Students contemplate MLK’s legacy on campus

Over the weekend, the College conducted a series of events to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will be celebrated nationally on Jan. 21. Events kicked off on Sunday with a showing of the film Brave New Voices at MASS MoCA and continued with a meditational walking labyrinth at First Congregational Church. On Monday, events focused on social change and the legacy of King in modern society.

At 3 p.m., Chaplain to the College and Coordinator of Community Service Rick Spalding, Muslim Chaplain and Associate Coordinator of Community Engagement Bilal Ansari, Catholic Chaplain Father Gary Caster and Ansari’s aunt, a Williamstown resident, led a dialogue with students called “Civil But Disobedient.” The concept of the conversation focused on King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. King wrote the letter after being imprisoned for his participation in a protest against racial segregation in Birmingham. King’s letter – written on scraps of newspaper and passed along to his lawyers – responded to an Alabama clergymen saying that segregation and civil rights should be reformed in the judicial system, as opposed to in the streets, as King had been advocating for civil rights. King wrote that inequality affected all people, not just those deprived of equal rights, and that one could not continue in a holding pattern until the majority accepted the minority’s right to equality.

Spalding opened the conversation with a discussion of a spring break interfaith service trip that he led with students from the College to Birmingham. Spalding planned to have the students on the trip write a letter while in Birmingham, but instead, the chaplains each wrote letters to share with the community today. Their letters reflected on the state of the College community and King’s legacy here. In the discussion, students shared their impressions of and ideas for the College community with one another and the chaplains.

After the discussion, Spalding opened the reading of essays, written by fifth graders at Williamstown Elementary School (WES) about King’s legacy, with two minutes of silence in Baxter Hall to reflect on the work of King and think about those still facing oppression today. Fourth graders from WES then recited excerpts of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in anticipation of the impending 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

The weekend ended later on Monday afternoon with a screening of the film Broken on All Sides, presented as a part of the Davis Center’s Social Change Film Series at Images Cinema.

Additional reporting by Andrea Lindsay ’13. 

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