On January 21, 2019, The College of Arts and Sciences will offer a one-credit symposium commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the national celebration of his birthday.
Organized by Rev. Dr. Forrest Pritchett, director of The Martin Luther King Leadership Program, the day-long event will bring together speakers from across a wide array of disciplines to explore different facets of racism, sexism and classism from both a historical and contemporary perspective.
"The nature of the national rhetoric prods people to go higher in their commitment, and the University also wanted to go higher," said Pritchett.
"The goals of this course are to inform, empower, and launch the next generation of servant leadership. We need to engage in dialogue because it is crucial in bridging racial and cultural gaps. It's the fear of talking that stops a lot of people." As a guide to constituting the day's program, Pritchett says he asked himself this question: "If Dr. King were here right now, what would the conversation look like?"
Although Pritchett says there have been events at the University celebrating Martin Luther King Day each year since as far back as he can remember (he came to teach at Seton Hall in 1978), this is the first year that the University will offer a symposium for which students will receive academic credit.
"Discussions and planning for this Symposium started back in April of 2018," said Pritchett. "It was the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's death and we wanted to do more. The Provost approached me and suggested we construct a program that could be open to all and convey academic credit. We've been working to put it together ever since."
In addition to the Provost's Office, the Division of Continuing Education and Professional Services, Enrollment Services, and the College of Arts and Sciences have all been involved in the preparation of the course.
"We have come together as a University to commemorate this day and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King with programming that honors his vision, his commitment and the work that remains to be done," said Interim President Mary J. Meehan, Ph.D. "Importantly, this Symposium isn't just a lesson in historical victories, but also a dialogue and a starting point to forge a better future."
The American Conference on Diversity held its annual New Jersey conference at Stockton University this past November, where faculty, students and administrators from a number of colleges and universities learned about and discussed "Diversity Issues in Higher Education." More than 20 members of the Seton Hall community attended the event, including Kayla Rivers, Adam Varoqua and Spencer Hinton.
The three students reflected on their experience at Stockton while discussing their hopes for the upcoming Martin Luther King Day symposium at Seton Hall.
Kayla Rivers, a sophomore anthropology and Spanish major from the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, believed that the Symposium was "a step in the right direction," noting that on campus at Seton Hall, "It's very important that we have people from different cultural backgrounds and mindsets. One thing I took from the Stockton conference though is that inclusion is intentional." She also noted, that dialogue among people is key, saying "It's all about the lens you see things through. How can I possibly know what a person with a different perspective thinks without talking to them?"
The Symposium will include sessions on "The Roots of Oppression," "Neo Racism in the 21stCentury," "Civic Engagement," "Confrontation and Resolution" and "Workplace Considerations."
Adam Varoqua, a senior Psychology and Social and Behavioral Science major and Anthropology and Arabic minor who plans to attend the symposium said he was looking forward to the symposium and thought that at Seton Hall "there has been progress – there's definitely more diversity," but also said regarding inclusion: "I think that's the area that we need to step forward."
At the end of the day's workshops, participants are invited to take part in the luminary celebration sponsored by the Community Coalition on Race in South Orange and Maplewood – lighting the way on campus with Dr. King's message of peace and hope.
Graduate student Spencer Hinton, studying Diplomacy and International Relations, noted of the Martin Luther King Day Symposium that "It's nice to show the history of racism and classism from this lens, and the fact that students will get a credit for it and it’s free is a great incentive as well for students to attend this program."
Hinton also reflected on one of his main takeaways from the Diversity Conference at Stockton, which he hopes can be reflected in Seton Hall's ongoing conversations on race, diversity and inclusion, "I learned at the conference the saying that 'diversity is inviting someone to a party, but inclusion is asking them to dance.' To take that one step further, at Seton Hall we'll know we're getting it right when everyone is doing the Electric Slide."