Fitting it in

Rani Gupta

For two years, students have enjoyed three hours off for Martin Luther King Day. But every ASG campaign promises more, and the campus still rallies around what might be its most popular cause: a full academic holiday for MLK Day.

But despite high turnout for the administration-sponsored MLK Day commemoration in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, the dearth of student-group programming might send a different message about the student body’s sincerity.

FMO Administrative Vice Coordinator Le’Jamiel Goodall said the celebration of MLK Day should transcend racial boundaries.

“To say MLK stood for just black students is kind of disrespectful,” said “He stood for equality for all people.”

Although student group members might agree with that ideal, they don’t know if they can – or should – share responsibility for programming.

The Bottom Line

When three student groups appealed to the Associated Student Government this week for MLK Day funds, all three proposals were rejected.

ASG Financial Vice President Carson Kuo said he suspects that all three events would have been funded if money were awarded using the MLK Day funding rules of years past.

The rules changed in part because only a handful of last year’s 17 MLK Day-related events were presented by student groups. The administration organized most of them.

In February ASG voted to repeal a rule that allocated 2 percent of the Student Activities Fund to events scheduled on the weeks before and after MLK Day.

The Student Activities Finance Board recommended getting rid of the rule, which dates back to 1997, in part because only a handful of student groups requested funding for MLK Day events, leaving some of the funds unused.

The decision angered many students who claimed the ruling set back attempts to gain a full day off for MLK Day.

For two years, the university has observed a three-hour break from classes to celebrate the holiday.

Although students fought for this break for years – and continue to lobby for a full day off – the lack of student-group programming related to MLK Day worries many students.

Outgoing SASA President Purvi Shah said the removal of the 2 percent clause could affect the university’s future plans concerning the holiday.

“The implications of this decision go far beyond money,” said Shah, an Education junior. “It sends a message to the administration that students aren’t serious if we don’t support our own student groups.”

She even worries that the university might stop celebrating the holiday in the future.

“I was on the MLK Day committee,” she said. “I know it’s not a sure thing.”

High Priority?

On Wednesday, SAFB released its budget recommendations for student groups for the 2001-2002 school year.

Only three groups requested funding for MLK Day events: For Members Only, South Asian Students Alliance and Northwestern Community Development Corps. All three proposals were rejected.

Kuo said that if the 2 percent clause were still in effect, all three events would have been funded.

FMO planned to bring civil rights activist Harry Edwards to NU for Black History Month.

“We petitioned for a MLK or Black History Month speaker who we felt could continue the effort to recognize Dr. King’s holiday (on campus),” said FMO Coordinator Chavis Richardson, a Weinberg junior.

Richardson said FMO will appeal to ASG for funding for Edwards as their winter speaker.

SAFB also advised against SASA’s proposal to sponsor a speech by Urvashi Vaid, who has been involved with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We believe that, as a minority group, we have strong roots to MLK Day,” said Chirag Chauhan, SASA’s executive chairman and a McCormick sophomore. “We’re very upset and we’re going to try to fight for funding.”

Chauhan said SAFB also denied SASA’s requests for two alternate speakers and that SASA will appeal its MLK Day funding ruling.

NCDC’s $210 bid for a MLK career fair also was rejected.

The career fair, which has been held for the past two years, offered information about government jobs, public service careers and related internships.

Although the group was disappointed that they did not receive funding, NCDC Co-Chairwoman Erica Sitkoff said the event probably will still take place because, in the past, the group has used funds from University Career Services.

Kuo said FMO and SASA did not receive funding because the MLK events were ranked low on their priority lists. FMO ranked its speaker third, and SASA ranked its event fifth.

“If student groups really cared about MLK Day like they say they do, it would be higher on their priority lists,” said Kuo, an Education junior. “We fund based on the merit of the group and how they prioritize their events.”

Richardson said MLK Day was ranked third because of the high importance of the two top-ranked events, which did receive funding.

“I thought the fall speaker was important to gain and maintain high attendance for the rest of the year,” he said. “And the winter comedy tour is becoming one of our biggest fund-raising events.”

