Remarks at Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium
January 17, 2011
Please join me in thanking Dr. Monts and his staff, as well as the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, and the Martin Luther King Committee for planning this Symposium.
They are responsible for organizing a series of wonderful events, including bringing us this morning’s keynote speaker, Shirley Sherrod.
I want to share a conversation I had recently with one of our students.
Every month I hold a fireside chat, and shortly before the holiday break I met with a group of students who, as always, had lots of interesting questions and opinions.
Matt Griffith was one of those students. He is a member of the Men’s Glee Club – a member of its executive board, in fact – and he asked about being a leader and working to build diversity.
Matt is African-American, and he would like to see the Glee Club have a more diverse membership. And so we talked about U-M and this university’s willingness to take risks with its continual pursuit of an open, welcoming campus.
I hope Matt is here today, because I want everyone to hear how proud I am of his personal commitment. Our university is known nationally for holding open its doors to people of all backgrounds and cultures, and he is continuing that important legacy. It is the very reason I was attracted to Michigan more than eight years ago, and it is the very reason we pause each year to celebrate the work of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Building diversity is the work of many people – we the people. “We the people” – it’s the theme of this year’s Symposium, and it is the essence of our university. Because an inclusive culture is our greatest strength as a community. Because we, the people, make the University of Michigan a place unlike any other.
We the people made a pledge 40 years ago, that gay students, faculty and staff at Michigan would be welcomed and supported. We were the first university in the country to create an office to serve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, and this year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Spectrum Center.
As part of that celebration, we will be proud to host the largest student-led LGBT conference in the nation next month. We, the people.
We, the people of Michigan, made a commitment in 1971 to better serve students of color. It was a fractious time on campus, and in our country, but we held firm to our word.
Today that pledge takes the form of the William Monroe Trotter Cultural Center and the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, two campus institutions that serve students of color and promote diversity at Michigan. This year, we are pleased to celebrate their 40th anniversary.
And today, as a University community, we are marking the 25th year of celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. King. The University of Michigan continues to explore the powerful actions of Reverend King, and those of others, with this Symposium and hundreds of lectures, films, performances and group discussions.
Listen to Dr. King’s words: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
He is talking about us, our community, we the people. We must remain vigilant. We must remain a community of people who step forward to make a difference, like Matt Griffith with the Glee Club. All must be heard, from the music of a glee club, to the concerns of gay students and the voices of students of color.
Diversity and openness will always be Michigan values, and we will continually challenge ourselves to do more and do better. This is the fabric of Michigan. As I told Matt when we talked about determination, the University is never going to say, “Well, let’s take that off our list.”
Our gains are important, and they are necessary. Creating and supporting a diverse campus strengthens our academic excellence, and academic excellence will always be the backbone of the University of Michigan.
We, the people, will make certain of that.