Westminster College annually holds a week of celebrations to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s life and legacy, but this year’s hybrid approach to the celebration made the typical events look a little different than normal, according to the MLK Celebration event planners. This year’s events included a March and Rally within the community, a virtual Unity Gathering luncheon and a Day of Service.
Dr. Tamara Stevenson, chief diversity officer at Westminster and an organizer of the MLK Celebration, said the change to a remote modality was also because of logistics.
“Indoor spacing would have precluded social distancing and catering,” Stevenson said in an email. “Removing masks to eat would have been counterproductive to maintaining a reasonably safe environment for the event.”
This has been the second year the events were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, all events were held virtually, but this year the college took a hybrid approach to the celebration.
The Unity Gathering, which has traditionally been held as a luncheon, was moved to a remote modality for the second year in a row.
Jan Saeed, director of global peace and spirituality and an organizer of the gathering, said in an email, “This year, as we began planning, we started as an in-person [event] but felt the need to pivot as the cases of COVID-19 and the variants emerged.”
With the recent changes in the severity of the pandemic, organizers said they had to act quickly to plan a safe event that followed rapidly changing guidelines from both the Centers for Disease Control and Westminster.
Sophie Caligiuri, a senior philosophy major and a member of the MLK Celebration planning committee said, “I think the major motivating factor for me behind attending [the Unity Gathering] is that it is formatted in such a way to really exemplify Westminster’s commitment to fostering community both within and outside of our campus.”
The event featured guest speaker Dr. Oscar T. Moses, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, as well as student speakers and break-out rooms to foster conversation between attendees.
”Dr. Moses’s keynote address was incredibly powerful,” Caligiuri said. “It especially resonated with me. The way that he articulated Dr. King’s words and used them to demonstrate his own message, which emphasized community and consistency when pursuing justice, diversity, and equity, was so eloquent and thoughtful.”
The march and rally were held Jan 13, as opposed to the virtual march that took place via Zoom last year.
“We felt that the outdoor logistics of the event would mitigate concerns coupled with the campus mask mandate,” Stevenson said. “Even though masks are required indoors, rally and march attendees were especially responsive and responsible to have kept their masks on for the duration of the outdoor event.”
Overall, the hybrid modality of this year’s events did not seem to affect the success in meeting the moment while continuing to celebrate Dr. King, according to Caligiuri.
“I think that everything went very smoothly,” Caligiuri said. “Being committed to justice also means being knowledgeable about possible risks to our community, and I think that Westminster did everything they could to ensure that these events were both impactful and COVID safe.”
Stevenson said her “eternal hope” for Westminster’s MLK Celebration Week is that it remains timely, relevant and authentic in the celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy.
“[I hope] that we avoid engaging in the sanitized version of Dr. King,” Stevenson said. “That we consistently go beyond the popularized, common forms of acknowledgment and that we recognize the scholar that Dr. King was in his approach as a community activist, human and social justice advocate, and civil rights leader that he was.”