Anna Rinaggio, Campus Carrier opinions editor
Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day at Berry looked a little different this year. This past Monday, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), the Chaplain’s Office, the Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholarship and Berry College Volunteer Services (BCVS) came together to host events for students to celebrate the life of the civil rights activist.
The D&I Office partnered with each of these offices in order to host individual events. Haley Smith, the director of diversity and inclusion at Berry, said that while the D&I Office led the day’s events, they believe that it is important to partner with other offices on campus.
“We’re leading the day, but we think it’s important to partner throughout campus to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy and the impact that he still has,” said Smith. “So we’re partnering with a few different entities on campus to work together.”
Smith said that this is the first year that the D&I Office has put on events like this for MLK Day. In the past, BCVS has led the day with volunteering events. This year, however, the D&I Office wanted the Berry community to think deeper about the day and its meaning.
“We started having conversations in the fall semester about what do we really want students and staff and faculty to get out of [MLK Day] because a lot of people look at MLK Day as a day off, [as] kind of a vacation day for folks, and that’s not really what it is,” said Smith. “We want students and staff and faculty to really think about what the day means, what the legacy of Dr. King [is]. Part of what his mission was and still is today for people [is] to be good neighbors to each other and to actively be love to each other.”
Smith said that she thinks that students who participated in MLK Day events will have gained a better understanding of their character and how they can be better neighbors to one another.
“These events exist for us to think about ‘how do we treat each other?’” said Smith. “’How do we treat ourselves at the end of the day?’ Our students are here to get an education. I think it is a critical thing to connect character alongside of that education. How you treat the people around you and how you treat yourself are a critical part of what is going to be your personal and professional success.”
The Chaplain’s Office kicked off the day with a service at the College Chapel. The service included various people from the Berry community, including keynote speaker Mario Akposé-Simpson, a Berry alumnus and Board of Trustee member, as well as performances by the Berry Singers and Student Worship Team.
Gabrielle Marquez, the Berry coordinator for student ministries, said that this is the first year that the Chaplain’s Office did a service like this for MLK Day, and that she hopes that it serves as a true tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.
“My hope is that it’s a true remembrance of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Junior and a celebration of how far we have come in the ways of racial justice and also a reminder of how far we have yet to go,” Marquez said.
Marquez said that events such as those that took place on MLK Day are important because they draw the Rome and Berry communities together and encourage students to make connections off campus.
“It would be so easy to be a Berry student here and never connect with anything off campus,” said Marquez. “So I think this is a good practice to [understand that] it’s not just you and your friends who are the same age as you. There’s a community of multi-generations doing lots of types of work, and to be able to be with them is a good experience for college students, and also the community benefits from having them there.”
The Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholarship led the luncheon that afternoon, where students had a civic conversation regarding Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy. Whitehead scholars at Berry have historically participated in the service aspect of MLK Day and hosted events for their community. This was the first year they hosted an event for the larger Berry community.
Assistant Dean of Students Meredith Johnson oversees the Whitehead Scholars program and said that the Whitehead Scholars wanted to host a civic conversation to help further their learning about Martin Luther King Junior’s legacy.
“We [have] always [done] something in addition to that service experience so that we were taking the opportunity to learn about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and also have some community dialogue relevant to today’s climate,” said Johnson. “So this year, since we were doing kind of a more robust program of things on campus, Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholars partnered in that.”
Johnson hopes that the civic conversation not only helped students learn more about Martin Luther King Junior, but that it also helped them engage in conversation that they may not have been as comfortable with before.
“I hope that they got to have the experience of engaging in conversation about nonviolence, about Dr. King’s idea of Beloved Community, because sometimes people are uncomfortable getting started–particularly white students,” said Johnson. “I think there can be a lot of reasons that people hold back, and so civic conversations are a good way to start opening those doors to have good dialogue.”