January 16, 2015, BY Matt Hughes

Nearly 50 years after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. helped organize marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., the conversation on race, inequality and civil rights King brought to the forefront of the national discourse remains unresolved, and the struggle for equality goes on. 

This Monday, in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, hundreds of Bucknell University students will add their own voices to that dialogue, contemplating the role of race in today's America during the inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Day Teach-In.

"The teach-in will help students clarify their understanding and deepen their knowledge about civil rights, race and racism; sharpen their thinking about how issues of race have impacted and do impact all; and increase understanding of their own identities," said Bridget Newell, associate provost for diversity, who helped organize the event with Professors Nina Banks, economics; Carmen Henne-Ochoa, sociology and anthropology; and Cara Takakjian, Italian studies.

Although we have made progress over the last several decades, current realities illustrate that we are not a post racial society," Newell added, alluding to recent protests over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. "We have much work to do to, and King's legacy lives on to inspire us."

More than 30 faculty members have signed up to incorporate discussions of race, class and civil rights in their classes in myriad ways, illustrating the variety of lessons that can be drawn from King's life and legacy.

Clare SammellsProfessor Clare Sammells, anthropology, will discuss how diets reflect social inequality and racism with two of her anthropology courses. "My classes will be learning about 'food deserts,'" Sammells said.

"These are low-income areas, both rural and urban, where residents cannot get to grocery stores or farmers markets without driving long distances. There are parts of our own Union County, not far from Bucknell's campus, that meet the USDA's definition of a food desert. We'll also be learning about organizations that address these inequalities through urban agriculture and community organizing."

Hiram SmithProfessor Hiram Smith, Spanish, will lead a discussion with six classes — among them a mechanical engineering and a religion course — about linguistic prejudice, or the judgments people pass on others based on their speech patterns. He will co-lead the discussion with Professor Linden Lewis, sociology.

"All of us (to some degree or another) have been socialized to believe that there is a correct or proper way to talk — and that there is a wrong way," Smith said. "Linguists have known for a long time that there is no such thing as proper English. By examining the social, biological and historical factors that shape language use, and understanding these processes, we can begin to understand why people talk the way they do. This knowledge, like all knowledge, can erase linguistic prejudice."

Margot VigeantMargot Vigeant, professor of chemical engineering and associate dean of engineering, will incorporate a practical lesson about the meaning and importance of cultural competence in engineering practice into her chemical engineering thermodynamics course.

"Building intercultural competence is absolutely critical, and something that takes more than just one session on one day," Vigeant said. "However, if I can use the time to encourage students to reflect on how many things they 'know' are actually assumptions, and to encourage them to question those assumptions, we all will have benefited."

Other classes will tackle a variety of topics including historical racism in psychology practice, musicians as activists and how racism has affected reaction to the most recent Ebola outbreak. Newell said the diversity of academic disciplines involved in the teach-in allows for such an array of approaches, and that that is an advantage of the event.

"Being exposed to the various perspectives on and approaches to race, civil rights and social justice can help individuals broaden and deepen their critical perspectives, knowledge base and even understandings of self," Newell said. Bucknell faculty will also host three panel discussions throughout the day open to all students, faculty and staff.

  • At 10 a.m. in Hunt 101, Smith and Professor Linden Lewis, sociology, will lead a facilitated discussion on the illusion of race and its lived realities.

  • At 2 p.m. in Hunt 101, Professors Richard Henne-Ochoa, education, and Rhonda Sharpe, economics, will lead a facilitated discussion on labor market discrimination and educational disparities in the Post-Civil Rights Era.

  • At 5 p.m. in Hunt Hall a Beloved Community Dinner will be held with a focus on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. The Beloved Community is a term used by King to describe a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth, with racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. 

  • At 7 p.m. in the ELC Forum, Banks and Carmen Henne-Ochoa will participate in a panel discussion with Professors Marcellus Andrews, economics, Atiya Stokes-Brown, political science, and Dave Ragland, education. Titled "I Can't Breathe: The Continuing Struggle for Racial Justice," the panel will address contemporary issues of race in America, including incarceration, wealth disparities and the protests in Ferguson, Mo.