He said FMO ranked “other events that were rather important” after MLK programming.

But Kuo said problems with FMO’s past events prevented them from securing funding this year.

“FMO had problems with all their speakers last year. They didn’t draw more than 100 people to anything other than the winter comedy tour,” Kuo said. “They put their MLK speaker third on their priority list, but they didn’t justify getting three large events this year.”

SASA members said they still value MLK Day, even if programming did not top their priority list.

“MLK Day is still important to the school and SAFB should still give funding to groups interested in programming,” Chauhan said. “But we can’t lose our programming for other events.”


Although the administration organizes programming during the two weeks surrounding MLK day, only a few student groups scheduled events.

During MLK celebrations this year, FMO hosted a speech by Michael Eric Dyson, author of a controversial biography of King. And FMO members continue to stress the importance of programming during MLK Day.

“We want programming in relation to MLK Day (because) we want to use his holiday to educate our community,” said Goodall, a Weinberg sophomore.

SASA also has scheduled ASG-funded programming for the past two years.

This year’s speaker spoke about Islam’s importance to the Civil Rights Movement. Trinity College professor Vijay Prashad, the 2000 speaker, discussed South Asians’ debt to King.

Shah said it is important for SASA to program during the week.

“It’s important not only to celebrate and commemorate the life of MLK, but to make sure that we give other South Asians the opportunity to learn how much he did for our struggle and how pivotal and paramount the civil rights movement was not only for South Asians, but for every American,” Shah said.

In past years Women’s Coalition speakers have addressed women’s roles in the Civil Rights Movement and inequality in the school system.

“I really believe that you can’t fight sexism without fighting racism, classism and all other forms of oppression,” said former Women’s Coalition Director Katy Quissell. “It would be hypocritical.”

Muslim-cultural Students Association has co-sponsored events with FMO and SASA.

But members of these student groups said they should not be the only ones planning MLK Day events.

“It seems like the other groups are saying ‘We’ll let the black kids do this’ or ‘We don’t really care about that. We’re not going to focus our energy into that,'” said FMO Administrative Vice Coordinator Elizabeth Whittaker.


Some group leaders said the process of lobbying for funds discouraged them from scheduling MLK Day programming.

Alianza sponsored programming two years ago featuring women active in the Chicano civil rights movement.

But last year, the group got “screwed over in funding,” said outgoing Alianza President and Medill junior Lilly Gonzalez.

“If we were to try to co-sponsor an event
, it’s hard to get funding,” said BGALA Community Outreach Chairwoman and Weinberg junior Lexi Smith. “(SAFB) likes to have one group responsible for the money.”

Other student groups said there was too little time for programming.

“It hasn’t been brought up because the couple of hours are so few,” said College Republicans President and Weinberg sophomore Whitney Seaman.

Some cultural group leaders saw no relation between the goals of their clubs and the holiday.

In the case of the Chinese Students Association, members felt that MLK Day programming did not fit with the club’s goals.

“We’re somewhat more of a social club, spreading culture more than trying to send messages,”said CSA President and Weinberg sophomore Douglas Li.

Thai Club President Sasawat Mahabunphachai said the day was “more for African-American groups.”

“For our Thai culture, it doesn’t have anything to do with the background of MLK Day,” said Mahabunphachai, a McCormick junior.

Other groups – even ones that did not schedule programming – saw a connection between MLK Day and the ideas of their clubs.

Although BGALA’s Smith said the group focused on sex and gender issues, she said there was a link between the struggles of King and those of the gay community.

“The oppression of one group is related to the oppression of another group,” Smith said. “Certainly non-white people are also members of sexual minorities, and we owe a great debt to the civil rights movements of the past.”

Smith said the group has had trouble finding gay minority speakers because people “feel like they have to pick one identity.”

College Democrats president Courtney Brunsfeld said her group was interested in sponsoring MLK Day events in the future.

“I think there is a sentiment that a lot of cultural groups take care of it,” said Brunsfeld, a Weinberg sophomore. “And I think it’s the wrong sentiment for activist groups like us.”