Some students at the University of Oregon (UO) recently argued for the removal of a Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr. quote from a wall in the university’s student union, saying the quote was not inclusive of non-racial minorities. Ultimately, they decided to leave the quote.
The debate over the quote developed out of conversations regarding the future of the 66-year-old Erb Memorial Union (EMU) at UO, which is currently undergoing renovations. Laurie Woodward, director of the student union, asked the Student Union Board to decide on whether to keep the MLK quote in the EMU lobby or replace it with a new one. Students questioned whether the quote was representative of today’s world.
“Diversity is so much more than race,” Mia Ashley, a sophomore at UO, told the Daily Emerald. “Obviously race still plays a big role, but there are people who identify differently, in gender and all sorts of things like that.”
The MLK quote in question is perhaps his most famous: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Some UO students argued that MLK’s mention of skin color limits diversity to race.
MLK’s words have been housed in the lobby of the EMU since 1986, when they replaced a quote that was viewed as sexist by students at the time. Taken from UO Dean of Administrative Emeritus William C. Jones, the quote ended, “Guardian of the noble in man’s aspiration for the humane society/Leader in the quest for the good life for all men.”
Students first appealed for this quote’s removal in the 1970s, contending that “man” was an outdated and sexist term to represent all of humankind.
Although the Student Union Board decided to retain the MLK quote in the EMU lobby, Woodward says that could change in the future.
“What words are is important,” she said. “But what’s more important is that people think about what the words should be.”