If students want a full day to honor MLK, they need to attend

Manu Bhardwaj

Having recently graduated from Northwestern, I still have many vivid memories of my four years as an undergraduate. One of the greatest was seeing thousands of “apathetic” NU students brave the frigid cold and participate in a weeklong, university-sponsored series of panels, speakers and teach-ins, all of which reflected on the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. At that time, it seemed to be an old dream that suddenly became new at NU. Yet even though it was new to NU, I would have sworn then that it would last and become a great and important university tradition.

Unfortunately, I may have been wrong. In the 18 months since I graduated, perhaps NU students have grown apathetic and would rather sleep in than attend events that commemorate King. From what I hear from my sister, a Weinberg sophomore, that is basically what 95 percent of the student body did Monday.

Yet for me, an even more compelling reason for low student turnout to MLK Day this year was that the Associated Student Government and other student organizations didn’t take the initiative to publicize the event. NU students I know at NU never even saw a single flyer either in their dorm or on campus letting them know it was occurring.

Winning a proper observance for MLK Day was one of the more impressive achievements ASG ever earned for NU students. While I was in student government,we submitted thousands of petition signatures, discovered that 13 of the top 20 universities had a holiday, and spent months convincing Board of Trustee members and university administrators that students would attend an event. Three years ago, when the ultimate goal was an entire day to celebrate MLK Day, the student body would have scoffed at an observation scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m., when most classes are canceled anyway. As the event approached, committed ASG senators routinely hung flyers and went door-to-door handing residents brochures describing the weeklong celebration. This year, it would seem that ASG President Jordan Heinz, who I remember as one of those committed senators, and the ASG academic vice president did not ensure that the same commitment continued under their watch.

Yet while ASG may have failed in publicizing MLK Day, and students may have failed to show up, they still have the opportunity to prove their commitment to the man and his holiday Monday. You may not be content with the allotted three-hour window administrators set aside this week, but that’s no reason not to attend ASG’s Jan. 28 event with the Rev. Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter. Ridiculous as it may seem, if students want a full day off next year, they will have to swallow some of their very justifiable complaints and show up en masse.

Three years ago, University President Henry Bienen told me that the student body’s response would dictate the planning of future MLK Day observances. Monday at 7 p.m. in Pick Staiger Concert Hall you can show him your commitment to bringing an MLK Day holiday to NU of which we can all be proud. One day, we will have an MLK Day holiday. The only question is if ASG, For Members Only, South Asian Student Alliance and other groups have your support in obtaining it.