NU among few to hold class on Martin Luther King Day

Marquita Curry

Northwestern appears to be in the minority in its treatment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day among private schools nationwide, even those on a quarter system.

For the seventh year in a row, class are cancelled between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. today on NU’s Evanston and Chicago campuses so students can attend activities honoring King, who was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tenn. But several other private schools that are already in session are taking an entire day off to remember the civil rights leader. Those schools include Stanford University in California, Duke University in Durham, N.C., and Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., although laboratories at Dartmouth still meet as scheduled.

This also marks the first year the University of Chicago has cancelled classes for the holiday, according to its Office of Minority Student Affairs Web site. All except Duke are on a quarter system.

At NU, the holiday “has been under discussion for several years, and it was the decision of the president and the provost to have three hours of no class in order for people to attend university-wide events,” Associate Provost Stephen Fisher said. Fisher said he did not want to discuss the details of the university’s decision but pointed out that before 2000, students did not receive any time off for the holiday.

NU is not alone in holding classes on the national holiday. Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., does not cancel any classes in honor of King. Carleton student Zoe Catsiff said the busy trimester system makes it difficult to take any time off.

“We have three short terms and we already pack a lot in each term,” she said.

At many universities, time off is just one aspect of a celebration of King’s mission. According to university Web sites, University of Chicago had a week of honoring King through various programs. Duke University’s activities take place from Jan. 13 to Jan. 22. At Dartmouth, there are events almost every day until Feb. 6.

NU also has planned activities throughout the week in honor of the holiday, including speeches, vigils, a photography exhibit and a public interest job fair that will take place Tuesday at Norris University Center.

Kweisi Mfume, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1995 to 2004, will give the keynote address on the Evanston Campus during today’s program in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

Actor Harry Lennix and Deborah Mathis, assistant professor at Medill’s Washington Program, will give the keynote address in Chicago. Both programs begin at 11:00 a.m.

Several NU students said they think the university’s celebrations are meaningful and well-planned, although some said the school should have the whole day off.

“It gives people enough time to fully recognize it without making it just another day off school,” said Communication freshman Allie Silver.

McCormick junior Craig Carter is introducing Mfume at the program. Carter said he wished the university cancelled classes but said he understood the administration’s decision.

“It should be a day off,” he said. “However, I believe the administration fears that students would partake in activities that would not align with the commemoration of Dr. King.”

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