MLK Day Events Inspire Discussions on Diversity and Community

Christine Hebert

 As students settled into their new schedules and classes, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day kicked off this year’s spring semester. In addition to the workshops and celebrations that took place this Monday, the Colgate community will continue to hold workshops throughout February in honor of Black History Month. Assistant Dean for Multicultural Affairs Thomas Cruz-Soto explained that the events were made possible by the African, Latin, Asian and Native American Cultural Center (ALANA), the Office of Diversity, the Africana and Latin American Studies Program (ALST), Dean of the College and a variety of individuals.

Monday’s celebrations commenced at 12:00 pm with an opening ceremony held in the Colgate Memorial Chapel. There was a good turnout, and Vice President and Dean of Diversity Keenan Grenell opened the celebrations with a welcoming speech, touching on the devastation in Haiti and King’s identification with the poor and oppressed around the world. He called for Colgate to reach out in this time of need.

Admissions Counselor Mike Walden also left the audience with a few remarks. He discussed King’s impact on his own life and as well as the concepts of power and truth.

“We are powerful because of our association with this university, and we have the divine responsibility to serve,” Walden said.

Musical performances by the Colgate Resolutions and juniors Benae Beamon and Kathleen Armenti followed the remarks.

At 1:00 p.m., students went to the ALANA Cultural Center to participate in the first round of the day’s workshops. Attendees had the option to attend either “Fulfilling the Dream: King and Obama’s Competing Visions of America,” facilitated by Associate Professor of History and Africana and Latin American Studies Pete Banner-Haley, or a panel discussion of Kenji Yoshino’s autobiography Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights.

Banner-Haley led a discussion about whether King and President Barack Obama’s dream has been achieved or if there remains room for improvement with regard to becoming an America that has moved on completely from racism.

Students returned to ALANA at 4:00 p.m. for the second section of workshops, choosing this time between a film screening of Freedom On My Mind, a documentary exploring efforts in the 1960s to register African American voters, and a workshop for first-years that revisited Barack Obama’s book Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. The group discussed Obama’s autobiography that the first-year students had read prior to their arrival at Colgate and how their views had changed since experiencing the Colgate environment.

Since the results of the Colgate Campus Life Survey were released in the fall of 2009, issues relating to diversity have become an important subject of discussion on campus.

“More than ever before I see student collaborations and events that involve larger membership of the student body,” Cruz-Soto said, “but much more work remains ahead. Until we get to the point where we can function as a community rather than individual or sub-cliquish groups, we will always have issues. A Colgate United group is my ultimate hope for this campus where our scholarship and membership to this community means more than any of our petty differences.”

The messages of Martin Luther King, Jr. will continue to resound at Colgate as many events centered around the themes of equality, inclusivity and community have been planned for the months of January and February.

Among the planned events are lectures from two keynote speakers. Tricia Rose from Brown University is scheduled to speak on January 20 and Kenji Yoshino will discuss his autobiography on February 24.

“I think both of our keynote speakers will provide us with much to think about in terms of the relevance of Dr. King’s legacy for contemporary issues of race, gender and sexuality in the United States,” Associate Dean of Diversity Michelle Stephens said.

There are also a series of community service opportunities organized and sponsored by the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education on January 22.

“In recent years we have had wonderful occasions marking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but this year seems special to me because of the contributions of a number of members of our own community in addition to some great visitors,” Interim President Lyle Roelofs said.