MLK Day turnout may shrink this year

Although classes were canceled for a day, the spring term schedule may prove unfriendly to events commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Some students said the abundance of this week’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day events — which will include a remembrance dinner, a worship service and a family festival — will not make up for a lack of publicity and unfortunate scheduling. Because spring semester began on the holiday, some event organizers have expressed concern that students just returning to campus will not have heard about planned activities.

A child paints a poster about equality and civil rights at the Peabody Museum on Monday. Many Yale organizations planning events to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day are worried that, as a result of scheduling, students are less involved in such activities this year.
Adam Trettel
A child paints a poster about equality and civil rights at the Peabody Museum on Monday. Many Yale organizations planning events to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day are worried that, as a result of scheduling, students are less involved in such activities this year.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day events began on Sunday with the start of the Peabody Museum of Natural History’s 11th annual two-day family festival, which featured local New Haven hip-hop performers, a poetry slam and a keynote address by urban environmental activist Peggy Shepard. The festival was intended to highlight King’s focus on environmental and social justice, but organizers said plans to feature performances by Yale students were hampered by travel delays.

David Heiser, head of Education and Outreach for the Peabody Museum, said that although festival attendance held even with that of previous years, noticeably fewer students took part in the activities.

“Where we usually see Yale students is the keynote lecture,” he said. “The opinion was definitely that there were fewer college-age students there.”

But Yale NAACP President Andrea McChristian ’08 said her organization, which is hosting a remembrance dinner this Wednesday, prepared for the scheduling problems by planning with its co-hosts — such as Calhoun College — months in advance. She does not think students will be deterred from attending any events, she said, citing the dinner’s 20-person waiting list.

“We had so many people show interest,” she said. “I definitely think a lot of people will be going to these events.”

Black Church at Yale President Offiong Bassey ’07 said months of planning and preparation helped avert any trouble that this year’s schedule could have caused. The Black Church at Yale is hosting three events, including Saturday’s “Gospel Extravaganza,” featuring dance, rap and poetry performances.

In past years, classes resumed the week before the holiday, giving organizers a chance to raise student attention. Some students said this year’s scheduling, in which classes begin the day after the holiday, makes publicizing and planning the events difficult.

Anna Wipfler ’09, coordinator of the LGBT Co-op, which is holding a movie screening Thursday night, said the organization has had some difficulty promoting its event because it was not able to finalize its plans in time to publicize them before students left for the holiday break. The LGBT Co-op will host a screening of the documentary “Brother Outsider,” which chronicles the life of Bayard Rustin, a gay civil rights activist who worked alongside King and helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington.

Wipfler said the event will fill a void in traditional histories of the civil rights movement by chronicling the role of gays and lesbians in the era.

“I would definitely say it hasn’t been researched enough,” she said. “I would also say it’s been left out of every major history I’ve learned about.”

Wipfler said the new schedule has not changed the number or variety of events offered but may affect the extent to which students are aware of them.

Some students who have been on campus since Sunday said they have not seen much advertising for any of the week’s events.

Molly Clark-Barol ’08 said the first week of classes is a difficult time to hold major events.

“I haven’t seen much in the way of advertising,” she said. “[Students] are busy unpacking, planning their classes or just partying. This beginning-of-term transition period is a pretty tough time to try and get students’ attention.”

The University started canceling classes in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2002.

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