Community and campus recognize Martin Luther King Jr.
Carnegie Mellon students joined with the Pittsburgh community Monday to celebrate and remember the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. As University President Jared Cohon explained in his address, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is, “something other than just a day off.” With events ranging from panels to processions to puppet shows, Carnegie Mellon came together to recognize and embrace the diversity King once dreamed of.
The events started immediately after classes with a “Community and Choral Tribute” in Kirr Commons by students in the schools of drama and music. Performances honoring King included song, verse, dance, and personal interpretation. Readings included portions of President Obama’s “Letter to My Daughters” and Maya Angelou’s “Million Man March.”
At the conclusion of the tribute, students, faculty, and the community were invited to attend Cohon’s address, “State of Diversity at Carnegie Mellon,” in which Cohon discussed the importance of embracing the differences intrinsic to students within the university. Carnegie Mellon’s growth in the area of diversity is determined based on yearly “diversity reports.” The 2009 diversity report states that the number of enrolled under-represented minority undergraduate students rose, as did the percentage of international undergraduate students (currently at 5 percent and 15 percent, respectively). These numbers have risen steadily since the first report was issued in 2002. “We are a more diverse university, I would claim, in every way,” Cohon said. “We want to embrace diversity in all dimensions.”
Following Cohon’s address, local high school students joined current Carnegie Mellon students to read personal narratives concerning racial difference and discrimination. All participating students are recipients of Martin Luther King Jr. writing awards sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon Creative Writing Program, Student Affairs, and the Office of the President.
In another of the day's events, community members were invited to join an open discussion hosted by the President's Diversity Advisory Council (DAC). The discussion offered an opportunity to gather feedback on a document drafted this year titled "A Guiding Principle for University Culture." The document focuses on further engaging talent that represents variety, as well as creating significant and authentic exchanges between students of different backgrounds. Panelists included Cohon; Janel Sutkus, director of Educational Research; Ray Obenza, from Human Resources in the Software Engineering Institute; John Lehoczky, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; Shernell Smith, coordinator of Student Development in Campus Affairs; and Eric Wu, a sophomore in the School of Computer Science.
Children belonging to the Children’s School and the larger community were also included in the day’s celebrations. Holden Puppets presented a puppet show performance of World Neighborhood in the University Center.
Later in the day, a candlelight procession was organized with the intention of honoring and remembering King and his symbolic march for civil rights. Attendees were encouraged to remember the struggles and trials overcome in the name of freedom and equality, while reflecting on the power of non-violent protest.
The celebrations came to a close with a keynote address and reception in the University Center. James Cone, the Charles Augustus Briggs distinguished professor from the Union Theological Seminary in New York delivered a speech titled “Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen.” Cone specifically discussed the dichotomy between King's message and how he is often portrayed in contemporary culture. Carnegie Mellon student speakers, senior English and statistics major Kristine McPherson and junior mechanical engineering major Francisco Santiago, joined him in addressing issues of discrimination and diversity.