Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Celebration

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Celebration
Remarks by President Denise Trauth
LBJ Student Center Ballroom
Tuesday, January 21, 2020

I remember the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated. This peace-filled man – strong, devoted to non-violence, charismatic, strategic – the leader we all thought would take us into a new era of civil rights, social justice, and equality.

I remember the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated. Dr. King was young – a man in his thirties when he died – who was building a campaign with millions of followers. A man with young children who barely understood their father’s calling. A man who at the age of 26 organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

I remember the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated -- the outrage, the tears, the sense of hopelessness that engulfed college students, the realization that a man the President of the United States had turned to for help was gone. But his legacy is not gone.

Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his message of activism through love and learning, and his call for us all to seek justice. We also honor members of our Bobcat family who are African American and Black, because it is your accomplishments and your journeys that are manifestations that although Dr. King may be gone, his dream is still with us.

You young people here with us tonight expand his legacy with your life, your voice, your work, and your growth. You are the embodiment of the dream.

This year’s theme is “Dream Together.” To truly Dream Together, we must be rooted in a culture that values and supports not only diversity, but inclusion, equity, and justice.

We know how valuable diversity is at Texas State – that it makes our community and our world stronger and enhances our learning environment. It prepares students for global citizenship, and enriches our institutional culture. But especially as we mark the life and work of Dr. King, we reach higher to achieve true inclusion.

Inclusion requires us to expand the dominate culture to welcome all people fully and unconditionally. So, forming a diverse body of students, faculty, and staff is not enough. 

We must do everything in our power to make each and every person feel welcome and at home in this community. That includes bringing marginalized communities to the space people with privilege have always occupied.

It’s inclusion that will move us forward, and make a real difference in the lives and experiences of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. My responsibility – not only as a fellow human, but as the leader of Texas State – is to make sure we work across all areas of the university to create this inclusive environment and to lead the hard work that our commitment to inclusion requires.

For many of you here tonight, asking you to take on hard work may not sound fair. 

You may have already made sacrifices to realize your dreams, and faced adversity just to be who you were born to be, and you have persisted against great odds. In the spirit of Dr. King, we owe it to ourselves and to each other to honestly assess our own beliefs, and stretch our capacity for love and acceptance. 

This vulnerability is the essential first step to building inclusion. It requires us to have the courage to recognize our own biases, and the humility to consider another person’s point of view. Inclusion also requires having the courage to examine the truth: The truth about our history as a nation; The truth about the ugliness of racism and hate, and to recognize that half a century after Dr. King’s assassination, racial hatred has endured and still motivates many Americans.

Inclusion means addressing the reality that many people – including some of our students, faculty, and staff – live under the weight of stereotypes and bigotry that are rooted in fear and ignorance. Our ability not only to accept the change brought by diversity, but to seek that change, is the true barometer of inclusiveness. 

The truth is, the vast majority of universities in this nation were created by white men, for white men. Texas State University admitted its first black students in 1963 – 56 years ago.

But here we are today, an incredibly diverse group of students, faculty, and staff – with many women in key positions – learning, working, and thriving on our campuses. 

This is a powerful tribute to Dr. King.

When a diverse group of people comes together, they bring with them not only their talents and achievements, but also their history and struggles. Inclusion requires that we respect one another’s humanity. It requires us to see that my story is not your story, and vice versa. It’s providing a caring, safe environment for those stories to be told, and for all voices to be heard. We won’t always agree, but we can create space to share ideas and recognize where those ideas might converge for the common good. 

How we talk to each other matters. Our success is reliant on a culture of respect, openness, and intellectual honesty regarding the ideas and opinions of others – even when we don’t agree or when we feel offended.

What does inclusion require from Texas State as an institution and a place of learning? It requires more than words – it requires action. That’s why we have worked hard to create initiatives aimed at building our capacity for inclusion. 

The position of Chief Diversity Officer is now a member of my President’s Cabinet to provide an even greater platform for leadership, expertise, and vision for diversity and inclusion at Texas State. We launched Bring It Up Bobcats, an opportunity to report bias incidents that are not criminal in nature yet are counter to our inclusive values. It enables the university to collect data to assess the campus climate. 

We are organizing more forums and events for celebrating diversity and promoting dialogue on issues that matter to our Bobcat family. We have developed a tool kit that will enhance our efforts to hire a more diverse faculty. We built a Free Speech website that describes our Constitutional right to express our beliefs. We published the Inclusion website to house updates, plans, and resources surrounding diversity and inclusion.

We’ve created a Texas State Diversity Calendar to raise awareness of the university’s many events that support inclusion. We launched the new Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program for faculty and staff that includes courses related to diversity, inclusion, multiculturism, ability, social justice and equality.

Those are just a few of the more than 60 initiatives listed in the Capacity Building Action Plan, which is published on the Inclusion Website. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but we have more work to do. And it will take all of us as, working and dreaming together, to build the inclusive Texas State all Bobcats deserve. These are difficult and unsettling times for our country and for all of us as Americans. And it will not get any easier as we move into the politics of the presidential election. 

As we feel the impact of the national discourse, let’s remember: Texas State University is our house – and there is no room for hate here. We will not tolerate white supremacy, bigotry or racism. I also remind you that civic engagement matters – that is a legacy of Dr. King. 

I encourage you to exercise your right to vote. Educate yourself on the elected officials you’re voting – or not – voting for. In my seventeen years as president, the most important thing I’ve learned about Texas State is that this community is home to extraordinary people. Our students are the reason this institution is here – to educate and graduate them to become leaders in their communities. I look forward to not only what we will dream together, but what we will accomplish together.

Let me end by thanking Destiny for introducing me, and Chris for his moving performance. Tonight’s event is made all the more special by those who are performing, and contributing their time and talents to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. It’s yet another reminder of the amazing, talented artists we have in our Bobcat family. 

I appreciate the work of Dr. Sherri Benn and the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion for organizing our university’s 36th celebration of Reverend Martin Luther King Junior. And, we are so fortunate to have Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Joanne Smith here to provide remarks in a few minutes. Thank you, Dr. Smith, for sharing your wisdom and experience with us. And thanks to all of you for being with us tonight.