College celebrates 2019 MLK day with Franchesca Ramsey

by Jennie Rhodes | 1/23/19 3:00am

On Monday night, comedian and social justice activist Franchesca Ramsey delivered the keynote address at the College’s 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Feature Presentation. Over the weekend and in the upcoming weeks, Dartmouth held and will hold events ranging from presentations on topics such as mental health and sexual assault to films centered around social justice. 

This year, the theme of the social rights and activism celebration is “Beyond the Threshold,” which is meant to operate as a call to action, according to vice president for institutional diversity and equity Evelynn Ellis. Ellis said the theme was inspired by what is occurring in the news today, noting that we are standing at the threshold between human compassion and total indifference. 

“I don’t think we, as Americans, thought we would be living this right now,” Ellis said. “We are becoming complacent, treating bad things as the norm and discussing an event like its a movie. It is troublesome.”

She believes that the government today does not represent the American democracy the country is based upon, and that it is Americans’ duty to do something about the lack of democracy. 

“We have to vote for our actions,” Ellis added. “We have to vote in any election. We have to make choices and those choices need to signify that we are voting for democracy. That’s not where [the country is] right now. It is our complacency that troubles me.”

The night began with Chinedum Nwaigwe ’19 speaking about her Dartmouth experience as a women of color. Nwaigwe believes Dartmouth has continuously failed to address the needs of people of color on campus, and those of women in particular.

“If in four years I can’t pinpoint progress, how can I celebrate 250 years of existence?” she asked. 

The Dartmouth experience for people of color is one of survival, according to Nwaigwe. She said she believes that to survive, students of color have to continuously give things up.

“We relinquished the studies of our culture,” she said. “We have given up learning from people who look like us. We have lost the sense of collectivity. We are focused on the success of the individual. We have given up friendship from joy. We now bond from struggle. We have given up mental health with no chance of recovery because of understaffing at Dick’s House and Collis.”

Now is the time to tip the scales from injustice to justice and seize change, Nwaigwe said.

“All I can think about is how long we have been standing at the threshold,” she said. “It is not enough to stand at the threshold of greatness and stay there with no progression.” 

While Nwaigwe focused on the need to make it past the threshold, Ramsey spoke about how we can transcend that boundary. 

Ramsey said that every person has privilege, and acknowledging our privilege will allow us to empathize with others. She echoed the sentiment that a person accustomed to privilege can see attempts to equalize as oppressive.  

Ramsey then discussed how people need to speak out against situations that we know are inherently wrong, adding that if one is neutral in situations of injustice, they have chosen the side of the oppressor.

Tying her speech into the celebration’s theme, Ramsey told the audience that everyone can move beyond the threshold by trying to make change. 

“Standing at the threshold means walking the path less traveled,” she said. “If it was easy, more people would do it. It’s not easy. You might lose friendships, but we are at a time where we need to speak up. Change is not going to happen overnight. Change doesn’t happen by being passive and letting things go.”

Marina Liot ’21 said she came to the event because it is an important day of remembrance. 

“It’s good to take the time to honor Dr. King’s legacy and think about ways we can apply [his message] to everyday life,” she said. “Franchesca Ramsey’s speech was very empowering because it reminds you that change happens day by day and over decades monumental change will be made.”

Ramsey was chosen as this years speaker because she has the ability to take a serious issue and make people laugh about it, Ellis said. 

“We have got to deal with these issues and push forward, but we can’t lose our joy,” said Ellis.  “Once we lose our joy — the internal refuge — someone else has a victory. You have to make good decisions about how you are going to live in this world and still be happy.”

Ellis said that she wants every student to walk away from the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration events with a sense of purpose. 

“Every student needs to finish their degree, take that knowledge and do something truly useful,” she said. “Our students come out as engaging people. This will allow students to go out with a mindset beyond just wanting to build their careers. I want them to build a career, but also touch people’s lives.”