Black activist speaks at Rutgers to celebrate MLK week
Rutgers' American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT), a group dedicated to promoting minority representation among Rutgers faculty, was one of many present at the second event of the third annual Dream Week. The event took place at the Busch Student Center at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
The event, titled “From Robeson to King,” was held to celebrate Paul Robeson, an alumnus of the Class of 1919 as well as a musician and political activist.
Keynoting the event was Opal Tometi, a social activist and co-creator of the Black Lives Matter movement. Tometi also serves as executive director of the Black-Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), according to an article in TIME magazine.
Tometi spoke about the long-lasting impact that slavery and Jim Crow laws have had on Black people, the modern problems that Black people face and the necessity to continue fighting against discriminatory treatment.
The events of Dream Week intend to promote racial issues and equality while celebrating famed civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Some students at the event held the view that Rutgers should work to raise the number of Black professors. One of those students was Juan Estrada, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. He said there should not be a disparity between the skin colors and races.
“I definitely think Rutgers should hire a more diverse staff. I think it would make minority students feel more comfortable with their professors," said Roshni Parikh, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
School of Arts and Sciences first-year Joshua Gole said he was drawn to the event due to its keynote speaker, Tometi.
“I was really interested when I learned that (Tometi) was one of the founding members of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Gole said.
Gole also said that Rutgers should hire more Black faculty and staff.
“I don’t really know the statistics, to be honest, but I think that employment should be fair for everyone. Rutgers isn’t hiring enough Black faculty, and it should hire more to have balance,” Gole said.
Despite statistics showing the relative lack of diversity in its staff, Rutgers claims to be a diverse environment, according to the school's website.
“For Rutgers University–New Brunswick, diversity is an everyday ingredient of university life and one of our greatest strengths,” according to the website.
The main purpose of the event was to commemorate Paul Robeson's legacy as a Rutgers alumnus and political activist. Robeson earned an academic scholarship to the University in 1915.
Robeson excelled in athletics at Rutgers as well, despite facing adversity via violence and racism from his teammates. Robeson won 15 varsity letters in three sports (baseball, basketball and track) and graduated as valedictorian of his class, according to an article by the University of Chicago.
But Robeson had issues with the government during the 1950s. During this time, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) accused Robeson of being a communist. These accusations nearly ruined his career. Despite these accusations, Robeson was able to rekindle his career until his death in 1976.
Robeson’s class, the Class of 1919, celebrates its centennial this year. The AAUP-AFT hopes that the occasion may be able to spur the University to diversify its faculty.
Despite having one of the most diverse student bodies in the country, faculty diversity has fallen over the past 20 years at the University, according to the AAUP-AFT.
While Rutgers is celebrating King's legacy by holding Dream Week, 4.5 percent of Rutgers faculty are African- American, despite New Jersey’s population being approximately 13 percent Black, according to the AAUP-AFT.
“Not only do students of color benefit from being taught by people who come from similar backgrounds, but also a diverse faculty enriches the educational experience of all students,” according to the AAUP-AFT.