I have class this morning. “Philosophy of Law,” 10:30 a.m. in LC 102. Normally, this would hardly be considered a newsworthy event.
Yet many of you who are reading this column over breakfast have risen early for the same reason as me: a morning class — and a Monday morning class, no less.
As a recent advertisement in the Yale Daily News noted, Monday’s classes are meeting today, with the exception of a few seminars that moved their times back to Monday by consensus of their enrollees. Yale’s library system, the “summons to scholarship” that is arguably at the center of the University, will close down entirely.
At first sight, the decision to suspend the academic calendar for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday might seem like a good one. King fought for a noble cause; he has served as an inspiration to countless individuals of all races, and besides, everyone else is doing it.
Yet closer inspection shows that canceling classes and shutting down libraries is an inappropriate way to honor the civil rights leader. The “Closed” signs sprouting up across campus might as well read something to the effect of “In recognition of the man who gave his life to open this building to everyone, this building is closed to everyone.”
Yes — but this is the decision Yale has made.
King’s legacy is one of an equal right to active participation in society. He worked for effective enforcement of the 14th and 15th Amendments, helping secure all citizens a more meaningful role in their government. He worked for equal access to public buildings and facilities, extending their benefits to all who share in the burdens of supporting them.
And, most relevant to Yale and the decision at hand, he worked for equal access to the classroom, helping set society on the path to a future in which its youth are judged on their academic merit rather than the arbitrary factor of race.
Thus, a holiday in King’s honor should not be a “day off” in any sense of the phrase; to shut down the campus he made more accessible is counterproductive. Most obviously, one should not use it as an opportunity to “sleep in” or to go drinking the night before, though I would guess many students will abuse it in this fashion.
Yet even showing respect for the day by spending it in passive contemplation of King and his achievements is not the best way to put it to use. Instead, this day should be a call to take more seriously the everyday collegiate life at which so many never had a chance.
Students should participate in their class discussions with renewed vigor, making a conscious effort to take advantage of the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints that King’s work made possible.
Members of minority groups should take note of the various activities King’s work has made available to them, and even “majorities” should more carefully consider the opportunities they might otherwise take for granted.
And everyone, no matter what his background, should renew his appreciation for the struggle and sacrifice that others have endured to bring about the society and university we have today.
It is commendable that the Yale community has planned a variety of lectures and forums in King’s honor. But these activities should be a supplement to one’s everyday experience, rather than a substitute for it. Classes should continue as normal, with additional events scheduled throughout the day to accommodate a variety of schedules.
In this way, Yale could allow students to participate in these events without shortchanging other parts of their college life, neither canceling classes nor reducing the time devoted to study and paper-writing at the end of the term.
Besides, the extra effort required to attend such events in addition to one’s normal activities would exemplify the greater participation in one’s community that King fought to allow.
King’s cause was by all accounts worthy, and Yale’s decision to recognize his efforts in some way is the right one. Yet there are far better ways to commemorate his life, work and sacrifice than the course Yale has chosen.
Ned Andrews is a junior in Saybrook College.