This past Monday, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The University didn’t hold classes, and there were various groups around campus putting on events to honor and celebrate one of the most influential leaders of the past century. Yet some schools still had classes that day.
As a public University, we recognize MLK Day as an official holiday. But not all schools do. I went to Catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, and Jan. 17 was my first MLK Day off. Over the weekend, I told my roommate that this was the first time I wouldn’t be going to school on MLK Day. She went to a public school in New Jersey and always had MLK day off, so she was shocked to find that my Catholic school didn’t recognize the holiday.
In high school, one of my best friends was African American. I distinctly remember our last MLK Day a year ago, when she didn’t come to school. I texted her while I was in class to ask her where she was and she replied, telling me “It’s my day! Of course I’m not coming to school! My mom didn’t make me.” Her mother was a gym teacher at one of the local public elementary schools, and the public schools had the day off. As I laughed at her response, imagining her saying this to me with the same energy, I realized there was some truth to what she was saying.
Our high school was mostly white students, and I could count the number of African American students on my fingers. But I don’t think that should be any grounds for not celebrating MLK Day. Catholic schools don’t have to follow the same calendar as the public schools, and they can choose to have different days off. So why wouldn’t they choose to have MLK Day off? Would it really be that big of an inconvenience to have one less day of school? They could make up that day by getting rid of one of the superfluous days we have off for conferences or other unimportant activities. Celebrating a man who lived and died for civil rights seems like a better use of vacation days.
I’m not African American, so maybe I don’t have the best platform for this argument. But having a best friend who is African American has helped me to identify with her family and culture much better. I don’t see why Catholic schools wouldn’t want to celebrate this day. And I’m not just saying that they should give kids the day off because they don’t want to go to school. That’s not the reason. Out of respect, Catholic schools should recognize this day and fall in line with the public schools that already view MLK Day as a holiday.
Catholic schools that do not give students MLK Day off certainly aren’t racist. I can clearly remember being taught about Martin Luther King Jr. and the important role he played in the civil rights movement. I remember doing activities in elementary school to celebrate MLK Day in class. Obviously Catholic schools recognize this important man in other ways. But since private Catholic schools have the power to make their own schedules, they should elect not to have school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day – not just so kids don’t have to go to school that day, but as a sign of respect and acceptance of African American students across the nation.
Ashley Griesshammer is a senior editorial page editor.