There are moments in time, thresholds in history, in our individual experiences that stay with us, moments when we cannot forget where we were, who we were with and what we were doing. For me, I recall vivid memories of the 1960s: President Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis address and, then, his assassination.
The same is true for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, known to later generations as his “I Have a Dream” speech. The powerful words and inimitable intonation still, unequivocally, signal justice and change.
Dr. King’s speech stands as a truly historic rhetorical achievement, but the significance of his work and words cannot be confined to one speech, or even an annual national holiday. He also spoke often and eloquently on the importance of education for all, a deep commitment that I share and to which I have devoted my entire professional career at, mostly, urban universities.
“The function of education,” Dr. King said, “is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
True learning is not about memorizing facts, or standardized test performance. It is about inspiring, engaging and empowering students to be independent learners and leaders who can reason, question, continue to learn and act.
Dr. King’s vision of working to achieve civic harmony and educational equity lives on both throughout our region and certainly on the Indiana University Northwest campus, where we are proud to be Indiana University’s most diverse campus.
Our commitment to diversity and inclusion took shape early, when, in 1969, the IU Northwest Black Caucus was formed, led by student Gerry Samuel and faculty advisor Dr. F C Richardson.
Through the student group’s bold and formative actions, they urged the campus to engage with and reflect on Dr. Kings’ words, “to think critically” and inclusively by establishing a Black Studies program.
This year, IU Northwest proudly celebrates the 50th anniversary of the African American and African Diaspora program, one of the first programs of its kind established in the United States.
Over the years, the trailblazing IU Northwest program has evolved, continuing to engage the history of African Americans and Africans, while challenging prevailing paradigms affecting race and inclusion.
It was the civil right pioneers, like Dr. King, and even IU Northwest student Gerry Samuel, who helped lay the foundation for our campus’s diverse and inclusive academic environment, ensuring that students of color, like Guetano Givens of Gary, have an opportunity to earn a college degree.
Guetano’s six-year academic road was not easy. A mix of unemployment, family deaths and mounting debt certainly impeded his path to a Bachelor’s degree, but not his determination. With the help of many at IU Northwest, he juggled his courses, work and family responsibilities, while remaining committed to his dream.
Guetano’s IU Northwest dream was realized when he graduated in May 2018, proudly earning a bachelor’s degree in general studies.
While the number of students of color, like Guetano, earning their IU degree has increased over the years, we recognize there remains much more to be done to achieve equity in access to educational excellence and degree completion, to ensure that all Northwest Indiana’s citizens have access to the learning, growth and credentials that they deserve and need.
Recent Census figures, for example, reveal that more than 105,000 Northwest Indiana residents have attended some college, but, for a variety of reasons, have not completed their degrees. Among these adult learners, 30 to 40 percent are underrepresented people of color.
Think about our future and visualize our community if even half of those individuals completed their degrees. Imagine the personal pride and the collective social and economic progress we all would experience.
I agree with Dr. King: educational equity and inclusion are central to move our communities forward.
The City of Gary’s, and all of Northwest Indiana’s, economic prosperity, quality of life and future success depend on our intellectual and human capital. Everyone is entitled to Dr. King’s dream of “true education”.