University honors MLK Jr. this week

Alexis Whitaker

The University’s week-long lecture series commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s society-altering work culminated in the keynote speech given by Dr. Andrea Smith on Jan. 25. Smith’s lecture, entitled “Sexual Violence and the American Indian Genocide,” focused on the oft-ignored connections between sexual violence and colonial violence.

The week of events kicked off on Tuesday, when the university graciously welcomed Somali revolutionary, Ms. Asha Hagi Elmi Amin. Ms. Elmi, who is nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her accomplishments, spoke to a room filled to capacity, as she delivered her general message to the Villanova community about the struggles women face in Somalia.

Ms. Elmi set the tone by creating a distinction between the male and female perspective as a citizen of Somalia, in which women are often ignored and subject to abuse.

Ms. Elmi points out that being a woman is the only concrete identity that Somali women possess, which, according to the male population, is insignificant.

Ms. Elmi’s accomplishments include founding Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC), a network for Somali women that grants them their own clan known as the Sixth Clan. Her efforts to attain peace and empowerment among women in Somalia rendered her world recognition and nominations by UNESCO for the coveted Nobel Peace Prize.

Smith, a member of the Cherokee nation, is an assistant pofessor of American culture and women’s studies at the University of Michigan. She is co-founder of “Incite! Women of Color Against Violence” and has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by UNESCO. She has also worked directly with Native American women who have been victims of rape, domestic abuse and sexual violence.

“The logic of sexual violence and of colonial violence are the same,” Smith said. “Native bodies become inherently rapable because they are ‘dirty’ and by extension, their lands become invadable.”

To her, the solution to the problem is not to work with existing institutions, such as the criminal justice system, but rather to reframe the question. The legacy of MLK Jr. is to focus on diversity and inclusion, not simply justice. Native American women, though, want to ask, “What exactly is it we are being included in?”

However, Smith acknowledged how indebted she was to MLK Jr.’s example of non-violence. She cited an example of protest from her own life where she learned how non-violence actually can instigate change. Besides exacting change, non-violence resists the temptation to divide a community, which can ultimately hurt all members if they need to unite against a common enemy.

Another of the week’s lectures that illustrated the close nexus between the minimization of one specific culture and the resulting physical backlash (albeit in the form of worse schools) was “Knowing History, Pursuing Justice.” Sandra Dungee Glenn and Dana King from the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, and Dr. Frank Pryor and Dr. Crystal Lucky from the University faculty, presented the arguments behind the recent mandate for all Philadelphia high schools to require an Africana history course for students to graduate. An achievement gap of 28 points between blacks and whites on standardized tests (meaning that whites did 28 percent better than their black counterparts on average) prompted this initiative.

“The history course is intended to help African-American children form a positive perception of themselves and to dispel lowered teacher expectations,” Glenn said.

Both Pryor and Lucky, who teach classes in black politics and black literature respectively, used their own experiences with Villanova students to bolster this argument. From their CATS reports, they have found that even white students who take classes focusing on blacks find that it changed the way they viewed American history and themselves.

Thursday consisted of a day-long series of smaller events, collectively entitled “The Freedom School.”

A total of 21 lectures included: “The Definition of Terrorism,” hosted by Dr. Joseph Betz; and “A Conversation about Affirmative Action and Higher Education: Villanova University as a Case in Point,” hosted by Dr. Mark Doorley.