Student Senate has a new dream

Students show support for equal opportunity by particiapting in the Silent March on January 17th as a part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week.

Eric Coulter

Students show support for equal opportunity by particiapting in the Silent March on January 17th as a part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week.

Molly Waite

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill declaring that the third Monday of January would be Martin Luther King Jr. Day – a national holiday to honor the life, work and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Public universities throughout the state of Michigan cancel classes or close to celebrate the holiday, but Grand Valley State University is one of only three that annually remains open on the holiday.

Last week, Student Senate passed a resolution to show support for and encourage the university to close on this national holiday so that students, faculty and staff would be able to attend events held to celebrate the holiday, said J.J. Manser, vice president of Student Senate Diversity Affairs.

The resolution supports a complete closure of the university. Manser said this would allow for students, as well as faculty and staff, to attend MLK events.

“While we’ve had successful celebration events in past years, there remain many students who report that they could not attend many, if not all, events due to class or work-related commitments on campus,” said senator Kirsten Zeiter, a member of the Diversity Affairs Committee. “Closing the university in recognition of MLK Day allows students, faculty and staff to participate in the celebration events as an entire GVSU community, particularly those who otherwise would have had commitments that would prevent them from coming.”

Both Manser and Zeiter said a committee has been formed to investigate the question of closing the university, which Connie Dang, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, confirmed.

When the Student Senate debated the resolution, some concerns were raised about the logistics of closing the university for the holiday. Manser said there were questions of having to add a day to the semester to make up for the closure as well as concerns about canceling classes when some students might want to go to class.

Zeiter said some senators voiced concerns about students leaving campus if classes were canceled, defeating the purpose of closing GVSU for the events.

“The plan we’re advocating negates that concern,” Zeiter said. “Students are going to be actively involved in planning events, creating service opportunities and reaching out to the community,” she said. “For that reason, students would feel invested in GVSU’s recognition of MLK Day and would actually make it even more of a ‘day on’ than it was this year.”

Adding that other public universities that close for the day have successful attendance at their events, Zeiter said she believes students care about this holiday and would participate.

Manser said Jeanne Arnold, vice president for Inclusion and Equity, is sitting on the closure committee and will address these, and any other, concerns. Arnold could not be reached for comment.

Steve Buckridge, associate professor of history, teaches a course in African history and said when we think about Martin Luther King, Jr., we are recognizing that he achieved international fame.

“It is very important that he achieved international fame by leading numerous peaceful marches, boycotts and sit-ins, all forms of civil disobedience.” Buckridge said. “All these were all used as important projects in swaying public opinion and passing civil rights legislation.”

Manser said Martin Luther King, Jr., was an advocate for education and civic engagement, which is a large part of celebrating this holiday.

“I really think it comes down to keeping in mind that this resolution is in support of equal opportunity to attend the events,” Manser said. “There are students who want to go to this event but may not be able to because of class. If students want to attend these events, want to increase their knowledge, want to learn more not just in the classroom, they should not be penalized for missing class. Education isn’t just inside the classroom, but outside of the classroom as well.”

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