Students observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this weekend with four days of community service projects, activities ranging from readings of King’s speeches to artistic presentations and frank discussions on race relations at the University.
Monday was the third time Yale has held no classes on the federal holiday. A variety of student groups organized events in honor of the holiday throughout the weekend.
Black Student Alliance at Yale co-moderator Lauren Booker ’06 said the events were designed to acknowledge the holiday as an “on day” to pay tribute to King’s legacy.
“Though we have come a long way, I think people forget that there is still a major gap between the haves and have nots, the white and the black, the privileged and the underprivileged,” Booker said.
Speakers and presentations examined King’s legacy from a variety of perspectives. The weekend included a lecture on public service by Connecticut State Treasurer Denise Nappier sponsored by the Yale College Democrats and a talk giving a South Asian American perspective on American racism.
BSAY sponsored a panel Sunday discussing issues of black identity on campus. The panel, “Being Black at Yale,” included alumni, faculty and current students.
Panelist A Jay Hopkins ’06 said the African American student community tries to maintain a presence larger than the 8 to 10 percent of the student population it comprises.
April Grigsby ’01, another panelist, said she thinks it is difficult always to be culturally conscious in Yale’s rigorous academic environment.
“[Involvement] becomes a bubble issue. In my experience, [African American students] felt it but ‘I gotta study’ was their attitude,” Grigsby said.
Hopkins said most cultural involvement is linked to the cultural houses or ethnic counselor system. He said he thinks cultural activities would remain important even if racial inequality did not exist in American society.
“With the push for multiculturalism that we now see in the country, it’s going to become more important to have [cultural houses and ethnic counselors] because now is the time for an official recognition,” Hopkins said. “You can’t just say, ‘WeÊforget about these’ just so we can match up.”
Panelist Lindsey Greene ’04 said she believes many students are uncomfortable sharing in activities or events held at culturally focused houses or organizations, even when they are invited. She said she thinks people place more importance on comfort level than interacting with people of different races.
Hopkins said a distinct and visible community for minorities can be comforting.ÊHe said the “Black Table” in Commons dining hall is a place where both academic pressures and pressures regarding being a black student at Yale diminish.
“At the table, you don’t have to worry because you are with people who are experiencing the same things you are,” Hopkins said.
Grigsby offered advice to students of color from other countries.
“Never let the larger community forget that ‘Black’ is not just African American, New York, or any class or type,” Grigsby said. “If [African] is going to be your flag to wave, you should wave it, and very high.”
Faculty members offered their support and encouragement to students. African American Studies professor and panelist Elizabeth Alexander also discussed issues that face black professors, such as the responsibilities some of them feel in a white-dominated environment.
On Monday approximately 100 students gathered for a forum titled “Black and Jewish Relations.” African American Studies professor Khalilah Brown-Dean, who moderated the forum, said there is mistrust between the African American and Jewish communities on a national level, and that affects what happens on the Yale campus.
“We need to expand the dialogue so that everyone has a voice in what happens and so that everyone feel that their voice matters,” Brown-Dean said.
Ben Siegal ’07 said contentious speakers have elevated tensions between student groups such as Yale Hillel and BSAY. He said he hoped the forum — which broke up into small discussion groups at one point — would be the first step to a better relationship between the groups. He stressed the importance of increasing communication.
“In our small groups, members of BSAY said they were disappointed that Hillel hadn’t told them about Daniel Pipes coming to speak on campus, and Hillel members were disappointed that BSAY hadn’t told them about Amiri Baraka coming last year,” Siegal said.
Brown-Dean said she thought the discussions helped students see the diversity and disagreement even within groups, such as differing views on support for Israel within the Jewish community.
The weekend’s closing ceremonies were held at Battell Chapel Monday night.