Since 1987, the University has sponsored
the Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium — a month-long
educational program dedicated to revisiting King’s goals and
achievements as well as putting them in perspective within the
context of contemporary race relations. The series of seminars and
service programs provides students with a free, convenient and rich
source of information for those seeking to better their knowledge
of vital social issues. The symposium will attempt to evaluate
status-quo “racial equality” in light of legal and
social changes in the past five decades. In doing this, the forum
reveals pressing racial discrepancies — incongruities that
cannot be met with apathy.

Kate Green

Unfortunately, if past MLK symposiums serve any prophetic value,
the majority of the student body will not take advantage of this
unique event. In fact, the preponderance of the student body does
not envision Jan. 19 as a commemorative holiday memorializing a
valiant and laudable struggle, but as a day to catch up on lost
sleep from an inordinately hectic Sunday evening. It is unsettling,
to say the least, that the student body of one of the
nation’s most race-conscious universities, an institution at
the forefront of one of the most groundbreaking race-related court
decisions of the century, has in the past effortlessly squandered
the chance to indulge in the benefits of this program. Let there be
no mistake, the various lecture halls hosting the symposium reach
near capacity yearly, but not because of eager University students.
Instead, it is the surrounding area high school students that are
bussed in that fill most of the seats.

Yet, if there is a year to change these discouraging trends,
2004 is it. The program’s calendar of events reveals a truly
monumental series of seminars and discussion forums, all testifying
to the deep and far-reaching nature of the symposium. Along with
seminars on pertinent social issues, like minority treatment in
health care and inequalities in the education system, the program
features some very significant keynote speakers. Today in Rackham
Auditorium, there will be an interactive discussion with Cheryl and
Linda Brown — the sisters whose father filed suit to allow
them to attend a desegregated school — from the legendary
Brown v. Board of Education decision. On Martin Luther King Day, in
the newly renovated Hill Auditorium, Harvard law Prof. Lani Guinier
will be delivering the MLK Memorial Lecture. Guinier, the first
black woman to gain tenure at Harvard Law School, will discuss a
sequence of topics from the recent affirmative action decision to
the interplay between democracy and education.

Featuring a wealth of present-day scholars and social
scientists, the MLK Symposium offers students an opportunity to
broaden their understanding of race relations and social policy.
Hopefully, this year’s outstanding lineup of speakers and
events, combined with the divisive and thought-provoking questions
of social inequality put forward by the program’s theme, will
shake the student body from its habitual impassivity and boost the
attendance rate.

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