Valparaiso University offered nearly 30 focus sessions during its Monday, Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. The focus sessions took place

in two different time frames during the afternoon — from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m. and from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. — in various locations across campus.

Each focus session — small breakouts led by faculty, students, staff, and guests — built upon the theme for the weeklong celebration, Building Bridges: Dream. Dialogue. Service.

Bridging Backgrounds: Creating Classrooms That Respect Our Differences

Allison Schuette, associate professor of English, led a panel discussion and encouraged audience participation in a session that centered on student experiences in the classroom.

Schuette began by asking a pair of questions: What does “welcome” mean to you? And when you “belong,” how do you know you belong? Audience members were asked to break into small groups and answer these questions among themselves.

Later, the five student panelists shared their thoughts about being students who represent different minority groups.

“I do feel the burden of representation,” said Ather Ahmed, a junior international service major who is Muslim and whose parents immigrated to the United States from India. “But I don’t necessarily want to carry that burden. But I also realize that I offer a different perspective.”

One of the panelists, Christina Crawley, a sophomore social work major from Gary, Ind., talked about the stereotypes that are brought when she tells people where she was raised.

“It bothers me that people have these ideas and aren’t willing to get to know me but just assume these things,” Crawley said.

Schuette and the panelists spoke about stepping out of their “comfort zones,” with the panelists pointing out that they often find themselves doing as such. Schuette took it a step further; asking if the entire campus community can do the same.

“How can we make Valpo a more welcoming place or help people feel like they belong?” Schuette said. “How can we all find the courage to be uncomfortable?”

Building Bridges Through Community Conversations

MLK Celebration steering committee co-directors Zarah Nwabara, director of admission at Valparaiso University Law School, and Stacy Hoult-Saros, associate professor of Spanish, along with other participants from the 2013 MLK Community Conversations series, hosted a wrap-up of the conversations that took place at various venues around Valparaiso.

This was the second year the community conversations were held. The conversations are designed for facilitated dialogue about core values, faith and service, and to learn about the common values that exist across a variety of faith traditions.

To introduce the conversation, Hoult-Saros began with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” that summarizes the need for the MLK Community Conversation series: “[Agape] is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to sacrifice in the interest of mutuality. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community.”

This year’s series focused on nine different quotes and attendees had to pick a quote that struck them and identify the source of the quote. In the end, many attendees were surprised how different faith traditions had similar beliefs.

The Brauer Museum of Art has more than 3,500 items in the permanent collection. A number of works were pulled from the collection that represent MLK’s vision and connect to the idea of building bridges for justice, peace, and interfaith and intercultural understanding. Led by John Ruff, associate professor of English and director of Valpo CORE, different artists and pieces were discussed.

“MLK was a master with the written word, but images can also be powerful,” Ruff said.

Pieces included photographs and paintings from several artists. A series of paintings by a Chinese Christian artist illustrated different stories from the Bible, including the Good Samaritan and Jesus healing a blind man. A series of Farm Security Agency images from the 1930s, which were sponsored by the United States government to give a human face to the Great Depression, depicted the promise and reality of America.

A final piece presented by Ruff, titled “Krucifiction,” stirred emotions. This triptych painting depicted three different scenes, including a man holding a peace sign and members of the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross with Jesus nailed to it. This painting, which was painted by a Valpo professor of art in the 1960s, has a long and brutal history. Ruff led a discussion about why such a gory image should continue to be displayed in the Brauer Museum of Art. He also read a letter from the artist, which noted that the aim of the painting was to illustrate “when you do it to others, you do it to Jesus.”