The University of Rhode Island’s 18th annual Diversity Week is focused on defining the responsibility that government has to its citizens. From Sept. 29 to Oct. 3, the two principle topics on the Multicultural Center’s schedule will be the 50th anniversary of the “Freedom Summer” civil rights project and the growing concern of cyber surveillance by the U.S. government.
Freedom Summer was a 1964 campaign in which around 1400 students from predominantly-white colleges in the north traveled to Mississippi and attempted to register as many African-American voters as possible. Participants also set up “freedom schools” as alternates to underfunded African-American schools and formed the multiethnic Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Having lived in Mississippi the first 17 years of his life, Multicultural Center Director Melvin Wade was inspired to gather together participants in the project and conduct interviews with as many as possible. In this way, a record can be preserved of the 10-week project Wade says inspired the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“It is an opportunity to talk with people who actually participated in that historic movement,” Wade said. “This is the time when the students of that generation established a legacy that students of subsequent generations will be challenged to match.”
Wade also plans to establish a network between the Freedom Summer veterans so they can keep in touch about their civil rights work since the project. “They have actually pursued the legacy of Freedom Summer over the years,” he said. “They have continued to work on the inspiration that was provided by Freedom Summer and the 10 weeks that many of them stayed in African-American homes.”
The interviewing session will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 29, and will run concurrently with a series of lectures and a film screening about Freedom Summer in the Multicultural Center’s Hardge Forum.
Tying into this year’s Honors Colloquium, Diversity Week is devoting much of Friday’s schedule to the contemporary issues regarding cyber surveillance. Wade compared the revelations of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) intrusive information gathering to the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover.
“One of the most infamous chapters in civil rights history had to do with government invading the privacy of members of the civil rights movement because they were advocates of progressive social change,” Wade said. “I think diversity is sometimes seen in very narrow ways. We try to extend that horizon in the Multicultural Center and we think that diverse people in the United States will be more severely impacted by invasions of privacy than others.”
The Multicultural Center has invited Dr. David Murakami Wood, who teaches a class on surveillance studies at Queen’s University in Ontario, to give an international perspective on the issue of government surveillance. “There are times where our politics lean us in a certain direction that keeps us from having a fresh perspective on surveillance,” Wade said.
Wood’s lecture, “Understanding the Evolution of the Surveillance State of the 21st Century,” and three other lectures on cyber surveillance will be held in the Multicultural Center’s Hardge Forum starting at 10 a.m. on Oct. 3.
Speaking about Diversity Week’s importance to URI, Wade described the Multicultural Center’s overall goal for students. “URI Diversity Week seeks to prepare the campus community for living, working and interacting with each other in the 21st century,” he said. “This is the era in the United States in which people of color are projected to surpass the white majority in population. The time to prepare for [this world] is now.”
“That’s why we always try to bring to the attention of the campus the cutting-edge of the 21st century.”