Students upset over WSC’s lack of official MLK Day observation

An Online Exclusive


Ellie Thuy Tran

On Martin Luther King Day, WSC students were invited to write down their dreams on an MLK poster.

Tarik Urvina, Reporter

Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday meaning most schools and businesses are closed. As part of the Nebraska State College System (NSCS), however, Wayne State College did not officially observe MLK day. Instead of having a day off on Jan. 21, students received an extra day off over winter break.

The NSCS, which includes Wayne State, Chadron State, and Peru State, have regular classes on holidays such as Columbus, Veteran’s and Martin Luther King Jr Day. All of those holidays are pushed and saved for over winter break so the colleges can be closed between Christmas and New Year’s.

“We [WSC] don’t make the decisions about the days that we have off, in terms of holidays,” said Jay Collier, director of college relations. “Those are made by folks in Lincoln, who sit down with the union and negotiate which days are going to be holidays which we observe on that day, and which days are going to be holidays which we use over the Christmas break.”

The “folks in Lincoln” Collier is referring to are the members of the NSCS. A statement released by the NSCS Director of External Relations and Communication, Judi Yorges, explained that holding class on Martin Luther King Jr. Day does not indicate of lack of respect or honor for the holiday on the part of NSCS.

“There are a multitude of ways to honor Martin Luther King Jr.,” Yorges said. “The NSCS has chosen to honor him by remaining open and holding classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and offering programming and educational opportunities to recognize the importance of the day.”

The NSCS believes that students are likely to have a greater involvement in activities and events if they remain on campus. The NSCS board policy 4001 sets guidelines for a single academic calendar to be used by all three state colleges in Nebraska.

“The council of presidents review the proposed academic calendar and make recommendations to the board at the spring board of trustees meeting” Yorges said.

Wayne State College’s Black Student Association (BSA), however, is not content with the decision of the NSCS. Members would like the college to show more appreciation toward King’s legacy on this day.

“I think it is unfair to Dr. King, as like everything that he did, I don’t think it was right for us to sit through class,” vice president of the BSA Devyn Davis said. “It was not even saying that I wanted the day off just to have a free day, but it would have been nice to have a day of service or more events on campus.”

Tshiyamba Ngeleka, president of the BSA agreed with Davis and even thought holding class was disrespectful toward the legacy of Dr. King.

“He did so much for us, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Martin Luther King,” Ngeleka said. “Having that day and just going on about our day like any other regular day is a disservice.”

As a result of the frustration by some students about a perceived lack of respect for King’s legacy on the part of WSC administration, one student attempted to speak with President Marysz Rames. The student felt her office assistant laughed at him when he asked her if he could have a meeting with the president regarding the issue. Feeling disrespected, the student filmed a subsequent encounter, which was later posted on his Twitter account along with a series of tweets explaining why he was not happy that WSC did not value the significance of the day or African American culture in general.

Collier reached out to the student to clarify the misunderstanding and talk about the situation that escalated.

“He thought that he was being laughed at, he thought that he wasn’t being listened to,” Collier said. “We talked through the situation and he has since said that he has misunderstood the situation”

Collier understands the student’s frustration, but encourages any student who is experiences problems with WSC to engage with the college first instead of involving social media.

“The student has his heart on the right place,” Collier said. “He was very upset. I could see the conflict for him – that MLK day was a day when we hold classes and we did not hold classes on the day of President Bush’s funeral.”

Collier has since invited the student to work with the president and a committee to look at Martin Luther King Jr. Day in order to find a way for the college to mirror the legacy of Dr. King’s service.

This year the BSA made a step toward changing the culture of WSC by organizing an event in the student center where they encouraged other students to write down their dreams and put them on a large poster.

The BSA and the student who initially brought the issue to staff will meet with President Rames within the following weeks to come up with ideas for honoring Dr. King’s legacy on campus.