Due to diversity issues that have recently been brought to light on campus, many students feel that Martin Luther King Jr. Day this Monday will be particularly relevant this year.
In early December, a photo surfaced depicting some members of the Penn State chapter of Chi Omega sorority dressed in sombreros and ponchos and holding signs that read “I don’t cut grass I smoke it” and “Will mow lawn for weed + beer,” causing many to question diversity awareness on campus.
Due to the rife of issues brought to light by the controversial photo, the University Park Undergraduate Association developed a Diversity Awareness Task Force. UPUA Chair of the Assembly Spencer Malloy served as one of the initial facilitators.
“I think that MLK Day will continue to be a great opportunity for all members of the university community and remains a symbol of the commitment of the university to fostering acceptance and tolerance at Penn State,” Malloy (senior-agroecology and philosophy) said via email.
UPUA President Courtney Lennartz, who spurred the creation of the task force, could not be reached after repeated calls for comment.
Despite attention paid to the photo, Lerell Richards, MLK Commemoration Student Planning Committee co-executive director and director of public relations, said it should not change the significance of the holiday.
“I think [MLK] day is just as important every year because, even though the local issues may have made it more apparent recently, every day there is a diversity issue,” he said.
National Pan-Hellenic Council President Ezedube Eze said MLK Day is a day to reflect. He said he believes it is a time to look back on the previous year and assess if students would hold their own actions in a positive light.
“[Because of the controversial photo] I think students are going to become much more active in their surroundings to reduce inequality everywhere,” Eze (senior-health policy administration) said.
Richards (junior-psychology) said he feels MLK Day is not just a day to remember King and how far the nation has progressed since his time. He said it’s also a chance to help those who were not given equal opportunity.
The MLK Commemoration group at University Park — composed primarily of students — has been around for 28 years, and this year it is hosting a week of diverse events, giving students many opportunities to become involved and honor King’s legacy.
In addition to the events organized by Penn State’s MLK Commemoration group, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity will host an MLK Oratorical Competition at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in 100 Life Sciences Building.
The contest will consist of competitors creating speeches based on an MLK-related prompt — which five judges will then analyze — presenting a prize to the winner, Eze said.
Many of Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses are joining in the efforts to honor King, such as Penn State Harrisburg, at which the musical duo Ebony Rose will perform a tribute to Central Pennsylvania jazz musicians on Monday.
Several events will be held throughout the week at Penn State Altoona, including a theatrical performance, a day of service and a breakfast forum.
This year on MLK Day, Penn State DuBois will host a day of service for the other western Pa. campuses: New Kensington, Greater Allegheny, Shenango, Fayette and Beaver.