Union students unify around MLK’s message

Dr. Gretchel Hathaway, Union College's chief diversity officer, speaks at the MLK Jr. event at the college.
Dr. Gretchel Hathaway, Union College's chief diversity officer, speaks at the MLK Jr. event at the college.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

Scores of Union College students and faculty on Monday marched across campus in unity and solidarity, sharing a message of equality and anti-racism in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“It’s still important to fight for equality for everyone,” said Union senior Marianne Peña. “Everyone should be treated the same.” 

Peña – a Chinese major and history minor on a pre-med track – said she thinks the most important part of King’s legacy was his focus on non-violent protest and the power of responding to violence with peace.

“No matter how difficult things are, you should never resort to violence,” she said. 

She walked across campus carrying a sign emblazoned with another of King’s core lessons: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

Student organizers of the college’s annual Unity March said the goal of the event was to amplify King’s eternal messages of equality, non-violent protest, empathy for others and economic fairness. The goal was to give the campus a reason to “keep unity in mind.”

“Everybody has their own struggle,” said Union student Richard Boakye, who helped organize Monday’s rally. “You looking at someone and judging them is not beneficial to making this a unified place.” 

Gathering at Schaffer Library to start the march, over 100 students were joined by faculty, community clergy, college administrators and local middle school and high school students. Shadi Stanley, a 12-year-old Mont Pleasant Middle School student, said he was glad he came out for the march, even with temperatures well below freezing. Stanley said King was one of the most important civil rights activists in history and that he showed people how to persist through life’s challenges. 

“The world will never be perfect no matter who you are,” Stanley said. 

Union students carried handmade signs highlighting their aims. “It’s never too late to fight injustice.” “Black Lives Matter.” “Break the System.” 

Deidre Hill-Butler, a Union sociology professor, and Bonnie Cramer, Union’s director of Hillel and a Jewish spiritual leader, walked side by side during the march. They said it is important to carry forward King’s legacy by actively combating racism. They said it is not enough to “not be racist,” but rather people should actively seek to dismantle the institutional norms and practices throughout society that continue to perpetuate racist outcomes in education, criminal justice, the workplace and other settings.

“We (white people) helped to create this, and we have to help un-create this,” Cramer said of the nation’s deepest challenges.

After the march, the group gathered at Nott Memorial to share in reflections. Leaders from each of the campus’ different student faith groups demonstrated how King’s message echoes across all faith traditions with moments of reflection. 

The campus Protestant Ministry thanked God “for the astonishing variety of races and cultures in this world” created in God’s image. A pair of Jewish students called on others to “recognize our solidarity with the stranger, outcast, downtrodden, abused, and deprived.” 

A Catholic student asked that he and others become an instrument of God’s peace: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

And a student from the Muslim Student Association told the gathered students and faculty that Islam is synonymous with peace – quite literally.

“What I identify as my faith is just the word peace,” she said. “One at a time, we can build a community of peace.”

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