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Campus celebrates MLK Day

Carnegie Mellon celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday last Monday with a half-day of classes as well as several events, performances, and speeches.

Kicking off the festivities, University President Jared Cohon gave his annual State of Diversity presentation.

The presentation went over new and existing university policies intended to increase diversity, as well as the statistics that are helpful in measuring diversity, such as enrollment rates among different demographics.

“Diversity has been a high priority for the university and me personally for more than a decade,” Cohon said. “In the last couple years, though, having recognized the excellent progress we have made, we altered our approach a bit.”

“We didn’t focus so much on numbers, but also on the cultural aspects of diversity. We expanded our understanding of diversity to include more than usual, more than just ethnicity, race, and gender, but to include all that makes people different from each other,” he said.

Cohon emphasized that increased diversity benefits the university in many ways.

Referencing the faculty hiring process, Cohon said, “We want to make sure there is adequate diversity in the pool. That’s all we can really ask for. We don’t want to hire someone just because of their race or gender. But when you make an extra effort to ensure diversity, it usually gets a higher quality pool. Because you made an extra effort to look harder, you found better candidates.”

“I was at last year’s address,” said sophomore acting major Jordan Phillips. “It was interesting to see the progress between the years.”

Phillips was generally impressed by Cohon’s speech. “I thought the points made were very realistic. The process that was taken to enhance diversity on campus was very clear, very meticulous.”

At the lunch and panel event “A Social Justice Experience: Cultivating Social Moments,” members of the Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh communities discussed modern issues of race and gender in light of King’s achievements in social justice.

Assistant history professor Nico Slate, whose research focuses on U.S. social movements and struggles against racism, spoke about the unacknowledged racial segregation that still exists in America. Slate emphasized the importance of finding meaningful solutions rather than dwelling on or being overwhelmed by the problems at hand.

Bernard Franklin, a consultant and friend of the King family, gave the keynote address.

In his speech, titled “The Courage to Lead,” Franklin focused on what it takes to be a leader like King, and how future leaders in the audience should be aware of all the leadership opportunities they run into.

Through detailed accounts of stories from the King family, Franklin wrestled with how to resolve the conflict between King’s human and superhuman traits.

Although Franklin never met King, he met his wife, Coretta Scott King, and recounted conversations with her about her late husband.

Franklin constructed a contrast between the human details of the family and the inherent superhuman qualities that come when talking about the deceased civil rights leader.

“So many times we put him on a pedestal, and we said he wasn’t human, he wasn’t part of us. But this man was. He had his challenges; he had his issues, his struggles with life that we all have,” Franklin said. “But what possessed [Martin Luther King Jr.] to step into Montgomery, Alabama...? How could a young man, at the age of 26, step into the most demanding, the most humiliating, the most pressing role?”

Franklin recounted his own struggles with leadership.

When he was young, he said, he wanted to be the President of the United States. Though Ms. King tried to help him achieve his political goals, Franklin said that he, unlike King, ultimately gave up these ambitions for a quieter life.

“I had the Democratic Party starting to speak to me about being governor of Kansas,” Franklin said. “But I was 28 years old. I had just gotten married and had a family. The best of my life was still ahead of me. But my world in many ways was out of control.... I told Ms. King, ‘I just can’t do it.’ ”

However, Franklin strongly encouraged the audience members who do have what it takes to be aware of opportunities for leadership.

“The universe is always creating opportunities,” he said. “You’re going to meet people. You’re going to sit besides people on an airplane. You’re going to come into contact with someone at a bookstore. Your paths are going to cross with people who have significant influence on your life. But some of you are going to walk by them because they don’t ‘look like you....’ But that may be your ticket to walk to whole other place in time.”