Charles Marcon

Charles Marcon make a $2.5 million gift to Lehigh to establish the Marcon Institute, which will be dedicated to research and study that influences perspectives, practices and policies on racial justice.

A New Institute Dedicated to Social Justice

The $2.5 million gift from Charles Marcon will create the Marcon Institute at Lehigh

Photography by

Christa Neu

Charles Marcon grew up in the late ’50s and early ’60s in a much less diverse Bethlehem, Pa., than currently exists. Of the over 800 students in his 1961 Liberty High School graduating class, “only about 20 students were Black.” 

Yet issues of racial equity were on his mind from an early age. The noted Lehigh Valley philanthropist and CEO of Duggan & Marcon, a commercial and industrial finishes contractor, formed close relationships while playing alongside Black teammates as one of only a few white players on the Bethlehem Giants baseball team during high school, and on his basketball team as an officer in the Army. 

But, he says, it was the love he felt as a grandfather—to 12 grandchildren, four of whom are biracial—that spurred him to make a $2.5 million gift to establish the Marcon Institute at Lehigh, dedicated to research and study that influences perspectives, practices and policies on racial justice. 

“I started worrying about my biracial grandchildren. Would they be discriminated against? I became very concerned about their safety,” Marcon said. “That got me thinking about issues of race and what I could do about them. It’s easy to recognize them globally or nationally, but one person with limited resources will not make any impact at that level. But locally, I certainly could have impact.”

As he began looking for ways to address racial issues in the Lehigh Valley, Marcon determined that a college or university would provide both the wide-ranging impact and guaranteed sustainability he sought. Although Marcon is a 1965 graduate of Davidson College in North Carolina, Lehigh immediately came to mind because of his relationships with the university as a benefactor and contractor, as well as personal ones—his wife, Ruth ’68G, and sister Martha ’74 are alumnae, and Martha served on the Board of Trustees from 1995-2001.

Many discussions with Donald Outing, Lehigh’s vice president for equity and community, ensued, including an invitation by Outing for the Marcons to attend historian and author Ibram X. Kendi’s MLK keynote lecture on anti-racism at Lehigh in October 2019.

Group shot of Marcon's grandchildren that he has in his house.

Family photos adorn a wall in Marcon's home, including a group shot of his grandchildren.

 “We all had dinner with Kendi and heard about what he was doing at the time at his center at American University. I think this solidified Charlie’s ideas as he thought, ‘Is this something we could do here at Lehigh?’” Outing recalled. “Could Lehigh be that exemplar that was advancing the work on addressing systemic racism within organizations, within our society, within our culture?”

Outing says Marcon accelerated his plans after the death of U.S. Rep. John Lewis in July 2020 and the racial unrest in the country, leading to the formation of the Marcon Institute. 

The Marcon Institute’s core activity will be to prepare and deploy undergraduate scholars—to be known as the Marcon Fellows—to work alongside community partners to enact change in the arena of social justice and anti-racist issues. 

“This gift and the institute will foster a new generation of students with a lifelong commitment to advocacy, and positively affect the lives of people in the Lehigh Valley and beyond,” said former Lehigh President John D. Simon ’19P, at the time of the announcement.

“Students are passionate about social justice, and the Marcon Institute will provide an important way for them to be deeply engaged and have an impact, doing things that make a difference in our community. It will shape both their undergraduate experience and their lives after Lehigh,” said Nathan Urban, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “It will allow Lehigh to be a catalyst for promoting social justice in the region and prepare students to be agents for change.”

As the search begins for a director, initial Marcon Fellows will be identified based on nominations from faculty and staff members who currently support work in the field of racial justice. The director will establish a program of study and engagement in community issues surrounding race and equity. 

Of the future Marcon Fellows, Marcon said, “I would like them to be conscientious, thoughtful, caring people who really have a passion for social justice. My hope is that they, and the institute, can create a voice that is heard far beyond our community to highlight and eliminate racial injustice.”
 

Story by Cynthia Tintorri

Photography by

Christa Neu