30 years ago this university gave Trump a degree. Now the faculty voted to take it away.

30 years ago, Lehigh University gave Donald Trump an honorary degree.

Students at the university chose the New York real estate tycoon to be their commencement speaker. It may sound strange to some in 2018, but in 1988, Trump was far less controversial and more of an aspirational figure. Lehigh spokesperson Lori Friedman noted it was customary for a commencement speaker to receive an honorary degree from the university.

Decades later, voting to take away that degree has become a way to send a message about inclusivity and tolerance.


Citing Trump's "racist" and "sexist" comments, Lehigh faculty has voted to strip away that honor.

Trump actually had five honorary degrees — now, he'll have three. Robert Gordon University in Scotland rescinded another in 2015. Two others are from Liberty University, and the third was an honorary doctorate of humane letters awarded by Wagner College in 2004.

President Trump received a honorary degree from Liberty University in 2017.  Photo by Nyttend

In January, Lehigh faculty members put forward a motion to rescind Trump's honorary degree. In a letter posted to the university website, the proposed motion reads:

"When we adopt this motion we send a message to each other, to our staff and students, and to the world at large that we do not accept sexist, racist, demeaning speech, speech that marginalizes, intimidates, and limits the potential of people based on gender, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or physical ability."

A vote was held and passed with more than 80% of the faculty supporting it.

Michael Raposa, who helped draft the motion, said it's a statement about Trump's language and behavior, not his politics. "We did not want this to be a debate about politics," he said.

The faculty's motion will now be presented to the university's board of trustees to make the final decision. If the degree is rescinded, it won't be the first time Lehigh University has removed an honorary degree. They made a similar decision in 2015 to rescind Bill Cosby's degree in light of allegations of sexual misconduct.

The larger message is that people who, like Trump, say and do hurtful things are no longer guaranteed the privilege of enjoying symbols of respect, like his honorary degree. "It's really important that the faculty has spoken," Raposa said.

Trump has a long, controversial history with the education system.

During the 2016 election, a lawsuit was filed against Trump and the now-defunct Trump University, with former students saying they were misled on a number of fronts about what they were getting for their time and money.

Since becoming president, Trump has also been criticized for his appointment of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary.

He's even felt it necessary to defend his own education:

"You know, people don’t understand. I went to an Ivy League college," Trump told reporters last fall; he graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. "I was a nice student. I did very well. I'm a very intelligent person."

The Lehigh faculty vote isn't petty — it's a way of defending values without being partisan.

A few Trump supporters have criticized the decision, but really, the only potential victim in this story is Trump's ego. Yes, some of his fiercest critics will enjoy watching him being publicly reprimanded.

But the real message is that part of receiving an education is learning to respect your fellow students and people in general. Rather than lash out at Trump personally, the faculty of Lehigh are instead choosing to effectively pull an endorsement because of his bad personal behavior. We may not always be able to stop people from behaving badly, but refusing to celebrate and empower that kind of behavior is a good place to start.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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