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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Movie, discussion honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Published: January 21, 2005
Section: News

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Intercultural Center and the Student Union presented a screening of the film Boycott at the Shapiro Theater, followed by talk from Prof. Gordon Fellman (SOC) about the effects of the civil rights struggles on the Brandeis community, and how those struggles continue in the present.

The film, which was produced by HBO, begins with Rosa Parks initial refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, and the boycott that followed. The film focuses mainly on Martin Luther King Jr.s rise from a young minister to leader of a nonviolent movement that changed the entire nation. The film also shows the hardships that the African-Americans involved in the boycott faced, including the internal struggles among black leaders.

Afterwards Fellman, Chair of the Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Studies program, gave a talk about the struggles of African-American students at Brandeis. He spoke about the Transitional Year Program (TYP) which was founded in 1968, partly as a response to Dr. Kings assassination. According to Fellman, the faculty was so adamant about the need for TYP that they used their own money to fund the program.

According to Fellman, the outgoing president of the university in 1968, founding President Abraham Sachar, was very concerned about equal access to education for minorities. His successor, Morris Abrams, was not as enthusiastic. The resentment felt by the African-American students at Brandeis over the lack of attention to their needs lead to the infamous Ford Hall take-over.

African-American students were inspired into action by a visiting professor and student from San Francisco State University, who had conducted similar takeovers and were touring the country talking about them. After that visit, according to Fellman, all hell broke loose. Students even took over the main phone switchboards. Black students answered the phones calling Brandeis Malcolm X University, while white students held a constant vigil in the administration buildings.

Fellman talked about the continuing struggles of minority students at Brandeis which are brought to the forefront every few years. Three most notable race related incident on campus include the Mens Room Incident of 2001 and the Dusty Baker and the Diversity Flyer incidents of last year.

The Mens Room Incident, as it was dubbed hence after, involved two WBRS disc jockeys whose comedy show one day closed with a song about Asian strippers. According to e-mails sent at that time by Bryan Jung 04, one of the many offended students, the hosts used words such as chink and gook in order to describe the yellow people.

In attempts to find words to rhyme with chink they made references to Asian women and how they fascinated them, he wrote. They continued on chuckling about their inability to find words to describe the different slants or variety of words to use a direct reference to slanted eyes and chinky features. Then they continued on with their song about how they 'wanted to go to China to see some vagina.'”

The Dusty Baker incident involved a Justice article in which the writer rhetorically alluded to a derogatory and hurtful word for blacks by writing that some comments of Cubs General Manager Dusty Baker may spawn from Bakers Ph. D in is something that starts with an N and rhymes with Tigger, the cheerful scamp who stole all of our hearts in the Winnie the Pooh series.

The Diversity Flyer incident involved a student hanging up parodies of flyers about diversity writing in them There are 6.5 million Muslim-Americans in the United States comprised of African-Americans, and last night they all did your mom. Twice. Did you know that?

All three incidents lead to significant outcries from many community members resulting in discussions, forums and administrative promises to focus more on diversity.
At the event, Fellman said that the most important task at Brandeis is to address the emotional issue behind the subtle racism that he said still exists. Fellman described the atmosphere as a sustained level of low-key racism.

Fellman brought up several instances of racism that took place in the past year and used them as examples of contradictions between values and equality at Brandeis. He challenged Brandeis students to recognize who we are and move past those stereotypes.

Although much has changed since Martin Luther King Jr.s day, Brandeis students need to continue to recognize that we have a ways to go, Fellman said.