Finlandia, Tech host talk on civil rights and equality

HOUGHTON – Faculty from Finlandia University and Michigan Technological University and members of the community came together in a panel discussion to explore issues that faced past and current generations. Titled “Where have we been? Where are we going?” the panel discussed social justice and equality in America from the 1960s to the present day.

“Tonight’s presentation is especially exciting because we have decided to take a look back and go back to the beginning when we forged this relationship with our colleagues at Finlandia University … This was a wonderful opportunity to go back again, reconnect and have some wonderful conversations collectively taking a look at where we are now,” said Shezwae Fleming, director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Michigan Tech.

Fleming invited the panel members to share personal recollections of the events being discussed or how the events shaped them even if they weren’t around. The panel consisted of Dr. Bill Knoblauch, assistant professor of history at Finlandia, Dr. Mark Lounibos, assistant professor of English at Finlandia, Mary Jane Hatton, assistant professor of management at Finlandia, community member Dr. Ray Majkrzak, former engineer and current physician, and Dr. Willie Melton, retired professor from Michigan Tech.

Each segment of the discussion focused on events from a specific decade, starting with the 1960s, which was introduced with a video clip. The audience was also invited to join the discussion.

“I wasn’t born but it shaped my parents’ experiences and the way they shaped me quite profoundly,” Lounibos shared after viewing the clip including the Kennedy assassination.

While some panel members shared personal experiences about the events, the discussion frequently returned to the present day and how those events have affected today’s society.

“We’ve come so far in so many areas and we have slid back so far,” Hatton said. “My parents literally would be sobbing today if they could see some of the legislation that has been reversed against women.”

The conversation frequently focused on where we are today compared to when certain iconic civil rights events took place. Unfortunately, the panel members did not see a great difference between where we were then and where we are now, and questioned why there was not more reaction from the public.

“This shocks me, but it doesn’t surprise me in this climate that we’re going back to segregation, that we’re going back on women’s rights,” Hatton said.

However, not all panelists agreed that the public is not active enough.

“For those of you who think that all of a sudden people started the civil rights movement on a given day at a given time – no, that was a historical pattern that started before WWII using various institutional forms to build up. Most people look at a particular event and they try to mark it but there were actions long before that and qualifiers that all built up,” Melton said. “So I see the building. When you talk about backlash I see the internet, I see politicians trying to duck and hide, and they won’t be able to… Sure there’s a dormant period but I think underneath that is still a very strong dynamic and we can just say where will the spark show up?”

The panel discussion was one of many programs celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Tonight, events honoring Dr. King will continue with a showing of “King: A Filmed Record” at 7 p.m. in Michigan Tech’s Fisher Hall 135. The event is free and open to the public.