The Michigan Daily - Friday, October 21, 1994 - 3
eU'U' works to
By ZACHARY M. &AIMI
Daily Staff Reporter
'though Martin Luther King Day is many months
and snowfalls away, the University has begun
lanning its daylong symposium
This year's symposium marks a redoubled effort by
the University to include Black students in planning the
event, in an effort to avoid a repeat of last year's boycott
by many Black students.
' Led by the Black Student Union, the boycott, which
considered the University's events more academic than
activist, received widespread attention. Following the
boycott; Lester P. Monts, vice provost for academic and
multicultural affairs, pledged in an open letter: "My office
is committed to creating opportunities for people to ex-
press their diverse ideologies and relate them to Dr. King
and the ideals he represented."
Preparation for this year's event began in January -
almost immediately after last year's MLK Day - and the
mposium planning committee was formed in March. It
cently announced that Benjamin L. Hooks, former
NAACP executive director, will be the keynote speaker.
The University began officially recognizing Martin
Luther King Day in 1989 after students, faculty and
community members joined forces to stage a sit-in that
called for the cancellation of classes in observance of the
late African American leader.
The purpose of Martin Luther King Day at the Univer-
sity is "to recognize the contributions of one of the greatest
Americans in American history," Monts said.
C Since it began, the University has held a daylong
symposium in place of regular classes and encouraged all
its departments to hold additional programming, such as
bringing speakers to campus - including now-Surgeon
General Jocelyn Elders in 1993 - and holding panel
But some University students, particularly BSU mem-
bers, felt left out of the symposium's planning last year.
Members said they were concerned with what they viewed
as a shift away from activist pro-
amming toward more academic-
'ented symposium speakers and
topics. Last year's theme was 'Black si
"'American Culture' or 'America
the Multicultural: The Challenge were h
of the 21st Century"'
"The X3l994 Martin Luther inf lvOI
King symposium fails to honor Q
the history of activism out of
which the symposium was cre- recogni
ted," wrote last year s BSU
eaker Alethea Gordon in a let- cainpu
ter that appeared in The Michi- shOgld I
gan Daily last January.
"The University department involved
that plans and promotes the sym-
posium, the Office of the Vice plain
Provost of Multicultural Affairs,
has purposely forgotten Dr. King's
community, offering prograIns that
propose nothing more than aca-
*mic rhetoric," Gordon wrote. -
Members did not raise these Black Sti
objections in previous years, said member an
University alumna Shawn Mason-
Spence, who served as vice-
speaker for the BSU from Febru-
ary 1991'to April 1992. "The sym-
posium committee had a number of student representa-
tives," Mason-Spence said, describing the committee at
the time she attended the University.
"There was a lot of opportunity for students to plan
rganizational events in conjunction with University
events," she added. "It was a collaborative effort. That's
what seemed to go astray in recent years of the sympo-
Richard Mack, last year's BSU peace officer, said that
"the BSU felt (last year) that the programming, particu-
larly of the OAMI (Office of Academic Multicultural
Initiatives) office was not indicative of, and not rooted in,
the activist history of Martin Luther King Day."
So, in the spotlight of the local media, the BSU
,ycotted the symposium.
A group comprised of about 50 active members, the
BSU is dedicated to promoting and sustaining a political,
economic and cultural atmosphere for African Americans
in the University community, said Theda Rogers, an LSA
senior and active member.
Since BSU members believed the University was not
meeting those standards during the MLK Day Sympo-
sium, they abandoned the event, holding their own teach-
ins in an effort to recapture the spirit they felt was lacking
with the University's programs.
Current BSU Speaker Nina Smith, and last year's
speaker, Alethea Gordon, both declined to comment on
But many BSU members said they supported the
"I personally supported it," Mack said, "because as the
Black nationalist principles of the Black Student Union
dictate, I feel that student activists should play a primary
role in the initiation and coordination of Martin Luther
Did the boycott hurt the tradi-
tion and purpose of Martin Luther
uden s 1Mack says no.
eaVily "We were not protesting the
celebration of Martin Luther King
'ed ji Day itself. We were against how
certain sectors of the University
the day went about planning the day," he
ed O sa "We felt that as activists, we
is. we should retain control of the day
rooted in such activism," he said.
e heavily Monts, whose office was
singled out by the BSU for criti-
cism, refused to comment about
ahniglast year's MLK Day in an inter-
view with the Daily on Wednes-
n ,f day.
The BSU learned a lesson from
last year's boycott, said last year's
'heda Rogers publicity chair, Nerissa Marbury,
udent Uon who remains active in the group.
ident Union "We just can't hold the Univer-
I LSA senior sity accountable for educating the
African American students on cam-
pus," she said.
"We're going to hold ourselves
accountable also," Marbury added. She said the BSU
plans to hold teach-ins again this year.
in the planning process," she added.
Jones-Coleman said there were students of different
ethnic groups on the committee, but they did not represent
any student groups.
MLK Day 1995
Under Jones-Coleman this year, the University ap-
pears to be making an active attempt to consider the views
of all students in the planning of the 1995 MLK Day
Symposium, with the theme, "Conflict and Communities:
The Struggle for Racial Justice."
