Diversity group discusses Jan. 2005 MLK keynote

by Astrid Bradley | 11/8/05 6:00am

Members of the Dartmouth community gathered in a diversity forum Monday afternoon to discuss the controversial selection of and reaction to white lesbian author and activist Dorothy Allison as keynote speaker for the College's celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day last year.

The hour-long discussion, "Allison, MLK and the Politics of Representation," was a part of the monthly diversity forum series hosted by the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity. Giavanna Munafo and Ozzie Harris, both of the Diversity and Equity Office, facilitated the discussion.

Organizers chose the topic as a way to focus on interactions between race and politics and begin conversation about the College's 2006 Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.

Last January was the first time in 15 years that a white female had been invited to be the keynote speaker for the College's celebration of the slain civil rights leader's life and legacy.

Before Allison, most of the keynote speakers for the event were black men, including Cornel West and Spike Lee.

"We had black men come and just talk about whatever they wanted, and that was just fine. In fact there was no uproar," Munafo said.

Leah Prescott, coordinator of the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program and the only black attendee at Monday's diversity forum, said she could understand why some students were offended by the College's decision to feature Allison so prominently in its King celebration last year.

"I do agree with the students that were offended, but we have to make things important to everyone," Prescott said.

The event started with a five-minute icebreaker during which the 13 attendees split into groups to discuss the meaning and importance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Groups discussed the need to celebrate not only the man but also his ideals. Some said that they believed the day was a time to acknowledge and explore tensions and issues, even though they thought that the true meaning of the day had been lost.

Prescott remembered her childhood experiences remembering King.

"There was this unsaid expectation when we were growing up that we were going to church or some big event or town hall and there was a keynote speaker. There was a celebration knowing that [at one time] we couldn't always sit anywhere on the bus and that we couldn't always vote," Prescott said.

Harris later commented on the extent of King's legacy.

"Whose hero is king?" he said. "Given his philosophy I have trouble just labeling him a black man."

Dr. James Forbes, senior minister at Riverside Baptist Church, has been chosen as next year's speaker.

"He may be a more typical choice, but he is an incredibly inspiring speaker and fits very well with the theme of next year's celebrations: religion and politics," said Munafo.

Government professor Carol Bohmer will discuss immigration during next month's diversity forum.

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