Though UR has traditionally observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a week-long series of commemorative events, the past two years have been marked by the absence of students on the holiday itself due to the semester break. Next year, students will once again not be in class to mark the day created in remembrance of one of the United States’ greatest civil rights leaders, but for a different reason: classes are cancelled.
The President’s Office announced that beginning next year, whenever Martin Luther King, Jr. Day falls after the first day of the spring semester, classes will be cancelled for the occasion.
“Martin Luther King, Jr., Day is a federal holiday that is observed by many leading universities throughout the nation. To honor Dr. King by cancelling classes on that day is a way to recognize how much as a university we value diversity and the social progress that his life’s work inspired,” UR President Joel Seligman said in a statement. “This is particularly appropriate in Rochester, a city long associated with the work of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is one of a select few holidays to be recognized with this honor. Though the movement to create the day of remembrance began shortly after his assassination, it was not until 1983 that Ronald Reagan made the holiday official under pressure from Congress. The day, officially recognized in every state and by the Federal government, is observed on the third Monday of every January, this year perfectly coinciding with King’s Jan. 15 birthday.
Now the University is following suit, although Seligman notes that this is not a surprising change.
“We have in recent years observed Martin Luther King on a school by school basis, and with the Martin Luther King Day address by an outstanding speaker such as Jesse Jackson. The address will continue, but next year we will also have all schools at the University not hold classes on this day in honor of Dr. King,” Seligman said.
Many are hoping that students will take advantage of the opportunity rather than seeing it simply as a day to do nothing.
“I think it’s a good idea and it’s something that’s probably beneficial to the whole campus,” said Black Students’ Union President and senior Marquis Harrison. “There are a lot of students who live in a bubble and still don’t understand the purpose of [Martin Luther King] Day.”
There has been another noticeable difference in the celebrations this year, which is the absence of the traditional commemorative address. This year, the address was set to be given by Reverend Jesse Jackson, but due to a family emergency, he will be unable to attend.
“I’m sad that he won’t be coming this Friday,” said Harrison of the RainbowPUSH Founder and President. Jackson, 65, has spent his life dedicated to political activism, working closely with King in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The Rev. Jackson still plans on eventually coming to campus, with a tentative date set for February or March, according to the Office of Communications.
Although the Rev. Jackson will not be present, the days since what would have been King’s 78th birthday have been marked by several events, including the 26th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, dedicated to King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, who passed away in 2006. Other events include a screening of the film “Crash,” recognized last year by a Best Picture Academy Award for its portrayal of race relations in Los Angeles, a service in the Interfaith Chapel and a screening of “July 64,” a documentary about race riots in Rochester.
The events continue into February, when the Black Students’ Union, President’s Office and other organizations will hold several events in honor of Black History Month. Among the events will be a presentation of awards to Professor Emeritus Jesse T. Moore and Vice President Paul Burgett.
Overall, the events celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day have been seen as a success.
“I hope that each student who does attend these programs takes something away and helps share it with other students on campus,” Harrison said.
Brenneman is a member of the class of 2009.