Got MLK?

by Sharon Albright

Just a little over a month from now, a group of students on campus will be awarded $1,000 for their creativity. And right now, everyone has an equal chance at being a winner.

The task at hand is to devise a plan to address a specific social justice issue of concern. This new program, brought to life by the President’s Commission on Multicultural Affairs, will be unveiled Jan. 20 at Simpson’s Martin Luther King Day ceremony.

“I think what we are trying to do here is to honestly recognize the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a way that keeps his message alive and current for us today,” said Dean of Students Jim Thorius, who served as an organizer for the initiative.

According to CoryAnne Harrigan, committee member and assistant professor of English, the idea for this program came about through a subcommittee discussion on how to address the upcoming Martin Luther King Day.

“For the past eight years, we’ve invited a Simpson alum back to campus to speak about an issue,” Harrigan said. “For whatever reason, these have a history of being under-attended by both students and faculty. This has been problematic for some time, and has sparked a lot of discussion as to whether a slight shifting of the schedule really honors the memory of Dr. King.”

The committee began to further look into the issue and gather initial ideas as to how to improve the college’s recognition of Dr. King.

“As we discussed the speaker for this year, we had to ask ourselves whether we wanted to treat his (MLK Jr.) actions as a thing of the past-something that had its day-or, as a legacy that lives on. Of course, we decided on the latter,” Harrigan said.

The foundations for a new plan started to fall into place.

“Then, if it is something that continues on, we agreed that we should be taking some kind of action or encouraging some action that is comparable to what he would support if he were still alive today,” Harrigan said.

The committee members considered how Dr. King might approach the current problems with issues such as terrorism, homelessness, immigration and health care, just for starters. According to Harrigan, this discussion led to the ultimate questtion: How do we get students thinking about these things in the wake of MLK Jr. Day? The idea of money was proposed as a “carrot” of sorts, giving students an incentive to take on this task.

The Office of the Dean of Students is providing the $1,000 award to a group, consisting of any number of students who work jointly with a faculty leader to put together a plan for how to address one of these suggested topics. According to Thorius, topics such as the above mentioned will be offered merely as suggestions, but are not meant to limit the student’s options in any way.

“We need to be engaged in something outside of ourselves,” Thorius said. “King devoted a large part of his life to addressing the common issues and calling society to show concern for fighting injustice wherever it occurred.”

“We want people to think creatively in regards to social justice issues. We want them to consider what a relatively small amount of money can do to make an immediate difference in the lives of people,” Harrigan said.

“We’re hoping that it changes the way Martin Luther King Day is regarded in the future but more than that, we’re hoping that it has a positive affect on people taking minority affairs more seriously.”

Thorius said that he agrees that this new program may pave the way for a better climate on campus.

“By looking at our lives from a different perspective and showing our genuine concern for social justice issues, we are leaving room for improvement in how we address all areas that relate to the disenfranchised,” Thorius said.

Others agree that this new plan has the potential to help with the current diversity situation that Simpson is grappling with.

Senior Gary Huynh, president of Concerned Multicultural Students, took part in organizational meetings for the multicultural affairs committee, and says the larger statement that the college is making with the Martin Luther King Day contest impresses him.

“I think that this is a big step towards students recognizing issues dealing with diversity,” Huynh said. “This shows that Simpson, as a liberal arts college, is concerned with improving the condition of the study body and how they interact with others.”