Jones-Coleman contacted numerous minority student
group leaders and asked them to
appoint a representative to the com- _
mittee. The 25-person committee
is comprised of six students, four ,
faculty members and 15 staff mem-
bers. The student representatives Comm
include a Native American Stu-
dents Association (NASA) mem- Creii
ber, the vice president of the Black
Greek Association and a represen- opport i
tative from the BSU, Jones-
Coleman said. ,osr
"The BSU will hold a seat on expres
the planning committee each year,"
He said the BSU's representa-
tive, Nina Smith, is chairing the id
group that is responsible for devel- relate th
oping a 25th-anniversary com-
memoration for the Black ActionK
BAM began in the 1970s when
a group of African American ac- L
tivists began aggressively pursu-
ing solutions to issues concerning V14
people of color at the University a
and issuing demands to the admin- multic
istration. Three BAMs have taken
place, the most recent of which
prompted the beginning of the
MLK Day symposium at the University.
But to Marbury, students are still not involved in all
aspects of the planning. "We're more involved than we
were last year," she said. "However, I won't say it's a
Marbury said the University asked Hooks to speak
without consulting the BSU. "I personally don't agree
with that," she said.
But Jones-Coleman said the committee does not make
decisions without a quorum of its members and that a BSU
representative has been on the committee since its first
meeting in April.
Monts also would not comment on the University's
relationship with the BSU.
Other committee members report that the University is
glad to have students involved. LSA senior and committee
member Reno Ursal said University administrators "re-
ally want student input."
Ursal said he joined the committee to "make the
program more representative of what the student body
NASA member Ryan LaLonde, an Art School sopho-
more, joined the committee in March. He said the relation-
Members of the
in the Unity
King Day events.
ship between administrators and students has been equal.
"Everybody is listened to." -
He added, "They really want to know our opinions."
Associate Dean of Students Joe Willis agreed with'
Ursal. "Judging from the initial meeting, there's hope and
interest that students will be an intimate part of the
planning process," he said.
"The students seemed to be receptive in terms of being
included in the planning of Martin Luther King Day," he
Representatives from other minority groups have alsd
said they will be included in the program. Shannon Mar
tin, the Native American representative at Minority Stu.K
dent Services, said Dennis Banks, a strong Native Ameri-
can advocate and founder of the American Indian Move-
ment, will speak at the sympo-
Martin said that this year the
ice is "OAMI and Minority Student Ser-
vices came to work together as
well as with students to design
programming for the entire year
and each of the four ethnic groups
ki eS for (African Americans, Asian Ameri
cans, Latino Americans and Na-
le, to tive Americans).
Under a tentative schedule, the
rsymposium will begin Sunday, Jan.
rs 15 with the Harlem Spiritual En-
semble. Hooks' keynote address
eS 00 d will take place at 10:30 a.m. the
next day. The BSU will sponsor its
In to Dr. annual Unity March. There will be
two to four discussion panels,
. planned by the subcommittees, but
the themes have yet to be decided.
Therewill also be a community-
~terP. N nts service event, but Jones-Coleman
provost for did not yet know the specifics. The
ademiC and symposium will close Monday
Itural affairs evening, with the Sounds of Black-
Monts said events will be held
all week. "If someone wants to get
involved in the planning of Martin Luther King events,"
Monts said, "there is ample opportunity."
Academics vS. Activism
When asked if the committee is leaning toward an
academic or activist focus, Jones-Coleman said neither.
"We're trying instead to develop a very strong commemo-
ration of Dr. King's life work that will always have an
activist component and as a University there will be an
academic component," he said.
"In any commemoration honoring a civil rights hero
- such as Dr. King - there will be and should be a
component of activism. That's a piece of the civil-rights
movement and it's one of Dr. King's missions that should
not be forgotten," Jones-Coleman added.
Mason-Spence agrees that activism should be present.
"In the past when I was a University student, the activists
present during the symposium were motivating, influen-
tial and encouraging of student participation on a Univer-
sity level," she said.
Jones-Coleman would not say if he thought there
would be a boycott this year, and BSU members said they
did not know.
Last Year's Planning
Planning for last year's symposium did not begin until
October, when Michael Jones-Coleman began his job at
the University as a program associate with OAMI, which
coordinates the MLK Day events. The majority of the
planning occurred within the following three months.
No BSU members were on the planning committee last
year, Jones-Coleman said. But Mack said the BSU con-
tacted University administrators to make its concerns
"The OAMI was made aware of the concerns and
volition of the BSU as to the content and the programming
for the Martin Luther King Day," he said, adding that the
BSU gave the University "ample time" to consider its
Rogers agreed. "I was surprised that Black students
weren't heavily solicited to be involved (last year)," she
"Black students were heavily involved in getting the
day recognized on campus, we should be heavily involved
Keynote speaker Hooks worked for civil
re than $1 billion to the Black
nits. and ACT-SO. a nrogram
U Organizers hail
academic and multicultural affairs,
gnid nhnnt Honkse- "He is nne of the
protesting against discrimination. He
was nrdained antist minister in the
"He's internationally renowned in
terms of his commitment to African