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MLK deserves more than a photo

| Saturday, June 19, 2021

President Rev. John I. Jenkins and Provost Marie Lynn Miranda,

On March 10, 2021, the Student Senate of the University of Notre Dame du Lac passed SS 2021-28: A Resolution Requesting a Full-Day Observance of MLK Day. On April 29, the Campus Life Council voted to send this resolution to the former Vice President of Student Affairs, Erin Hoffmann Harding, to continue the dialogue and implement this resolution. On May 13, supporters of this resolution met with her and discussed the importance of the resolution with hopes of moving forward with implementation. Unfortunately, the coalition of students were then asked to speak with the next Vice President of Student Affairs, Fr. Gerard Olinger; thus restarting the referral process for resolution implementation. This letter is a call to action from many students and campus organizations that want to implement the resolution. We believe a full-day observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the proper way to honor Dr. King’s legacy and is essential to Notre Dame’s continued fight for social justice.

Every January 20, our campus and the entire nation come together to honor the legacy of one of the most monumental figures in history. Dr. King’s work within the Civil Rights movement fostered conditions for society as we know it today. His work has shaped institutions and facilitated the codification of equal rights for Black Americans. In consistency with his faith, Dr. King’s actions led to the recognition of human dignity, a rejection of injustice and fostered solidarity for United States citizens.

In its mission statement, the University of Notre Dame declares that it “seeks to cultivate in its students not only an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings, but also a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.” We see no better avenue to realizing this idea than for our institution to recognize and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a full day of observance.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls on the third Monday of every January, around his birthday. This aspect of its creation was meant to give this day the same significance as federal holidays supported under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (1971). Currently, the Notre Dame administration seeks to use the holiday’s placement on a Monday as a deterrence from giving students the full day off. However, the end of a school week is suggested to be adequately suited for us to have the entire day off during Good Friday. Most federal holidays that occur during a semester, excluding Labor Day, receive full-day observance. Furthermore, although Good Friday is not a federally recognized holiday, the university honors it for a full day due to its significance for many religious individuals on campus.

We are looking for the administration to consider this inconsistency and acknowledge MLK Day on the same level as any other holiday. We ask that the university considers its marginalized students and their allies by including a full-day observance of MLK Day in all future spring semesters. This recognition will allow students to reflect and honor Dr. King as they please and does not negate the importance of this civil rights holiday by suggesting that it will not be celebrated if a day for observance is granted.

Katherine Hall, the first Black woman elected to represent Indiana in the House of Representatives, proposed the bill to establish a holiday honoring Dr. King. Representative Hall sought to establish the legislation as “a national commitment to Dr. King’s vision and determination for an ideal America.” Being one of the most prominent universities in Rep. Hall’s home state, we should honor her prerogative on campus. However, since President Ronald Reagan implemented the federal holiday in 1983, Notre Dame has only scheduled a two-hour recognition, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., which is a lunch period for many students. While the university holds its annual “Walk the Walk Week” where they offer events centering around race relations, there is no scheduled break to attend these events, and students feel they are not given priority; thus, most students observe no period of reflection or fruitful dialogue.

In 2020, the world was disheveled by a global pandemic and prevalent racial tyranny and abuse. Many finally understood modern calls for racial justice with the graphic footage of multiple murders of marginalized peoples. With a new movement underway, countless allies and marginalized groups marched for Black lives looking to those in power for leadership and guidance.

University leadership must take substantial steps to improve race relations on campus and foster a more inclusive environment. Student Leaders of the 2020-2021 term addressed the murder of George Floyd and the importance of fighting for racial justice on campus and across the country. Without concentrated efforts, discourse is limited, and students are not afforded the opportunity to find common ground on polarizing issues. The vast majority of Notre Dame students recognize the value of honoring the legacy of Dr. King, as Fr. Theodore Hesburgh did when he held his hand in allyship. Current students should be encouraged to follow the example of Fr. Hesburgh and be afforded the chance to find allies in one another. This year has given us time to reflect on the implications of race in our society, and it is more apparent than ever that Dr. King’s fight is not over.

With the aforementioned thoughts and the decisions of the Student Senate and the Campus Life Council, we call for the University of Notre Dame du Lac to officially begin a full-day observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

 

Eliza Smith

Resolution author

junior

 

Cassidy Ferrell

Director of student empowerment

senior

 

Amaya Medeiros

Director of diversity and inclusion

senior

 

Luzolo Matundu

MLK Coalition member

sophomore

 

Connor Tinson

MLK Coalition member

sophomore

 

Allan Njomo 

Student body president

senior

 

Matthew Bisner 

Student body vice president

senior

 

Alix Basden 

Student body chief of staff

senior

 

Co-signatories:

Max Siegel II

Director of Athletics

senior

 

Zakiya George

President of Shades of Ebony

senior

 

Chinaza Udekwe 

Co-vice president of Wabruda

junior

 

Grace Franco

Walsh Hall vice president

junior

 

Briana Chappell 

Coalition member

sophmore

 

Ify Nwebube 

Black Student Association president

senior

 

Skyler Hamilton

Black Student Association vice president 

senior

 

Chi Opara 

President of Black Cultural Arts Council

sophomore

 

Chelsea Popoola

President of African Students Association

senior

 

Waseem Thabata 

Co-president of the Black Business Association

junior

 

Joyce Watson 

Co-president of the Black Business Association

senior

 

Akin Adegoke

Co-president of the Black Cultural Arts Council 

senior

 

Daniel Lau

Executive chair of Diversity Council

junior

 

Hakeem Ceesay

President of Bridge ND Capital

senior

 

Andre Wilson

 President of Wabruda

senior

 

David Moses

Co-vice president of Wabruda

senior

 

Nicholas Crookston

Campus Safety chair of Diversity Council

junior

 

Renee Pierson

Coalition member

junior

 

Zoë Case

Coalition member

senior

 

June 15

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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