Yesterday, the Yale Daily News masthead called Yale’s decision to cancel classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day an inconsistent policy toward federal holidays, and an arbitrary and offensive inflation of the worth of one day over another. This is the primary argument that I and the many other members of the MLK Day Coalition came across when negotiating with other students, faculty, and administration to finally recognize Martin Luther King Day.
Those of us who endeavored to cancel classes believed this would give the Yale community a proper time to reflect upon, celebrate, and most importantly, lay the foundation to act on the legacy of Dr. King. It was never a matter of one day over another. We fully anticipated that others would take the example and success of our coalition in Yale’s recognition of this holiday, and strive to recognize other national holidays equally worthy of recognition. Veteran’s Day and Labor Day come to mind.
But not every national holiday.
It is not specious to claim certain national holidays are “superior” to other holidays in the eyes of the Yale Community. Lest we forget, Columbus Day is also a national holiday. Though it may be presumptuous for me to claim no one on this campus has any particular attachment to Columbus, I do not believe I am stretching when I claim that members of the Yale Community find MLK Day to be a much more deserving observance then Columbus Day.
Yale has never unquestionably accepted a national standard, nor should it with regards to what days it chooses to cancel classes. This may be one of the roots of our negative image of elitism, but it is also one of the foundations of our leadership within the nation.
Any vote should not be so simple as to ask whether Yale should recognize all or no federal holidays. I believe the Yale Community believes some holidays are more deserving than others. Still, going through each individual holiday and voting on whether to recognize it by canceling classes could be dangerous. It would be far more prudent to allow a student coalition to propose a slate of activities that offer a constructive use of a potential day off before voting to cancel classes.
Yesterday’s activities certainly qualified as a constructive use of a day without classes. Of course, there were a handful of students who chose to take advantage of this newly formed three-day weekend by leaving New Haven. And this wouldn’t be Yale if undergraduates weren’t sleeping in a little bit after carousing on an extra night of partying afforded them by the canceling of classes. Yet the presence of countless members of the Yale community at the events all throughout the day (but mainly those in the afternoon and night), and, more importantly, the insightful dialogue and reflection heard and seen all around campus showed that canceling classes was not for naught.
The day off from classes allowed many to refocus on the still existing issues of intolerance and inequality within Yale, New Haven, and the world at large by recognizing and reflecting on Dr. King’s pursuit of justice. At the end of the day, this is the real reason the MLK Day coalition was first formed. We came together with the hope that such a day could spark new leaders to act in the pursuit of justice as it pertains to us in today’s world, while all of us stopped to reflect, critique, and applaud the spirit and practices of those leaders that came before us. This I believe is what yesterday’s federal holiday is truly about.
If a new coalition were to form around another holiday — again Veteran’s Day and Labor Day come to mind — I believe it would find itself following a path through the different decision making organs of the students, faculty, and administration, made much easier by the success of the MLK Day coalition. And I hope to see that coalition formed very soon.
Vidhya Prabhakaran is a junior in Morse College. He is the president of the Yale College Council and a member of the Martin Luther King Day Coordinating Committee.