Amajla Tricic, Assistant News Editor
Utica College started off its spring semester a day later to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The decision to have the day off was made official after a vote by administrative officials, inspired by student outreach concerning the importance of the holiday.
While student’s had the day to themselves, many used it as an opportunity to honor King’s legacy through the numerous events that took place on campus starting Jan. 15.
Junior Hermina Garic, an administrative intern at K. Della Ferguson Womyn’s Resource Center, said that the day off helps the school focus on MLK Day programming. The programs featured a chance for students to not only be aware of King’s accomplishments but of the things that were pivotal during and after his time.
“I think a lot of students don’t know the history,” Garic said. “The programs offered really get at the root of what the actual struggle looked like, how big the movement was and how he was a great instrumental thinker, but there were so many social activists behind him and after. This is still continuing today and if you have students open up their minds to this, you will realize it doesn’t just end with MLK. Things are not good. Racism still exists. It’s still hurting people. It’s time to reconnect and go out into the community.”
Garic added that having the day off was important since it is a recognized day, and students wanted it to be seen as such on campus. She recalled many of her fellow classmates paved the way for the observance and programs that have been featured.
“We had a really involved activist Ransey Perry, the president of Black Student Union last year, and she was really influential in this, as was Patricia Gortman and Gianna Boone,” Garic said. “They constantly went to student government, and they also went to Provost Johnsen and President Casamento and they spoke in front of faculty and staff and they voted on it.”
Alane Varga, the dean for diversity and inclusion, said the need for a day off stemmed from conversations within the school about what the holiday meant for many students and faculty.
“It was brought into the forefront because students began talking more with faculty and staff and administration about how important it was to make sure that we were honoring pieces of individual history and culture.” Varga said.
When the day off was granted, Varga said, the campus began to think more intentionally about what programs needed to be featured so it was not only about the observance of King for one day, but it spread out to a span of two weeks in a very informative ways. Her hope is that the events felt like students were involved in a variety of different ways.
“It is a way for folks to engage,” Varga said. “What did he do? Who was he? What messages did he have? Maybe times we think of Dr. King in a way that really resonates with us like the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech or a couple of very specific moments in time. There was a need to say that the history is much more complicated than that. He also had messages around war, economic stability, education and a variety of different kinds of societal implications.”
For Asad Emi, president of Brother’s on a New Direction (BOND), the day off was well overdue and appropriate in a historical context.
“We have Columbus Day off and his legacy that he left the world was a legacy of racism, xenophobia and division, and for us as an institution to honor that legacy and not MLK’s legacy of love, acceptance and black empowerment I would submit to is egregious and I am glad that this institution has taken a step in the right direction.” Emi said.
While Emi is pleased with the school’s decision, he also believes there is still work to be done. He wants to see more diversity on campus, more so reflected in faculty and staff as well as the course curriculum.
“There is not even a Africana studies major,” Emi said. “BOND advocates for civility of every person on this campus, not just African-Americans, and we believe as an organization that the institution (Utica College) should do the same. Following the U.S. Declaration of Independence quote that “we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men (and women) are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Varga had a similar idea, firmly concluding that there is always room for improvement. With the day granted off, she has looked to next year’s academic schedule for MLK Day and is always trying to find adjustments that will provide the community with more opportunities to observe and embrace King’s legacy.