Dr. King’s Legacy – Continuing Efforts to Combat Racism

17 January 2022

To the Carleton Community:

Today we remember the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr. Our campus commemorations include yesterday’s Martin Luther King Service of Remembrance and Celebration, which featured comments and readings from Aiana Whitfield and other Black Student Alliance leaders, selections from the Carleton Choir, and a sermon from the Rev. Earl Neil ‘57. Today, the Office of Intercultural Life will sponsor the MLK Dinner, this year in a grab-and-go format.

The most important way in which we can honor Dr. King’s legacy is through our ongoing efforts to combat racism within and beyond our own community. As we pursue this work, we continue to learn and grow as an institution. Last year, we instituted mandatory antiracism training for faculty and staff, a major step that was not without challenges. The Community, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (CEDI) Board undertook a survey to determine what worked well and what could be improved, and is planning a new educational series with multiple components this spring. The IDE (Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity) Steering Committee is working with the five working groups appointed last fall to finalize a ten-year IDE Plan by the end of Winter Term. 

The IDE Steering Committee, formed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, was charged with focusing on BIPOC experience, and more specifically, the Black experience at Carleton. The issues and concerns raised by the Ujamaa Collective, and the alumni who wrote the Open Letter for Carleton in August 2020, underscored the urgency of that focus. The work the IDE Steering Committee is doing to lay a structural foundation for countering racism and discrimination at Carleton, however, will provide a valuable set of approaches we can use to address the experiences of other underrepresented or marginalized groups on campus. I expect the IDE Plan to feed into a more comprehensive strategic planning effort at the College that will include a broad-based focus on building community and strengthening the sense of belonging for all students, faculty, and staff. 

Sadly, we know that racism and discrimination can take many forms and target many groups. We saw evidence of that this weekend with the hostage standoff that took place at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. In talking about that event yesterday with members of the JSC (Jewish Students of Carleton), it was clear that personal, familial, and cultural experiences of anti-Semitism created a context that made that event more disturbing to Jewish students than their friends could easily understand. 

As an educational institution, we bear a special responsibility to model a more just, inclusive, and equitable community. Dr. King wrote in the Morehouse College newspaper in 1947: “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” (“The Purpose of Education,” 1947)  It will be our ongoing task to apply this intensive thought and these critical skills to flaws we may see in ourselves and our own institution, so that Carleton can continue to become stronger as a College and as a community.

Thank you for your continued support of these efforts.

President Alison Byerly

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