In these hurried times, it has come to be abbreviated: MLK Day.
But shortening the name of a holiday isn’t really the problem–rather, it’s what could be called an unspoken national assumption that just one day could ever be enough to study the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But Tina Pierce, a visiting assistant professor of Black Studies and Women’s Studies, is among those with a solution. It’s a new class called “Defying the Distance: Toward Solidarity with the Disinherited.”
The class carries the same name as this year’s MLK celebration on campus, which lasts way more than just one day, and is part of a wider effort to incorporate King’s impact across many academic disciplines. “Defying the Distance,” is a one-credit weekly course, and it’s a huge success. The Friday afternoon class is filled to capacity, and each week, a few extra students drop in just because they’re interested.
[custom-field name=”aside” cssclass=”right-aside”]As part of her goal to study King’s work from different angles, Pierce has reached out to programs and departments across campus to recruit instructors. Mark Orten, the director of religious life, taught a session about religious influences and civic engagement. Gladys Mitchell-Walthour, an assistant professor of political science, led a class on race and the Black Movement in Brazil. And Stafford Berry Jr., an assistant professor of dance and Black Studies, signed on to teach “Move for the Movement.”
“Education should be hands-on and interactive; practicing and doing theory,” Pierce says. So this April, the class will travel to Washington, D.C., to visit the new King monument, meet with Denison alumni, and engage in a service-learning opportunity.
The course also was able to utilize a Mellon Foundation grant that transformed paper records of Denison’s history—which were for the most part tucked away in the college’s archives—into digital assets that everyone could access.
“This is a win-win-win situation,” says Pierce. “The class allows for more educational time with students and the opportunity to critically evaluate individuals, Denison, and the nation, with regard to King’s philosophy–and from there, to expand on it.”