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MLK Day 2020 (#989)

Topics/tags: Grinnell

This coming Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day or, as many refer to it, MLK day.

A few years ago [1], the College faculty voted to stop holding classes on MLK Day [2]. It was not a simple vote. We spent time discussing a wide variety of issues. Some faculty were concerned about losing a day of class; going from 42 classes to 41 may not seem like a lot to you, but it felt like a lot to some people. And, for classes and labs that meet once per week, going from fourteen classes to thirteen [4] is a big drop.

However, that wasn’t the biggest concern. The bigger concern was that the point of MLK Day is to commemorate Dr. King and that canceling classes doesn’t quite achieve that. Some were worried that the day off would simply be an excuse for students to return to campus later. Some worried that students who returned and had nothing to do might behave irresponsibly.

And so, as I understood it, the decision and subsequent vote were not only that we stopped holding classes on MLK Day, but also that we provided some kind of meaningful activities for students to participate in: talks, discussion groups, something like that. Unfortunately, the minutes of the Faculty Meeting don’t document the discussions.

Equally unfortunately, like many decisions at the College, it was made without any accompanying support structure. So this year, as in the past few years, we do not seem to have daytime activities to celebrate Dr. King and his mission.

I can’t recall whether anyone noted that MLK Day is supposed to be a day of service. Given the knowledge and perspectives of the Grinnell Faculty, I’m pretty sure that someone did. And so I’d like to see the College encourage students toward service.

Nonetheless, I am happy to see that the Rosenfield Program, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Ombuds Office are arranging some this year. There are two talks by Hasan Davis, one on Monday evening in the Loft Theatre downtown and one on Tuesday evening in JRC 101 [5].

Since the College is making positive strides on diversity and inclusion, and these are topics that Dean Harris is prioritizing, I look forward to seeing what happens next year [6].

Oh, never mind. For the next four years, MLK Day happens during Winter Break. I hope that we still encourage students to do a day of service on those MLK Days.

I’m also going to make sure that I do some appropriate service on Monday, most likely in my role as a committee member for the Tapia Celebration.

Postscript: I feel a bit bad saying that Someone else should arrange activities. If I think activities are important, and I do, perhaps I should take a role in arranging activities. However, I can’t have a role in everything. Arguably, I shouldn’t have a role in everything. More importantly, there are many people on campus much better suited to that role than I.

Postscript: The part of my brain that I never quite understand has the following comments.

  1. The initials for Martin Luther King Jr. are JKLM backwards.

  2. I wonder if they close MLK drive in Des Moines on Monday and hold celebrations there.

[1] The amazing Elaine Marzluff determined that the discussion happened at the meeting of April 21, 2014.

[2] That is, on years in which our calendar would normally indicate that the first day of class would be on MLK Day. In some years, MLK Day falls on the last week of break. That’s because the start date of our spring semester is computed based on Memorial Day. Let’s see … Graduation is always one week before Memorial Day. There are fourteen weeks of class, one week of finals, and two weeks of spring break [3]. So the first day of class should be eighteen weeks before Memorial Day.

[3] I seem to recall one year in which we had a one-week spring break, but two weeks is our norm.

[4] For Monday labs and Monday night classes.

[5] As far as I can tell, our three biggest buildings are the Noyce Science Center, the [Not Yet Named] Humanities and Social Studies Center, and the Joe Rosenfield Student Center. Why don’t we use the abbreviation JRSC?

[6] I also look forward to seeing the minutes of Faculty Meetings more clearly reflect not just votes, but the discussions that led to those votes. Institutional memory needs to be stored somewhere, and not just in the heads of some faculty members.

Version 1.0 of 2020-01-17.