Students excluded from Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration

Sarah Buchmann

 Illinois Wesleyan held its first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Celebration and Commitment this semester. 

While the posters invited IWU faculty and staff to participate in the day, professors and department chairs advertised the event to students with opportunities of extra credit and class points. 

But Sunday morning, students received an email from Dean Winger stating that the day was only open to faculty and staff, and that students were allowed at the morning ceremony but none of the sessions. 

Like many other students, I was disappointed to hear this – not only would I not get the chance to earn extra credit in three of my classes, but I was denied the chance to learn about issues I was interested in. 

This broad collection of seminars included sessions called “From Ableism to Critical Dis/ability Awareness”, “Supporting African-American Men on Campus”, and “The Latinx Experience in the Classroom and on Campus.” 

As an education major and someone currently learning about students with disabilities, the Ableism seminar really peaked my interest. 

Not only was this one of the seminars that would give me extra credit in my class, but I was also intrigued by the notion of learning about dis/abilities here on IWU’s campus.

When I learned that I was no longer allowed to participate in the entirety of the day, I was a little surprised. 

At a school that promotes inclusion and learning and acceptance, why make this a purely professional development day instead of allowing students to join for their own edification? 

I did attend the opening ceremony, which included two guests (Reverend Lynette Dean Alsberry and Professor Jessie Dixie-Montgomery) along with President Nugent. 

This part of the day was open to students, but it was not the educational experience I had been looking forward to. 

Rather, I heard President Nugent speak on the importance of having an institute day like this, Reverend Alsberry sing a preview of the evening’s gospel festival and Professor Dixie-Montgomery preach about the importance of education and diversity. 

This is not to say that the opening ceremony was not important. 

Dixie-Montgomery’s speech in itself was enlightening and brought up topics that I’m sure would be addressed later on in the day, but it only made me more curious as to what would actually be happening later on. 

The day was devoted to diversity and political issues: racism, the gender binary, ableism and gentrification. 

All things that a young student at a liberal arts university would surely be of interest and helpful to know about in today’s society. 

While faculty and staff should of course have their own days to reflect on professional development and factors that could affect the classroom, these sorts of events should be open to the entire campus. 

The posters did state that the day was for faculty and staff, but there should have been an option for student involvement. 

At the very least, similar seminars could be accessible to students should they choose to attend. 

I am grateful for the small taste of Monday’s ceremonies, but am still perplexed by the closed doors. 

In the future, I would be eager for these mature conversations to include the rest of campus.