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Faculty discuss the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s influence on education


Alexis Schlesinger / THE GATEPOST

By Francisco Omar Fernandez Rodriguez

Staff Writer


The Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) held a panel discussion on Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 23. They focused on an important question - how has his legacy impacted us? 


The panelists were all faculty at Framingham State University. They included the Director of the CIE, Jerome Burke, Biology Professor Cara Pina, Social Psychologist Jen Lin, and Chemistry and Food Scientists Chantrell Frazier and Ishara Mills-Henry. 


Frazier is the first African American woman to graduate with a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Florida International University.


Also, Burke is from Jamaica and has served in their leading human rights organization.


The host of the talk was the President of the Student Government Association, Evelyn Campbell. She asked the panelists their first question, “How has Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and legacy personally impacted your life?”


Frazier said that he gave her the possibility to be where she is now. “Back when Martin Luther King was fighting for civil rights, it wasn’t even a thing for us to cohabitate in spaces.” She added, “That’s how he’s impacted me, just to be able to enter that space.”


Lin said MLK’s legacy has impacted her professional life in psychology. She said, “He has indirectly influenced me in a professional way because he has influenced countless psychologists.” She said there are psychologists who study racial stereotypes, microaggressions, and cultural competence now, which she refers to as “ripple effects” from MLK.


Lin added that she likes to share one of MLK’s quotes with her students, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” She likes to emphasize that her classroom is a safe space, especially for marginalized identities, she said.


Burke said his family saw MLK as an example that education is important to helping people rise above their circumstances. He said, “So even at any point where I ever feel like I’m struggling or felt like the system is against me, I’m always saying there are opportunities, there are teachings, there are great men, there are icons.”


Pina said MLK’s teachings have been implemented in education, especially in the classroom environment. She said, “The idea of education being liberating, the idea of how you work through spaces where you might be experiencing microaggressions, how you can excel in spaces that were not sort of designed for you.” She added this was her experience moving through education.


Mills-Henry said she wouldn’t have had any of her educational experiences if it weren’t for MLK. She said she didn’t learn a lot about MLK and the Civil Rights movement when she was growing up. 


She added she was concerned about what’s happening in the education system. She said, “It’s a lot like how I grew up, and we’re actually cutting back on some of the progress that’s been made over the years.” She said because of this it’s important to be civically active and actually vote in local elections. She described this as the impact MLK had on her life.


Campbell asked the next question, “What ways has Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy influenced your approach to teaching and working with students?”


Pina answered first, and said she tries to make sure her classroom is beneficial for everyone. She said, “People from different backgrounds deserve to see how the particular subject relates to their background.”


She added she wants everyone to be able to get an education, and that she works toward that goal. She said, “I spend a significant amount of time working towards our state, the state of Massachusetts, having better education, having free education to ensure that people have the ability to be educated.”


Frazier said she starts the semester by asking her class who their favorite music artists are. She said she later groups the students by their genre choice, showing them that they have something in common with someone they might not expect to share anything with.


She added, “It’s just one of those things that allows me to connect with you guys as well as for you guys to connect with each other, especially when you’re all undergoing a subject that can be very difficult.”


Burke said he talks to students about what their passions are and how to advocate for them. He said a crucial part of MLK’s message was advocating for what you think is right. 


He added, “So it’s having those conversations with students and working through those and then encouraging and helping them to really make an impact in their communities.”


Mills-Henry said she likes to get an awareness of who is in her class and what challenges her students are facing. She said, “What barriers are they facing? What are their backgrounds? What are some of their interests?” 


Lin said she also tries to make her classroom as inclusive as possible. She said she does research on scholars of color to share with her class, in order for the scholars to get some recognition and for the students to see someone similar to them being successful in their field.


The next question for the panelists was, “In what way specifically do you promote inclusivity and diversity in your role drawing on King’s ideals?”


Pina said she and some of her colleagues have worked on a bulletin board in Hemenway Labs that shows STEM professionals who are also people of color. She said she felt the need for this because most of STEM history is credited to white men, even though they don’t deserve all of it.


She said, “People don’t necessarily get credit for being the one to figure something out. They get credit for publicizing it. So there are lots of things that have happened in STEM that people are unaware that occurred from people of color.” 


Mills-Henry said her department also has a bulletin board, though theirs is of alumni from different backgrounds. She also said that in her classes she has given assignments involving researching scientists of different identities, such as women of color, and finding out what barriers they had to face.


Frazier said she likes to have one-on-one meetings with her students to understand their backgrounds. She said, “Just understanding overall what my classroom is and just trying to make sure I correlate the message in all forms for you guys to learn. That’s something that I tried to do.”


Lin said she helped to create the Diversity Committee in her department with the main goal of empowering students of color. She said she also published papers on anti-racism in higher education.


Campbell then asked, “How can academic institutions promote ongoing dialogue about civil rights, social justice, and equality in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the year?”


Frazier said that in her class she uses quotes from different types of people in order to open dialogue about it. She said, “So that’s something that I do, just having quotes from all different types of individuals that mean different types of things that can integrate into different parts of their lives.”


Lin said she thinks that they need to combine anti-racism with their values, rather than treating it as an afterthought. She said, “Just speaking as a psychologist, I think what will be really helpful would be to truly integrate anti-racism with our institutional culture.”


Mills-Henry said professors need to make sure their policies and practices really work with the University’s anti-racist commitment. She said it’s good to have events such as the panel, and not just for MLK. 


She said, “I think that this is a wonderful event, having a lot more of these types of events around Martin Luther King’s philosophy, but it could be anything, it could be civil rights, it could be social justice.”

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