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The Carletonian

Successful MLK dinner raises questions about race

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On Monday evening, Carleton students came together in the Weitz atrium to celebrate the birthday and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event featured speeches and spoken word presentations from both current students and alumni.

Junior Jeffrey Bissoy-Mattis is president of the Men of Carleton student organization.

“The MLK dinner has always brought a large diversity of students, as well as faculty. Every year the event grows larger and larger. As a junior, I recall my first MLK dinner, as one of the freshmen emcees for the event, being held at the Superlounge. There were well over 150 people sitting at tables, with over 20-30 more people attempting to get in, it was crazy. It’s a very large- scale event, which continues to grow…I can only hope that it continues that way,” he said.

Freshman Francisco Castro emceed the event.

“Sometimes when there are talks about race or cultural diversity at Carleton, you tend to see the same people and a lot of times it’s just the colored community. But I was very happy to see a more diverse group of people here tonight,” Castro said.

To follow up on the MLK Celebration and discuss recent events, the Community, Equity, and Diversity Initiative hosted a #BlackLivesMatter panel discussion on Monday in the Chapel. This, too, saw a full house. Student organizers, however, still feel that Carls could push themselves further.

“I was…shocked at the large turnout of yesterday’s event, which saw the entire chapel packed as they listened to the experiences and advice being given by the panelists.

“Although there was such a great reception, I still feel that student interest in race issues is still not where it ought to be,” Bissoy-Mattis said.

Bissoy-Mattis notes that “at events dealing with race and cultural diversity at Carleton it is more often than not predominantly people of color attending, and you’ll see the same white students at those events as well.

“It is concerning to me because they are not issues that affect simply the people of color community but the Carleton community as whole. I understand that we all get busy, but the observation remains true.”

Some colleges and universities give students and professors a day off from classes to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Villanova University in Philadelphia, for example, takes the day off from classes and instead encourages all of its students to participate in a day of community service in honor of Dr. King.

Carleton, however, neither gives a day off nor encourages students to engage in community service, leading some students to question whether Carleton is doing enough to celebrate the life of one of our country’s most important historical figures.

“I’ve always felt that Carleton doesn’t do enough for MLK day,” Bissoy-Mattis said. “Considering that it is a holiday, which represents the unification of all races and ethnicities, and the diverse community we have on campus, the lack of manifestation baffles me.”

Students are now left to grapple with the question of how to make the celebration of Martin Luther King Day a more meaningful and impactful experience for the Carleton community.

“I don’t think we should be asking ourselves if Carleton is doing enough. I think we should be asking ourselves if we’re doing enough as a student body,” Castro said. “While the institution is in a position where they can do a lot of things, ultimately I think the students themselves as a community and as individuals, I think that’s a responsibility that belongs to us, and that we should carry that burden.”

Bissoy-Mattis agreed, noting the significance of this week’s events.“Yesterday’s [#BlackLivesMatter] event serves as the first stepping-stone in the right direction for dialogue on race issues post-Ferguson, and more importantly answering the question of if we’re living in a post-racial America, and what that means for our Carleton campus,” he said.

Sophomore Gillian Applegate spoke at the MLK Dinner about her experiences attending protests in Ferguson in October 2014.

“Martin Luther King said, ‘We are inevitably our brother’s keep- er because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.’ Problems like racism may not directly affect all of us, but that does not mean that we are exempt from the fallout,” Applegate said.

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