WSU leader urges people to stand up for equity on MLK holiday

Closeup of a statue of Martin Luther King Junior.
The Stone of Hope at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

As Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs become enmeshed in larger culture wars, it’s more important now than ever before to stand up for ideals of racial justice and equal representation, according to Allen Sutton, executive director for equity education at Washington State University.

“DEI principles are shifting minds and hearts, and that’s why they’re under attack,” Sutton said. “The solution isn’t to stop fighting. It’s to reinforce our commitment to equity and inclusion and not allow people or organizations or politicians to bully us from our commitment to these issues.”

Allen C. Sutton

Sutton’s office leads equity and inclusion efforts across the university, offering classes, certificates, and events. One of the events is WSU’s Martin Luther King Program, the annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy.

This year the program includes a keynote address by Marc Arsell Robinson, an assistant professor at California State University, San Bernardino, and author of the recently published book, “Washington State Rising: Black Power on Campus in the Pacific Northwest.” The author, who received his doctoral degree from WSU, explores the activism and impacts of Black Student Union organizations, including the group’s role in establishing a Black Studies Program at WSU.

Robinson’s book highlights one of the key messages of WSU’s Office of Outreach and Education, Sutton said: “Anyone, anywhere can effect positive cultural change.”

Sutton said the MLK observance this year will have special significance because of challenges to the racial equity movement nationwide.

Rising opposition has made the work of offices like his more difficult. And though he credits WSU for its unwavering support of diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education, he hasn’t been immune to pushback.

Still, considering the abuse suffered by civil rights pioneers, “Surely I can deal with derogatory direct messages on social media and email to move their vision of a truly equitable country forward,” he said.

Added Sutton, “It doesn’t have to be large actions that shift the conversation, but a consistent effort of standing up for the right things.”

Celebration details

Visit for events celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the National Day of Racial Healing.

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