The annual Martin Luther King Jr. design seminar held each Independent Activities Period at MIT offers the 120 students taking it the opportunity to open their minds to diversity and to creatively express their feelings over an intense four-week period.
"Students enjoy that they can come to class and partake in discussions that would normally be avoided in an effort to maintain some amount of political correctness," said senior Ryan Richardson, who is taking the course for the second time this year. "We discuss everything from the civil rights movement to racial stereotyping and biases prominent in the media today."
This is the seventh year for the seminar, which is led by Tobie Weiner, undergraduate administrator in the Department of Political Science. Each year it becomes more popular. "People are telling people about it," Weiner said.
Over the course of the month, students prepare artistic and political installations that will be displayed in Lobby 10. The course, which started Jan. 8, meets five days a week from 3 to 5 p.m. and runs through Feb. 2. The installation goes up on Feb. 5, and the projects are entirely student driven, said Weiner. "I don't help them. I let them figure out what to do," she said.
Through discussion groups, readings and guest speakers, the students in the class delve into issues of race and equality they might not explore throughout the year, said Weiner. Together, they decide on a project that reflects the work they have done.
Past projects have included work in the Cambridge Public Schools, educating the children about King and the civil rights movement, race and race relations. Students also organized a Boston Martin Luther King Dream Dinner as a fundraiser to contribute to the MLK memorial fund in Washington, D.C. Another group from a past course created a DVD with MIT faculty and administrators, as well as alumni, who spoke about "the changing face of MIT in terms of diversity," Weiner said.
Many students come back year after year.
Senior Lisa Witmer is taking the course for the second time. "I decided to take the course because it was recommended to me by a friend who raved about the deep level of discussion on topics such as race and current civil rights issues in America," Witmer said. "In these discussions many students contribute their own personal anecdotes about prejudices they have experienced firsthand, which is eye-opening for many students who may have never experienced a similar situation. Students come away with a new perspective on these issues, or at the very least learn to respect another person's point of view."
Last IAP Witmer helped to design a bus installation in Lobby 10. "We chose to make the focus of the installation a bus in order to commemorate Rosa Parks and her contributions to the beginnings of the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama," Witmer said. "My group designed the exterior of the bus with recent newspaper articles about race-related crimes and injustices to serve as a reminder to people that the civil rights movement did not end decades ago, but rather is an issue that Americans are still dealing with today."
Richardson also contributed to the final installation last year in Lobby 10. For him, the course is an eye-opener. "All things considered, MLK offers students the opportunity to interact with other students across racial and cultural lines," he said. "It's real and unpretentious, and allows you to meet people from different living groups often defined by race and/or culture lines."
The installation will be on display from Feb. 5 through 13, the week before MIT's annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast on Feb. 16. For more information on the breakfast, please see web.mit.edu/mlking/www/event_index.html.