The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States provided the College community with the opportunity to celebrate Martin Luther King Day in a historic way.
Christopher Fisher, professor of African American studies and history, coordinated “campus conversations” to coincide with Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Fisher wanted to link “the energy behind the inauguration of President Barack Obama to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” he said.
College faculty members were given the opportunity to lead large discussions in their classrooms on Obama, King and the historical link between them. More than a dozen professors from various departments participated.
Fisher said he intended for campus conversations to be a campus-wide initiative.
“If you spoke to most people, they would all agree that King (was a) national figure (who) helped transform America for everyone,” he said. “So I wanted to open up a discussion about King to the whole campus, the whole community.”
Fisher prepared a guide for discussion leaders with stimulating questions and corresponding information.
“I wanted faculty to speak from their area of expertise, but to speak about justice and change (no matter what department they were from),” he said.
He wanted students to discuss the inauguration in context with King and America’s founding generation.
Fisher said, “(My students and I) arrived at a conclusion that King broadened the ideas of the Declaration of Independence. He widened the vision of human rights. King’s movement and ‘dream’ provides a foundation for us to even conceive of a Barack Obama (figure), in a way that the founding generation could not.”
There were some discussions organized around a group watching of the inauguration ceremony. assistant director of Residential Education and Housing Luke LaCroix and professor of English Lincoln Konkle set up viewings of the ceremony in Townhouses South lounge and Bliss 228, respectively.
“It’s rare you are aware you’re living in a moment of history you’ll tell your (grandchildren) about, so I knew I wanted to watch it happen and I wanted other members of the community, including the students in my two classes, to watch it happen,” Konkle said.
According to LaCroix, who hosted an all-day discussion, an interesting part of Campus Conversations was viewing the ceremony. “The inauguration (of Barack Obama) is a very significant moment in history,” he said, “but it is also a very traditional one. (Students) learned a lot about American traditions (while watching).”
LaCroix said the event was a great way to have “non-academic intellectual discussion that (lessened the) separation between staff and students.”
According to Fisher, Campus Conversations was an experimental way to celebrate Martin Luther King Day.
“There is tremendous potential for this event,” he said. “The faculty (and students) invested their time and intellect because they realized the conversation needed to take place.”