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MLK Jr. dinner fosters conversation

Nicole Michels | Friday, January 25, 2013

Student leaders charged to “bring home” the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. to Notre Dame met Thursday in the Alumni Stadium press box to discuss contemporary issues during a dinner organized by the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee. 

Senior and committee member Armani Sutton said the group developed the topic in response to current issues the University and its students face, including the Call to Action program meetings. 

“We tried to think about how we can ‘bring it home,'” Sutton said. “From that point, we tried to come up with topics within that theme, … topics we’re faced with every day on campus.”

Attendees sat at randomly assigned tables for the meal and participated in discussions facilitated by student moderators. 

Campus Ministry’s Multicultural Ministry Officer Judy Madden said Thursday’s dinner marked the event’s 10th anniversary. 

“There was a majority student, a Caucasian student, 10 years ago, who was really bothered when she talked to some of her friends who were minority students who said that their experience at Notre Dame was not positive and she wanted to do something to create a more positive environment,” Madden said. “She came up with the idea of this dinner and bringing people together to build relationships, build bridges and get to know each other personally to hopefully improve the relationships among all students at Notre Dame.”  

Sophomore Demetrius Murphy said the best part of the evening was the diversity among the students in attendance.

“We’re all coming from different aspects in our lives, we’re all coming from different majors and we’re all passionate about different things, so when you get us together and we discuss [issues.] … It’s amazing to have that open dialogue and it’s very necessary,” he said. “I’m so happy they do this every year and this is something they should continue.”

Murphy said his table discussed whether social media networking impedes quality communication or makes it better, and if social media allows legitimate connections to form.

“It was cool to see different people’s perspectives because some people thought you could build a lasting relationship but that at some point you would have to meet in real life,” Murphy said.  “Others said ‘No, it’s not possible to build any type of meaningful relationship because people don’t present their true selves online.'”

Sophomore Shanice Cox said her group discussed the delineation between power and privilege, the situations when they coincide and if the coexistence of power and privilege can be healthy.

“It was nice to hear other people’s sides, especially those of some of the Latin-American students who brought up politics in their home countries,” Cox said. “I totally agree with [the conclusion] we came up with, which was basically that either you’re in power with someone, or you’re in power against them.”

Cox said the evening’s theme helped her realize how much the diversity of minority students offers the University.

“I’m in Shades of Ebony, and we talked about the social networking problem that we’re having where people are not showing their true selves,” she said. “I feel like I can go back to those ladies and express the different sides [of that issue] that we talked about here.”

Sophomore Amanda Peña said she was excited to learn the topics for Thursday’s event after attending last year’s dinner.

“I especially loved my table [this year],” Peña said. “We talked about politics and people’s different opinions about politics and about how bipartisanship is really necessary.”

She said the increased number of people at the event excited her. 

“There were a lot of faces this year that I didn’t recognize and last year I knew a good majority of them, so this shows that a lot of people are starting to recognize more leaders on campus and that there are a lot more passionate people that are willing to step out,” Peña said.

Peña realized there is a sense of solidarity among the students present who are willing to agitate for social justice. 

“It’s a beautiful feeling to know that there are other people on this campus who care about social justice and really big issues,” Peña said. “There are a lot of issues that I am really passionate about but don’t know where to go with them or who to talk to about them, but seeing these people and seeing what they represent … it gives me an outlet and a place to look forward to going and networking and collaborating on issues.”

Sutton said he lead a discussion at his table about the difference between words and actions, analyzing what it means to practice what you preach.

“My topic was private versus public representation of the self,” he said. “I wanted to highlight that issue and address how we can solve it and get back to Dr. King’s dream of everyone getting together and everyone having good character. … It’s important to know what your character is and how you’re exhibiting that character.”

Sutton said his group concluded social media outlets are only bad if used the wrong way. They decided relationships require physical interaction, though social media can help begin communication. 

Madden said the dinner offers a venue for students to talk about issues of substance.

“This gives them an opportunity to dive a little deeper and a safe place to talk about things that make people uncomfortable,” she said. “And I think being uncomfortable – we don’t like it – but sometimes it’s a sign that growth is happening, and a great opportunity.”