin Burrell, and Margaret Robinnette, with moderation by Roman Mitchell. Annie Balles provided opening remarks.

Wilson spoke about how the new space at the library creates a space for community and belonging. He noted that he was impressed to see members of the Lehigh University volleyball team actively listening and engaging in the conversation.

"Zoellner Arts Center envisions the arts as a tool to create conversations and bring people together through dialogue. Traveling While Black Through the Educational System gave our students of color a place to have their stories heard---the CIRCLE became a room of learning and discovery." he said.

Located in the southeast corner of the library adjacent to The Grind @ FML, the LTS CIRCLE is equipped with wall-mounted digital display panels for presentations and visualization, a collection of readings and other materials curated by Lehigh Library staff, and flexible furnishings to seat up to 50 during special events.

Members of the Lehigh community can reserve the LTS CIRCLE for their DEI-related events by submitting an LTS Event Request. Reihman extended the invitation broadly, “When not being used for events, the space will be a comfortable, open place where anyone can read, reflect, listen, and learn, surrounded by books and works of art that convey our values of inclusivity and accessibility. We hope you'll join us and help make the LTS CIRCLE what we envision it to be: a Community and Inclusion Resource Center: a Library for Everyone.”