By K.J. ADLER
The University of Mary Washington does not celebrate national holidays by suspending classes and students are beginning to ask why.
Junior Marija Ozolins and seniors Stephanie Parker and Tempa Klinegores were three of the leading voices in asking questions about why the school resumes on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. They believe that suspending classes will show both community members and future potential students that UMW holds strong values in community and equality.
“They say this school has a respect for diversity,” Parker said. “But I feel that having class on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day is voicing a completely opposite message.” But rather than create conflict, the young women chose to work with the administration by showing respect to the national icon.
“Our objective is driven by community values,” Klinegores said. “We are realistic, though. We know that some people will just sleep in and treat the day like a long weekend. But we want the opportunity to celebrate.”
The realization of their plans began in late October when the committee hosted a conference for students and administrators to discuss potential events that UMW could accommodate.
Mary Corbin, executive assistant to the president and Cedric Rucker, dean of student life, were notably supportive of the young women’s proposed changes. Representatives from S.E.E.D. (Student Educating and Empowering for Diversity), Bond (“Brothers on New Direction”), Women of Color, B.S.A. (Black Student Alliance), and PRISM were also present.
On Jan 15th, classes went on as scheduled but there was a noticeable buzz around campus. In past years, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day only had one keynote speaker recite Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Dodd auditorium. This year, the day was scheduled full with speakers, entertainment and a campus-wide unity march.
“I am extremely proud in the active role of students,” Dean Rucker said. “They were thoughtful, reflective, and I felt very positive in being able to plan events on this holiday with them.”
While the suggestion for suspending classes was placed on the table, the idea was completely dismissed when the committee was informed by BLAH that the school schedules are planned years in advance. Suspending classes was not an option in the near future.
“In working with them I feel that the students’ reasoning was that they could celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. more than they did in the past,” Corbin said. “Since we couldn’t cancel them we had to work around them and I feel that more participation came out of having classes still regularly scheduled.”
While campuses throughout the state of Virginia enjoyed a day off, only UMW and two other public institutions, Virginia Military Institute and Christopher Newport University held classes.
“But Virginia Military Institute has Labor Day off,” Parker said. “That’s because their school’s values include the appreciation of labor workers. Being a liberal arts college we need to show recognition for our school’s values in diversity.”
When asked about the national holiday debate, President Frawley stated the following:
“It is important for everyone–from the nation to us all personally–to recognize and try to live the lessons of Dr. King’s life and work. How UMW does that is not a simple matter and is bound up with who we are and how we operate. While I can appreciate the desire for canceling classes on MLK day, I also subscribe to what Xavier Richardson said so eloquently at a number of gatherings this year: it is less important to have a day off than to have a DAY ON.
That is, we must structure our recognition of Dr. King so as to have the most extensive and substantive involvement of the whole UMW community. This year, MLK day fell on the first day of classes. Had we cancelled classes, we are sure that we would have reduced involvement because those returning to campus for class might well have used the day to extend travel time or to spend extra time with families.
“I hope you see that we had a very successful and effective recognition of Dr. King this year, while classes were in session. That said, I am not committed to any view of the value of “a day off” or not and am always happy to entertain proposals from the students, faculty, and staff to better use the institution to advance the values and commitments of Dr. King and others.”
Although classes will not be suspended in the near future, many determined students are still pressing the matter and are posing more innovative plans for next year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. “Next year we plan to have the speeches televised for the other campus and in the Eagle’s Nest.” Ozolins said. “We will still be having the Key Address and hope to have more speeches and a special Seaco dinner.”