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Journalism School hosts student-led walkout in honor of MLK Day on Tuesday

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UNC Hussman students listen during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day walk-out/sit-out on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

Students and faculty participated in a student-led walk-out/sit-out on Tuesday as part of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Action.

Dean Raul Reis said the day can have different purposes for different participants, including service and discussion. 

“One of the most important aspects of Dr. King’s legacy is the fact that action and lived experience speak louder than words,” he said.

The school wanted a lot of student participation in the event — and achieved that — will dozens of students and staff filling in the Freedom Forum Conference Center in Carroll Hall. 

Reis said the event was originally planned to be held outside to allow other students on campus to see the walk-out. But, due to the rain, staff members stood on the stairs of the building and invited participants inside instead.

The walk-out was held at 12:10 p.m., purposefully at a common class change, with the hope that it would catch the attention of students walking between classes, according to an email from the school.

Reis suggested that people take a second to think about King’s legacy and how they can reflect or engage in challenging themselves and their personal views. 

“We don’t want this to be a day that you go about your business,” he said. “We want them to emerge with a lot of questions.

Jade Wilson, a graduate student at the Hussman School and member of the Dean's Student Advisory Council, spoke at the event. They asked questions to the audience, initiating a group discussion with students sharing experiences from their classes at UNC.

“How do we hold space for multiple truths? How do we hold space for the identities that everyone holds and go about it respectful way,?” Wilson asked. 

They suggested participants consider how they are following MLK’s legacy and what that looks like as a journalist. Wilson said these conversations can carry on to everyday life.

“Especially in a field where we are told to be unbiased, where we are told we need to have independence from what you’re reporting, but how can you do that when you’re reporting on your community?” Wilson said. 

This is the first time this event has been held and Reis said the school hopes it will be the start of a new tradition.  

Deb Aikat, associate professor at the journalism school, said the school “made history” with the Day of Action. 

"I've been here 27 years and I have never seen anything like this," he said. "I think it was nice that everybody gathered."

Reis said UNC Hussman is trying to build as a community and become more inclusive.

“We want more awareness that the work that we do in this arena of diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s never done, we can always do better,” Reis said.

Reis closed his remarks by saying that the school honors King by not only remembering him and repeating his words, but also by joining together to celebrate his example of courageous action in the face of injustice and oppression.  

The Day of Action also included a forum with Franklin McCain Jr., son of civil rights activist Franklin McCain Sr. The forum was held at 6:00 pm on Tuesday night in the Freedom Forum Conference Center.

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