Although campus was closed Monday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Memorial Union Ballroom was packed with students, staff, faculty and community members who gathered to celebrate both King’s vision, and to honor some campus community members whose life work King would have appreciated.
The annual Peace Breakfast included an address by OSU President Ed Ray, who spoke of the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, whose life work included not only the overthrowing of apartheid, but a reconciliation process to heal a wounded nation.
“(Mandela) bet heavily that he could appeal to the better angels in each of his countrymen to bring healing after decades of bitter, astoundingly violent conflict,” Ray said. “That process was extraordinary and essential to the future of his country. Mandela understood those around him well enough to lead exceptional change in South Africa. Every transformational figure needs many allies, many hands, and many voices to amplify his or her message. And they need to be able to harness the capacity of that collective energy to effect monumental change.”
Ray also addressed recent criticism by students of the lack of diversity on campus.
“Here on campus we are challenged, as we should be, when our students unite their voices to bear witness on our failure to advance in equal measure the presence and persistence to graduation and career success of all groups in our community, particularly African American and Native American students and colleagues,” Ray said. “We were moved by our students’ message offered in the Black Beavers video. Their message is clear and very profound. We acknowledge the importance and passion in the student video as well as the university’s need to continue to grow the diversity of Oregon State’s enrollment and the academic success and engagement of students.”
Keynote speaker Walidah Imarisha teaches Women, Gender and Sexualities Studies at OSU, as well as in the Portland State Black Studies Department and Southern New Hampshire University’s English Department. She is a teacher, a poet, an organizer and an activist. Her talk focused on the last three years of Dr. King’s life, including his dedication to poverty, income inequality and opposition to the Vietnam War.
The 2014 Phyllis S. Lee Award was presented to Loren Chavarria, a Spanish instructor at OSU who has been teaching here for 17 years. Her nominators say Chavarria is particularly committed to supporting those who are underserved, such as Latino and Latino-Heritage students, first-generation students, female students and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. She employs innovative and engaging teaching methods to make language education more accessible and topically relevant.
Additionally she has volunteered with the local farmworker’s union, PCUN, and is a board member of Casa Latinos Unidos de Benton County, in addition to being the new associate director for the Center for Latino/a Studies and Engagement at OSU.
Two OSU community members were presented with the Frances Dancy Hooks Award. Octaviano Merecias-Cuevas, faculty in OSU Extension Service, was honored for his outstanding commitment to building bridges in the Oregon State University community. Tony Vogt, Instructor in the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, was named for his dedication to social change, sustainability and the peace movement.
Merecias has been taking the 4-H Tech Wizard youth mentoring model that was born out of Washington County to 115 counties, 21 states, four Native American reservations and three military bases. From this initiative, more than 12,000 participants from diverse backgrounds have been able to work with their mentors in projects related to Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics.
His work extends beyond Oregon to his home of Oaxaca, Mexico where he is working with others to set up a non-profit to help young indigenous women better access services, tools and training for community development.
Vogt’s range of class offerings are wide and expand across Philosophy, Sociology, Ethnic Studies, and Peace Studies—his classes address bioregionalism, environmental values, the ethics of diversity, Native American philosophies, sustaining rural tribal communities, immigrant workers, identity and social change, the Occupy movement, and poverty.
In 2013, he co-founded the Anarres Project for Alternative Futures here at Oregon State University. The Anarres Project is a connection of activists and scholars from the arts, humanities, social and natural sciences who bring life the ideas of the work of speculative science fiction author, Ursula K. LeGuin, with the themes of gender, racial, and sexual justice, inclusion of indigenous cultures, ecological sustainability, alternatives to war and cooperative economic arrangements.
In addition to the presentations, there were performances by the a cappella group Outspoken and OSU poet Anderson DuBoise III.