Amidst a global pandemic and ongoing conversations regarding representation and discrimination on campus, Wooster’s 2022 MLK Day celebration took an introspective look at social justice issues in its own campus community. The 2022 MLK Day Committee began planning the event in early fall of last year, according to the Chair of the MLK Day Committee and Director of the Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office Sháquez Dickens. Initially organized with the hope of being held in-person, the commemorative events were switched to a virtual format a week before the celebration due to safety concerns regarding COVID-19.
The event commenced with an interfaith prayer gathering and included an opening ceremony featuring four keynote speakers from the campus community, as well as five Justice Dialogues facilitated by student leaders and Wooster faculty. The choice to look internally for potential speakers was a new one, said Dickens, but felt right, given the current campus climate. The Committee also opened up the selection process to the campus community by sending out a survey for staff, students and faculty to nominate potential speakers. From there, the Committee narrowed down the nominations and decided on the final speakers: Sarem (Cher) Kornma ’22; Dr. LaToya René Robertson, Associate Dean Of Students & Director of Divisional DEI Initiatives at the College Dr. Beatrice J. Adams, Assistant Professor of African American History; and Dr. Timeka Rashid ’99, Vice President for Student Affairs at Baldwin Wallace University and College of Wooster alumna.
In selecting the 2022 MLK Day keynote speakers, the committee chose a student, a staff member, a faculty member and an alumni speaker, aiming to represent all parts of the campus community. Speaking on the selection process this year, student keynote speaker Cher Kornma ’22 said, “outside speakers have a lot of information that is beneficial for us to hear, but I think that the critical impact that having somebody from our community do it is that it allows you to center your ideas of change around the places that you’re capable of having impact in.” The event’s discussions were designed to focus on these community experiences. Justice Dialogues ranged from conversations on neurodiversity in STEM, to being Jewish in America, to counteracting implicit biases. Malachi Mungoshi ’24, student member of the 2022 MLK Day Committee, said, “When it came to choosing the justice dialogues, we were trying to choose dialogues that really were representative of different members of the school body…all of these justice dialogues were built on destigmatizing and deconstructing narratives that have been built in America.” And the strategy seemed successful. “Even in the justice dialogues this year around, there was a lot more engagement because there was a lot more diversity with the kinds of justice dialogues that we had,” Mungoshi added.
The theme of the event “If Not Us Then Who?” seemed well-represented in the day’s conversations. Speaking on the theme, Kornma said, “This year, it was really focused on how different parts of the campus could speak to identity, to experiences both in their own lives and their experiences on campus…I think that previous MLK Day events have had outside speakers come in and talk about global issues, but the thing that often gets forgotten is that you are capable not only of doing what’s in your community, but you can start somewhere very close to you.” She continued, “I think that was the bigger picture of this MLK Day event—that there are attainable ways for you to make a change, even if it’s just showing up.”
This year’s MLK Day event spoke to a greater hope that those conversations might be continued, and through them real change achieved. The goal, said Mungoshi, is that people will take these conversations beyond the day’s events. “These justice dialogues weren’t just a one-time thing…I feel like they were very thought-provoking and helped raise a lot of awareness and answer a lot of questions,” Mungoshi said. “We have so many resources. The first step is recognizing your privilege and then educating yourself on how you can be an ally, whatever that looks like. That’s what I really hope people will do.”