Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, Public Health

Martin Luther King speaking out, censorship and the dreaded loss

April 8, 2008

The outcome:

(April 6, 2008) I wrote the rest of this piece Saturday, but the game Saturday night changed everything. I suspect that there are a lot of people in Chapel Hill this morning (Sunday) who are stunned, wondering what happened last night when we were slammed by Kansas. My spinning class Sunday morning had the feeling of people in shock. But the fact is that this is a great team, as the women’s team is, and it’s time to move on. Next year, we all will start with fresh hopes and dreams. Meanwhile, let’s be proud of how far these teams came!


The weekend:

As I drove to my office this afternoon, I was captivated by the sheer beauty of Chapel Hill at the height of spring. After several days of rain, the redbuds and crepe myrtles are magnificent in their intense pinks and purples. (I am torn between working on slides and buying the dwarf crepe myrtle I want.) Franklin Street reverberated with a sense of expectancy. Everywhere, people in light blue were coming out of the local shops with Final Four shirts, the portable bathrooms are ready, and it seems as if everyone just wants the games to begin. Soon enough I am in my office working but determined to be home to watch the game.

Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination:

There’s been a lot of press this week about Dr. King’s assassination. When I read his speeches and think about his life, I am awed by his vision and also by how young he was when he died. What a loss. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 40 years since that awful day. I was a sophomore at the University of Michigan, and the campus was devastated. As my baby boomer colleagues remember, it was a time of great ferment. Another war was raging, one that also was unpopular. Martin Luther King’s assassination catapulted nearby Detroit into riots but raised the consciousness of many students about the gap between our ivory towers and the country at large. Two years later, in my senior year, thousands of students from around the campus (including me) boycotted classes for eight days under the banner of the Black Action Movement (BAM) to lobby university president Fleming for greater diversity. The Michigan Daily reported that “the strike came to an end when negotiations between BAM and the administration resulted in a commitment made by the University to work toward 10 percent black student enrollment by 1973. BAM and the administration also agreed to additional BAM demands, all designed to create a better atmosphere for minority students.

Curious about how the BAM, in which I’d been active, was viewed by history, I found myself pouring over archives available via Google. I was intrigued by what then President Angell had said about the university in 1879 (Cantor, N, Introduction in Gurin et al., Defending Diversity. University of Michigan Press, 2004).

“Good learning is always catholic and generous. It welcomes the humblest votary of science and bids him kindle his lamp freely at the common shrine. It frowns on caste and bigotry. It spurns the artificial distinctions of conventional society. It greets all comers whose intellectual gifts entitle them to admission to the goodly fellowship of cultivated minds. It is essentially democratic in the best sense of that term….. Let not a misapplication of the laissez-faire doctrine in political economy, which has its proper place, lead us to the fatal mistake of building up a pedantic aristocracy.”
–James B. Angell, president of the University of Michigan, June 25, 1879, Commencement address

So, you’re wondering, am I advocating that our students boycott classes or storm the President’s office? Unequivocally, I am not. I am affirming my hope that we are bound by a commitment to achieve Martin Luther King’s vision, and that we will be outspoken, when being outspoken can make a positive difference. Even today, in our School, data show that we have room to improve not only the proportion of minorities who comprise our students, faculty and staff but in the appropriate mix of content in courses and the welcoming atmosphere we create in our school, campus and classes. Let’s all work harder at this!

Who would believe it?

Last Saturday’s New York Times article by Robert Pear reported that “Johns Hopkins University said Friday that it had programmed its computers to ignore the word ‘abortion’ in searches of a large, publicly financed database of information on reproductive health after federal officials raised questions about two articles in the database. The dean of the Public Health School lifted the restrictions after learning of them.” I’m really proud of Michael Klag, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health who stopped this practice when he learned about it. Klag said that the school is “dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge and not its restriction.” I could not agree more! (FYI – Google News Search for articles related to this story)

Happy Monday. Best, Barbara


kevin cain


Thank you for drawing attention to the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. I was just down the road from you at the University of Iowa at the time. We were becoming increasingly active in our opposition to the Viet Nam war. It has taken me longer to appreciate the work of Dr. King. It's worth noting that at that time Dr. King was involved in increasingly controversial tactics in opposition to the war. And his work in Memphis had evolved to the call for a city-wide work stoppage in support of sanitation workers who were paid poverty level wages to work any hours city management determined with no health benefits. His eloquence on matters of social justice is memorable, but his vision included taking action for change.

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.