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Notre Dame first-years voice support for Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance

| Wednesday, January 19, 2022

For the first time in its history, Notre Dame observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a University holiday, which also marked the beginning of the University’s annual Walk the Walk Week. The Observer asked the first-year class about their understanding of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and their thoughts on the University’s unprecedented observance.

“Having this day without classes is not merely an extra day to sleep in or get more work done,” first-year Kathryn Sherman said. “It’s a day to honor and reflect. It’s a day to create a plan for what we are going to do to bring about positive and necessary change. With men like George Floyd, Daunte Wright and too many other Black people brutally killed as a result of police violence and racial tensions still plaguing our homes and schools, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream has yet to be fully accomplished. We use this day to understand our place in his dream, and to reflect on how our words and actions are working to make his dream a reality.”

Yuna Lee agreed with Sherman, asserting the importance of Monday’s holiday.

“Having that day off pushes me to think about Dr. King and what he did for our society,” Lee said. “If I didn’t have that day off, I wouldn’t take the time to reflect upon his legacy.”

Another first-year, Anita Feng, said the University’s decision to cancel class for the holiday will not go unnoticed.

“I’m proud to see that the University is giving us this time off, because it represents a declaration of honor for not only Dr. King, but all who have advocated for civil rights and racial equality,” Feng said. “I hope that everyone takes this time to learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. … I hope we can consider how we can live out the message of King’s campaigns against racial injustice on campus.”

Events held near campus included the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march around South Bend. On campus, there was a Martin Luther King Jr. Day candlelight prayer service held Tuesday night in the Main Building.

The University is also taking steps to improve inclusivity, such as their creation of a board of trustees task force on diversity formed last August in response to recent tragic deaths and hate crimes against Black Americans and people of color.

First-year Andy Donovan said he firmly believes that Catholics have a special calling toward combatting racism and that Notre Dame, a premier Catholic university, must fight racism head on.

“A Notre Dame campus that doesn’t take the time for introspection and critical viewing of the systems it perpetuates goes against everything Notre Dame is meant to stand for,” Donovan said.

At a university where the photo of Fr. Hesburgh hand in hand with King appears often, Donovan supports celebrating the similarities between Catholic beliefs and those of racial justice advocates like King.

Nick Jones, another first-year student, said celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day is important for acknowledging the need for continued racial progress in the U.S.

“It’s important that Dr. King’s sacrifices and contributions are acknowledged publicly and proudly, because it’s one of the only instances where this country has come close to admitting that it was wrong,” Jones said. “There’s a moral correctness that supersedes our concept of loyalty to the country. Love for America can exist as harsh and critical criticism for the purpose of improvement.”

First-year Jaylen Choi agrees that MLK day cannot just be seen as a day of appreciating how far our country has come. He said MLK day should be a time for reevaluation — not only within himself or on campus, but across the world.

“This day gives me time to reflect upon how far society has come since MLK’s social justice work, while also allowing me to identify what needs to be changed in our country,” Choi said. 

Fr. Jenkins addressed the Notre Dame community on the holiday to encourage students to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. despite pandemic limitations.

We hope you will spend the day honoring Dr. King’s legacy in the ways that are most meaningful to you, while also recognizing that some activities we might normally participate in on this day — being part of a service project, attending events in the local community, or worshiping in our faith communities — may not be possible given the pandemic.

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About Gracie Eppler

Gracie Eppler is from St. Louis, Missouri and lives in Flaherty Hall. Her top three favorite things ever to exist are Nutella, the ND drum circle and thesauruses (in that order).

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