Out of all the students, faculty and staff at the University of Montana, only six students entered a Martin Luther King Jr. Day writing contest. And all of them were white.
The writing contest was sponsored by the University and asked students to write about how they are “implementing Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy here at the University of Montana.” When the University posted an announcement Monday, Jan. 20 with the four all-white winners of the contest on Facebook, over 1,000 comments flooded the post. Many commenters questioned why no one students of color entered the contest and how that could reflect poorly on the University of Montana’s atmosphere.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Committee, made up of members of the Black Student Union, the head of the African-American studies program Tobin Miller-Shearer, as well as other community members, developed the idea of the essay contest. According to Miller-Shearer, he wanted the contest to encourage everyone, not just members of the Black Student Union, to further King’s message.
“The intention was to challenge the entire UM community to take King’s actual legacy seriously, rather than to encourage volunteerism as has been done in the past,” Miller-Shearer said in an email.