On Monday night, a group of students, faculty, and staff gathered together to enjoy a birthday dinner in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life.
The event was organized by members of the President’s Advisory Council for Diversity. The head of the Center for Diversity, Dr. Luanne Tilstra, made the introductory comments. The dinner was centered on a common goal of sharing stories. “Facts explain us, but a story will save us… true stories fill the spaces that time and distance put between us,” she said. "We celebrate MLK Day because it reminds us not only how far we have come, but how far we still have left to go, and stories will fill the gaps that develop when we focus on our differences."
During the dinner, four stories were told by members of the RHIT community.
First, Angelica Cox, a Rose-Hulman sophomore, told her story in between a recitation of Terre Haute poet Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata.” Once she decided to take advanced classes during her secondary schooling, Cox recalled “I would be lucky if I saw one or two other black people besides myself. It upset me, that difference.” Further pondering her situation, Cox ended her story by considering where she would be without the work of those like King, “I would not be here at Rose-Hulman getting an education. People would not have believed that I had a right to be here.”
CSSE professor Dr. Nadine Shillingford spoke next. Raised on the small island of Dominica, Shillingford told the story of her long road to obtaining a Ph.D. in Computer Science and the cultural barriers she had to cross. “Diversity is not limited to just race,” she said, as she talked about differences in culture and ethnicity can also place a role. She challenged everyone in the room to “take the opportunity to shatter shallow stereotypes and unleash the best in all of us.”
Thirdly, ECE professor Dr. Carlotta Berry spoke about her journey toward a Ph.D., highlighting the value she continues to find in her education. “Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible," Berry said about her journey. "Create more of me, and make engineering education look like the world.”
The final story and closing remarks were given by Associate Director of Admissions and Multicultural Recruitment Dexter Jordan. He gave a trilogy of stories revealing the prevalence of racism still today. On the matter, Jordan cautioned everyone to be aware of all situations, stating that, “at the most unexpected time, racism and prejudice can rear its ugly head. He spoke about King’s work in breaking the barriers between people, quoting King when he said “I cannot be everything I can be until you can be everything you can be.”
Jordan closed the dinner, but it did not end the celebration of King and the furthering of his mission. Events to remind campus of King’s message continued throughout the week.