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How much have things changed since MLK gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech?

Joe Podelco / Photo editor

“What happens to a dream deferred?”

Langston Hughes poetically coined this phrase during the Harlem Renaissance and Martin Luther King Jr. painted the picture for the rest of the world when he delivered a fairly seasoned speech that changed the tide of the Civil Rights Movement. Although he had delivered most of his speeches on multiple occasions, it became about timing and media that would package the words we are still talking about and holding onto today.

I always wonder if the manner in which the citizens of the United States treat each other has really changed. Is it really any different living life on a college campus 50-plus years later? I am not convinced. I have been here long enough to realize there is still much work to do. What is the dream for the university? If the dream is not realized in these institutions of higher learning, will it occur in our statehouses, boardrooms and policy formations?

The ivory tower of the university is organized by silo after silo. Social Darwinism at its best is demonstrated in the hunt for tenure, power, publishing and money. So how can there be a collaborative space?  

In conversations with students, you often hear undergraduate and graduate students complaining that they hate to read. Then why are they at an institution of higher learning? Well, obviously to get a job and not use this opportunity to pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake nor become a better person.

The broken social framework of our society juxtaposed with soft capitalism has taken over the university. Colleges in the 1960s and 1970s produced the current thinkers and doers of these past few decades, but I am not sure the dream exists today. Students complain about learning concepts and welcome their own sense of entitlement instead of yearning for the wisdom of sage professors and lecturers who have developed their craft.

The craft and art of teaching has been exchanged like our struggling currency for publishing and producing data that is out of touch with the people.

You can still find those great professors of old, but instead of grand lectures in the classroom, you have to go to office hours to gain the insight that used to be found in the four walls that inspired genius.  

The economic disparity of college campuses is widening. The tuition of educating future leaders, thinkers and inventors is rising. This will marginalize those who have not. This increases the disparity between class, race and gender. For all the forward movements that have happened in the past 70 years, we might be doomed to go backwards.  

I still believe there is hope. I believe a group of people can change the world. I believe words are so powerful that when spoken, hearts and minds change. I believe dreams and imagination can be developed in adults and children so we can work together to ensure we don’t repeat historical mistakes.  

And hopefully, there can be even more people who become like-minded so they do not see an international student as a foreigner, but as their potential friend and brother. Faculty, students and staff might one day envision programs that foster diversity and inclusion not as an obligation but as an adventure to better understand themselves.  

And perhaps one day, when a woman earns the same amount of money as a man for the same job, folks will not say it was because of the way she looks or affirmative action, but it is her ability and experience. I still have many of the same dreams that King had, but just like my student loans I will eventually have to pay back, they are deferred. 

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