MLK holiday sparks reflection on past, current diversity at Tech

Jan. 16, 2012 marked the twenty-sixth celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday observance. Nearly 44 years after Dr. King’s assassination, all fifty states in the U.S. and more than 100 countries around the are recognizing the birthday of one of America’s eminent historical figures. We celebrate his birthday but it was his tragic, senseless death that sparked a moral outrage that finally moved America to address the continuing injustices perpetrated upon African Americans and poor people in our nation. While we as a nation have made many strides over the past four decades with eliminating racial discrimination in public accommodations, voting rights and economic disparities, there is still much work to be done.

In some ways, Tech’s history over the past 50 years is intertwined with the chaotic times that gave rise to Dr. King’s national prominence.  In 1956, Dr. King achieved national attention for his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Just five years later, in 1961, Tech became the first public university in the Deep South to achieve desegregation without a court order.  In the same year, in May 1961, racial violence and terrorism plagued our nation as the Freedom Riders, organized by the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) tested the Supreme Court decision to outlaw segregation in interstate commerce.

The City of Atlanta and the leadership of Tech had the benefit of seeing the violence that erupted in the South over racial desegregation and decided that Tech was not going to allow violence to mark its campus. This decision set an example of how forward-thinking people would work to accommodate the seismic shift that was taking place in America around issues of race. Tech’s integration began with the matriculation of Mr. Lawrence Williams, Mr. Ralph Long, and Mr. Ford Greene in the fall of 1961. No one suggests that those early days were easy for the first three black students, as this had never been done before.  But the character of then Tech President Edwin D. Harrison and Associate Dean of Students shone through as they vowed that Tech would not be besieged by violence and that from that day forward, race and ethnicity would not stand in way of qualified students receiving a Tech education.

Today, 50 years later, Tech is a national leader in the production of African American, Hispanic and women engineers.  We are one of the most racially, ethnically and culturally diverse public universities in America. Our history with accepting and encouraging diversity is our strength. Outstanding faculty and staff, graduate and undergraduate students want to come to Tech as they recognize that Tech is an inclusive community, where we embrace and value the diversity found among us.

Today, in the competitive landscape for the most talented students, faculty and staff, Tech appeals to broad cross-sections of people because we are diverse and inclusive.

With the creation of Tech’s Vice President for Institute Diversity position, the leadership of Tech has charted a course build upon strategies that strengthen our diversity goals and outcomes.  Tech’s current leadership has codified its commitment to diversity and inclusion in our Strategic Plan: “We aspire to be an Institute that pursues excellence and embraces and leverage diversity in all of its forms. In the years ahead, we must continue to enhance a culture of collegiality; close collaboration, global perspective, intercultural sensitivity and respect, and thoughtful interaction amend a divides community of scholars that include all of urn students, faculty, staff and alumni.”

Our 2012 MLK Celebration included a first ever Institute MLK Lecture.  Our goal is to use the lecture to help our community come together and to share ideas about how we can leverage our talents and energy to propel Tech toward its destiny as a leading 21st century technological university.  Our diversity will be one of our strengths that will help to get us there.