Amajla Tricic, News Editor
Last year, Utica College decided not to hold classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in observance of King.
This year followed suit, with students having no class on Jan. 21 to begin two weeks of events and activities to commemorate King and his contributions to society.
Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Alane Varga put together a planning committee of faculty and students to develop this year’s events.
Some of the events featured a tribute in honor of King, documentary screenings followed by panel discussions, a peace rally and film screenings. All of the events highlighted matters King fought for.
Sociology professor Richard Duque was part of the planning committee and gave the opening remarks at a vigil in remembrance of King’s legacy. He began his speech by expressing what King represented for so many and where he found his inspiration.
“A modern-day martyr for equality and justice,” he said. “He follows in the footsteps of important past martyrs and his personal inspirations: a Hebrew prophet, Jesus Christ and a Hindu non-violent revolutionary, Mahatma Gandhi.”
Duque concluded his speech by adding that even though 55 years have passed since the second Civil Rights Act was signed into law, society is still struggling to ensure justice, equality and dignity for millions of disadvantaged American citizens.
“King’s mission is not completed,” he said. “And so this vigil rededicates us all to continue this important mission in his stead. ‘If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.’”
Rebecca Nda, a UC student who was a member of the planning committee, emphasized King’s importance at the college because it allows others to open up their voice in the community and pass along what he stood for.
“Utica College, over the past year, has planned different events and activities to help students understand King’s legacy, and with such emphasis in order to reach those who don’t know much about MLK,” she said. “You’d be surprised that not many know about him or what he did.”
Lukus Becker was another student involved with the planning committee, and he credited UC’s recent emphasis on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“Students were the voice asking for better representation of MLK Day and a bigger light placed on the legacy King stands for,” Becker said. “I believe that the Black Student Union was a key organization that led to MLK Day being a day off from classes, which really shows the respect the administration has to work with students and build a culture at UC that represents the entire student body.”
Becker added that he enjoys the series of events, specifically the films, because they represent different causes King worked for and work that still needs to be done.
“They are an easy way to open your eyes to a world you might have not been able to ever experience,” he said. “It helps really improve your awareness for the world that you live in and how better to be an active member in a community.”
Corinne Tagliarina, the director of the human rights advocacy program at UC, sees MLK Day as a way of making every student feel welcomed and understood.
“I think that UC has put a major emphasis on MLK Day in recent years in part because of the general environment of increased overt racism and white supremacy within national political culture,” she said. “We have a diverse student population at UC, and I know I want to try to make sure that all of my students feel safe, accepted and included.”
Laura Salvaggio, chair of the performing and fine arts department, said there are people in the UC community who are marginalized today, and it is easy for others who are not in their situation to see it.
“I think it’s incredibly important that, as a community, we stand up for the people who are not amongst the majority on a continual basis,” Salvaggio said. “Days like the celebration of MLK are important touchstones to remind us all to stand up for others.”
Salvaggio added that participating in this year’s event allowed her theater students to use their academic strengths to provide larger props for the legacy space in Strebel Lounge to support MLK celebrations on campus for just that reason.
“If we all use our strengths to help those around us, the world will be a whole lot more like what was envisioned by a man who had the strength to dream of a better future,” Salvaggio said. “We have not yet fully reached that future, so we need to keep reaching for it together.”