January 15, 2021
Dear Members of the Connecticut College Community,
On Monday, Jan. 18, the College will be closed in observance of the national holiday commemorating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
People tend to remember Dr. King in vastly different ways. He is best known, of course, as the face of one of the most powerful social movements in modern history––the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Historians paint MLK as a visionary, a servant leader, a fiery preacher, and an unrivaled orator, whose unwavering commitment to non-violent resistance led to wide scale legislative and social change in the United States.
But Dr. King was also a critical thinker, a lifelong student of social movements, and an agitator. Toward the end of his life, when he spoke of the “triple evils” of racism, militarism, and capitalism, he challenged the status quo of American life and culture. By then, many had come to see his increasingly radical ideas as a threat. His prophetic last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” presaged a life that was about to come to an end.
How, then, do we properly commemorate Dr. King’s life and legacy in 2021––a year that, already in its first days, has secured a place in the annals of American history both for its advances and for its violence? For example, after unprecedented levels of voter participation, we will witness the inauguration of the first Black, South Asian, and female vice president of the United States, along with several other firsts in electoral politics. And yet the progress has also provoked a deadly backlash, as the shameful events of Jan. 6 have shown.
In this context, it seems all the more vital that we reflect on Dr. King’s legacy with the same critical lens that he trained on the world, fully alive to the tensions that come with social change. We should use this moment, in other words, to study social movements, practice cross-cultural dialogue, engage in nonviolent resistance, and dare to lead in the face of fear and uncertainty.
The week after next, the Division of Institutional Equity and Inclusion is creating an opportunity for us to do just that. From Jan. 25—27, Connecticut College will host Elevate, our first annual conference on social justice. The event will feature a diverse group of educators and activists who, following King’s example, are leading social movements of many kinds. We will hear from Charlene Carruthers, a modern-day leader in the movement for Black liberation. We will hear from Shalini Kantayya, investigating the bias coded in our technology. We will hear from Jonathan Mooney, an outspoken advocate for reimagining disability. And we will hear from nationally recognized interfaith educator Eboo Patel, reflecting on the vital intersection of race and religion. Patel will deliver the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Address on Jan. 25, at 11 a.m.
Elevate will also raise up the voices of our students, faculty, and staff through workshops, panels, and group discussions. A full schedule for Elevate is online and registration is now open. We hope you will make the effort to attend as one way of commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. King.
Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion