Hoping to Dream Out Loud
In January, Elia Wright ’10 was invited to give the Keynote address as part of MLK Week at Muhlenberg. As the conversation regarding campus diversity is an ongoing process, we’d like to revisit Elia’s words. An excerpt of her address appears below.
I was invited to talk as the keynote address in the kickoff to MLK Week about my experience at Muhlenberg, and as I prepared, I realized several things about events like these. We talk about the Civil Rights Movement like we reached the pinnacle of the Black Mountain and we will never take another stand. We talk about how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, but we don’t contextualize his dream or have dreams of our own. So I’m not going to quote Dr. King’s speeches or refer to events that happened “back in the day.” That’s not my expertise, and at this moment, that’s not what the Muhlenberg community needs. We can read history. We can analyze texts. But we can’t do that with currently developing stories in our world, in our communities, on our campuses, because they aren’t complete. The push for a different Muhlenberg climate, more inclusive of diversity is going on right now, and there’s no way to move forward but to openly share our experiences and work to facilitate change. Through that, we honor Dr. King and all those other nameless individuals by utilizing the voice we have been given to continue freeing ourselves and our communities from the chains of stereotypes, oppression and tradition.
My time at Muhlenberg was different and interesting; a true learning experience. Academically, I couldn’t have asked for more. I was prepared for graduate school and I have no complaints as far as the content and quality of my science classes. However, I found challenges socially at Muhlenberg as a black woman. I was very engaged on campus in student life and positions of leadership, but sometimes I could feel very isolated, especially when many of the people who looked like me were the College’s service employees, not students. Through all this and even after graduation, a question that was often posed to me was, “Where are the other people like you? How can we make this a more vibrantly diverse community?” Now, you can’t fix a system if you don’t talk to the people who are part of the system, and so I’m glad that Muhlenberg acknowledges the growth yet to be attained when it comes to diversity and has engaged the community in a discussion. But “we” aren’t hiding. Where are we? We’re silently hoping, praying, and working for an opportunity to do something different in an environment that isn’t set up for us to fail. We’re hoping to dream out loud and not be pushed aside or looked over.
So it’s not just about asking where we are. For any minority seriously pursuing a college education, that person has already decided that the pros of having a degree outweigh the cons of existing in a place where you will always be seen as “other.” As a student and campus leader, I was often brought into discussions on diversity. Being asked and expected to solve a problem that has plagued academia since its very foundation as a very young adult, when people three times your age have been banging their heads against the wall for decades, is still not enough to discourage us from pursuing education because deep down, we want to be part of the solution, and even though we know the burden is heavier for us, it’s for a greater cause and a greater good. Four years of college is training for a life filled with “teachable moments” and unfair burdens in a much more toxic, far less forgiving environment we call the real world.
We’re here. We’re available. We’re a capable, bright, beautiful people. We’ve stepped up to the plate. The question is, will all of Muhlenberg step up and meet us there? Where are you going to be in the process? Thank you, and God bless.