One of the perquisites of being a staff member at the University of New Hampshire is frequent unsolicited e-mail from various high-up administrators, telling you about things they think are important. Or things they want you to think are important. Or things they want you to think they think are important. Or … well, you get the idea. Sometimes it's difficult to believe that anyone really thinks the mail is important.
It would be technically easy to filter out these messages, but there's always the chance they could send something actually important.
And that's how I wound up reading this message:
To: Important message for the UNH community <UNH.Announce@lists.unh.edu>
Subject: MLK Campus Celebrations
[ This message is being sent to you from Ann Weaver Hart, ]
[ President. This mailing has been approved by Kim Billings, ]
[ University Spokesperson. ]
To the campus community,
I invite all of you to join me in honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work to advance social justice, community service, and respect for all people. Campus events take place next week, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
Background: The University takes the official MLK holiday off, so obviously that would be a bad day to do this sort of thing. For those of you wondering if the University does this sort of thing for any other holiday: no, of course not. You don't know much about how Universities work, do you?
I'm not going to gripe overmuch about the vague feelgoodness of being for "community service" and "respect for all people." But have I mentioned how I feel about that phrase "social justice"? Why yes, I have. So I won't repeat myself, but … arrrgh.
We have opportunities every day to carry out some aspect of Dr. King's messages at UNH and in the broader community. This year's theme reflects the importance of every person in creating change: "Lift EVERY Voice."
Note: every person, every voice. Gee, how inclusive! A fair question might be: how will this quest for inclusiveness actually play out? Well, let's see:
This year, I want to invite everyone to think about how their voices and actions matter. Join me January 31st and February 1st, as we honor Dr. King with a spiritual celebration, candlelight vigil, a panel discussion on civil rights, and a keynote featuring law professor and cultural commentator Patricia Williams. Please visit the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs' website:
for more details.
Ann Weaver Hart
Well, since President Hart invited: let me think about how my voice and actions matter … OK, done.
The mail includes the schedule. It's also at the OMSA site.
January 31, 2006
6:30-8:00 pm, Durham Community Church
An inter-faith celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. King, enjoy gospel music, poetry, and more! Special guest speaker Kalamu ya Salaam. Reception to follow.
Needless to say, this is the only event of the year for which the University deigns to sponsor an "inter-faith celebration" where you can listen to gospel music. Will someone call the ACLU about this bulldozing of the wall of separation between church and state? I don't think that would be a good bet.
Who is, you may ask, Kalamu ya Salaam? He seems like a nice enough guy, certainly easy to query the Google about. If you want to get a sense of where he's coming from, this page seems definitive. Looking for an interesting essay … ooh, how about "Impotence Need Not Be Permanent"? Sample:
Whoa. Wasn't quite what I expected. The violence stuff … not too MLK-like, is it? Hopefully the Inter-faith Spiritual Celebration won't include Kalamu doing his dominance-destroying thing in between the gospel tunes.
So let's move right along to the next event:
February 1, 2006
2:00-4:00 pm, MUB Strafford Room
Please join us for an interactive dialogue with engaging panelists Patricia Williams, Kalamu ya Salaam, Harvard Sitkoff, and Hannah El-Silimy. Panel moderated by Professor of History and American Studies, Alexandra Cornelius-Diallo.
"Civil Rights in an Era of Civil Wrongs". Hm. Sounds like an underlying assumption just might have been made there. I would wager nobody there will be interested in debating that underlying assumption.
Kalamu will be among the "engaging panelists."
We'll look at Patricia Williams in a bit.
Harvard Sitkoff is a UNH history prof, a veteran of the sixties civil rights movement, and a hard-working scholar with numerous publications. For our purposes, it's regrettable that he doesn't seem to have much that he's written on the web. (Sorry, in these modern days, library research is out!) My semi-educated guess: Prof Sitkoff may be the token right-winger in this bunch, which is to say, a standard 60's-era liberal.
Hannah El-Silimy: querying the Google pops up an MLK-day Concord Monitor op-ed she co-wrote with Arnie Alpert; from there, we learn that she and Arnie are on the staff of the New Hampshire Office of the American Friends Service Committee. From the op-ed:
Well, OK. The obvious rejoinder: no matter the perceived dehumanizing effect, the term "illegal" does accurately reflect the fact that these folks are breaking the law by being in this country. But no matter. Once again: Hannah's not likely to be making waves from the right in the "interactive dialogue."
Alexandra Cornelius-Diallo: also a UNH prof. Here's a description of her American Studies course this semester "Seminar/Resistance & Revolution: African American Men & Women's History and Culture" (found on the description of UNH's Race, Culture, and Power minor):
Sounds like a blast. Inexplicably, Alexandra considered Martin Luther King apparently not important enough to be included in her course description, while finding room for "Ghandi," Mao, Che, and Lumumba.
February 1, 2006
7:00-8:30 pm, Paul Creative Arts Center-Johnson Theatre
Patricia Williams is a Professor of Law, a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Award," and author of Seeing a Color-Blind Future, The Alchemy of Race & Rights, and The Rooster's Egg. Williams is a renowned cultural commentator. Currently, she writes the column, "Diary of a Mad Law Professor" for The Nation and teaches at Columbia University.
Patricia's probably the biggest luminary at the "celebration." Sounds like she's not going to be confused with Condoleezza Rice anytime soon. Most of her Nation columns are behind a subscription wall, but there are some teaser paragraphs. Sample:
Nope, doesn't sound like something the Secretary of State would say. Once Patricia's keynote is done, we're on to:
8:30 pm, Outside the Paul Creative Arts Center
Join us in the warmth of a candlelit community making its way from the Paul Creative Arts Center to the Memorial Union Building
Ah, there's nothing like the faux-religious overtones of candlelight to give your march through campus a delicious frisson of moral superiority! Once we reach the MUB:
February 1, 2006
After Candlelight Vigil, MUB Rockingham Lounge
Talk informally with Patricia Williams and get your book signed.
This is as conservative as the celebration gets, folks: Patricia will be engaging in some free-market capitalism by selling copies of her book. Here endeth the two-day celebration.
Summary: despite President Hart's call to "lift EVERY voice", it's pretty clear the ideological spectrum of this event will span the range from left to hard-left. If you're not in that ballpark, don't bother; you're not invited.