MLK Week 2019
MLK Week: Community Conversation poses hard questions
Each year In January, Saint Michael’s College dedicates a week of events to the memory of Martin Luther King, known as MLK Week. One of several featured events from the week’s programming was “A Community Conversation” on the evening of Wednesday, January 23 in the Dion Family Student Center Roy Room.. The purpose of this event was to engage in a meaningful, if uncomfortable, conversation about the subject of collaborative justice and freedom as a shared value.
For this event, five members of Saint Michael’s faculty and staff were asked to write an essay on the subject: Moise St. Louis, associate dean of students/ director of The Center for Multicultural Affairs and Services; Patrick Standen and Katherine Kirby of the philosophy faculty, Lara Scott, director of the MOVE office in Edmundite Campus Ministry, and Fr. Michael Carter, S.S.E. ’12, a religious studies faculty member from the resident Edmundite community. Bert Lain, husband of Saint Michael’s President Lorraine Sterritt, who is teaching Latin courses this semester, did not write an essay, but served as a panelist, while St.Louis facilitated. Lain shared with the audience his experiences growing up Savannah, Georgia, which was a segregated community when he lived there. During the event, the other four panelists discussed the reasons for and main ideas of their essays, and did their best to answer challenging questions proposed by students.
Professor St. Louis discussed in his essay the need to replace the current ethic of our society with an ethic of love in order to liberate all people. Professor Standen summarized his essay as an attempt to put King and his work into a Western political tradition going back all the way to Socrates, using the references King makes to Socrates in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail as evidence. Professor Kirby addressed the concept of “Ubuntu”, meaning the essence of being human, in her essay. She recounted childhood experiences that awoke her to the concept and to her connection to other people. She claimed that there is a great “unfreedom” in being privileged, because the privileged think they are free when in reality they are not. They are not free because other humans, who (according to the notion of Ubuntu) they are connected to, are not free. Lara Scott wrote about her experiences with community service throughout her life and how she learned the connection between service and justice. Fr. Carter discussed the importance of listening, and the collective liberation found in being able to admit one does not know something, particularly the experiences of another person.
Each member’s essay was well-written and well thought out, and so were the student’s responses. Those that attended did not shy away from the hard questions. One student pointed out that all the panelists presented as white, even though this week’s events honored Martin Luther King’s efforts to liberate people of color and the subject of the event was the liberation of marginalized groups, and asked how they accounted for that. Another student asked the panelists how they would address the problem of gentrification if they were in positions of power, and a third asked how the panelists were supporting students on campus who feel marginalized, as well as if they thought they were doing enough. These tough questions lead to an interesting and valuable conversation surrounding the oppression of certain groups of people, including on our campus, and what we can do to be better.