On Aug. 28, 1963, 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered arguably one of the most important and timeless speeches in United States history. He dreamt for a time much different than the current climate — a time that would foster a community no longer segregated, no longer resentful and no longer judgmental. He said, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Some of us believe that that day has come and that our work is done. Some of us believe we have much more work to do.
Either way, even Dr. King could not have predicted September 11, 2001 and its subsequent War on Terror, the election of a bi-racial president, the murder of a young black boy wearing a hoodie, stop-and-frisk laws, inequality for the LGBT community, the Sandy Hook massacre, an influx of non-white unauthorized immigrants, the War on Drugs and more.
The consequences range from racial profiling to violence to negative mental health stigmas to extended military conflicts and to misconceptions galore.
Maybe it’s time to give some careful thought regarding our state as a nation; maybe we’re not as great as advertised. The schools may be legally desegregated, though we still find that Blacks and Whites continue to be stratified by the achievement gap.
We may broadcast shows like Glee that gives us a stereotypical taste of what it means to be homosexual; nevertheless, only 13 states and Washington D.C. permit same-sex couples to wed.
We may have ratified the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, yet women in the workplace still deal with some of the same stigmas and unequal pay. We say we care about one another, yet we allow gun violence to prevail in the streets of our cities.
We say we live in a post-racial society and we continue to profile those wearing turbans and hoodies.
And conversely, there is a reason the reaction to the verdict of the Trayvon Martin murder was different amongst the races and cultures of our nation.
All of this goes to assess where the University community stands amidst the journey to fulfill the dreams of a man from 50 years ago. Are we as a community as welcoming as we think? I imagine there would be no need for the diversity skit during Orientation if that were the case.
Thus, I will be penning a series of articles about the state of underrepresented groups on the University’s campus, i.e., gender relations, the LGBT community, race, the difference between predominantly Black and White fraternities, those with physical and mental disabilities, the state of faith on campus and more.
Some of us may be afraid to have a conversation of this nature, but we can no longer afford to sweep these issues and sentiments under the rug.
For the most part, our generation handles these issues much better than previous ones, but many students hail from high schools and communities that are not particularly diverse.
We may not have a problem meeting people from different ethnic, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, but we may not know how to interact with them or understand their experiences.
I’ve run into many students who can count on their fingers how many Black people they’ve met over their 18-20 years of life before college.
This is a problem. If we haven’t met or interacted with Black people or gay people or poor people extensively how do we expect to understand where they come from?
As I enter my last year here, I want to leave the University a better place than when I started. I want this incoming class and the one’s after it to inherit a better university and a better community each year.
Likewise, all of us should be willing to do the work necessary to understanding each and every one of our peers. So take a look at yourself, the University and be honest about what you see.
Sam Ellison is a senior political science and communication major from Dresher, Pa. If you would like to know more about the series of upcoming articles this semester, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.