Portrait of Kashi Johnson '93

A family gallery of portraits of past and present residents of the UMOJA House will debut in mid-October in Fairchild-Martindale Library. Pictured here is Kashi Johnson '93.

Lehigh to Honor UMOJA House’s 30th Anniversary

A series of events will culminate in celebratory events on Lehigh/Laf weekend.

Story by

Linda Harbrecht

Photography by

Christa Neu

Lehigh will be honoring the 30th anniversary of the UMOJA House, which opened its doors in Fall 1989 to become the first campus residence for “AAHANA” students (African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American).  It was created after a number of Lehigh students of color approached then-President Peter Likins with a request to secure a space for a more inclusive residential community option. 

The theme of “Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future” will acknowledge the successful efforts of the Lehigh alums who were instrumental in the creation of the UMOJA House, said Dahlia Hylton, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, who is chairing the UMOJA 30 Committee that includes some of the alums and several members of the campus community.

"Over the years, the surge of student activism has challenged institutions to think critically on how they engage, support and build equitable structures for historically marginalized populations,” she said. “Student leaders have ignited action from the administration and set in place strategies for forward progress. This was the story of the genesis of the Umoja House. The visionary and fearless steps co-founders Leon Caldwell and Sterling Ashby took resonate greatly with how our current students fight to enact change today. It's an amazing full circle. As we evolve as an institution that welcomes more diverse individuals, the Umoja House continues to stand as that edifice of resiliency and community.” 

The UMOJA 30 Committee was convened by Deputy Vice President for Equity and Community and Associate Provost for Academic Diversity Henry Odi, who said the creation of U House is emblematic of a broader level of support for students of color at Lehigh.

A poster detailing events for the 30th anniversary of the UMOJA House

"A healthy partnership between university senior leadership and its students is one of the critical aspects of any institution's mission of advancing learning through the integration of teaching, research and service to others,” he said. “Also, a healthy partnership leads to positive changes and institutional cultural transformation. This was the case at Lehigh University and the result of such relationship was the formation of the Umoja House in 1989, which helped and continued to advance inclusive excellence".

The UMOJA House 30th Anniversary Celebration will include an Honor Walk that will begin at the original location on Warren Square and end at the current location on The Hill. The walk will start at 4 p.m. Thursday, October 24, and will be followed by a 1980s/90s-themed block party with food trucks, music and a caricature artist. All members of the campus community are invited to attend, but are asked to register by Monday, Oct. 21 by going to umoja.lehigh.edu.

Also debuting this month will be a UMOJA Family Photo Gallery exhibit that opens in mid-October in the Fairchild-Martindale Gallery behind the FML Café. The exhibit will include portraits taken by Lehigh’s award-winning staff photographer Christa Neu, who envisioned the gallery as “the kind of pictures you might see in your parent’s or your grandparent’s house.” After all, she said, “it is the people who make a house a home.”

The culmination of the UMOJA 30th celebration will take place on Lehigh/Lafayette weekend, where the committee will host a welcome reception for returning alumni in the campus home of President Simon on Friday, Nov. 22. On Saturday, Nov. 23, there will be a breakfast at UMOJA House, a tailgate party on Goodman Campus before the game and a dinner on Saturday evening in Iacocca Hall.

All of the events, Hylton said, are planned to offer a chance for returning alumni to interact with current Lehigh students, and to continue to honor the UMOJA values of welcome, inclusivity and multiculturalism.

More information, as well as links to register for events, can be found on the UMOJA 30 website at: umoja.lehigh.edu. Organizers note that all UMOJA celebration events are free for students, who are encouraged to register at go.lehigh.edu/UmojaCelebration. Faculty, staff and alumni should register directly from the umoja.lehigh.edu website. 

Originally located in Warren Square as a co-educational space that offered only 12 rooms, UMOJA House moved to its current location on The Hill in 2003. It now houses students in 28 beds, and offers space for recreation, casual interaction and campus events and programming. It was completely renovated during the 2014-15 academic year and rededicated in Fall of 2014 in a ceremony that brought together students, staff and faculty, with some of the student leaders who championed its creation in the late 1980s.

That extensive renovation project included mechanical, structural and aesthetic upgrades. Also improved were parking, accessibility and lighting, and a card access system was installed for additional security.

In addition to Hylton and Odi, members of the UMOJA 30 Planning Committee include the following individuals

  • Aarsenio Perry, assistant dean and director of Student Activities

  • David Joseph, executive director of Student Auxiliary Services

  • Joey Recupero ’20, business and economics major

  • Mario Paredes ’11, co-executive chair of BALANCE (Black and Latino Alumni Network for Community and Equity)

  • Princess Scott ’20, undergraduate student in civil engineering

  • Reginald Jennings ’70, co-executive chair of BALANCE 

  • Renee Musser, coordinator, Office of Multicultural Affairs

  • Joe Sterrett ’76, Murray H. Goodman Dean of Athletics

  • Salma Elboute ’22, business major

  • Miguel Rivera, associate director of Development and Alumni Relations

  • Ashley Lemmons, associate dean of Residence Life

  • Leon Caldwell ’91,’93G, co-founder of UMOJA House

  • Edward Ramos ’89, investment manager and Lehigh trustee

  • Jody Rose-Bronner ’91 ’92 MEd.

  • Kashi Johnson ‘93, professor and chair, theatre

  • Lori McClaind, associate dean of students

  • Mayra Gutierrez ’23, undergraduate student in engineering

For more information about the UMOJA House 30th celebration, please go to umoja.lehigh.edu.

Story by

Linda Harbrecht

Photography by

Christa Neu

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