MLK quote returns the EMU lobby as planned
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” quote has returned to the EMU. The quote’s removal was the subject of considerable national debate in January, but a university official says it was always going to return. The university points to miscommunication and a lack of fact checking for the media firestorm.
Earlier this term, the Emerald released an article about the EMU Board briefly addressing whether the MLK quote should be replaced with another quote that included more diverse representation. The idea that this quote wasn’t sufficiently diverse spread like wildfire, with over a dozen national media outlets picking it up.
Laura McGinnis is a UO communications specialist. When media outlets started contacting the university, she worked with Laurie Woodward, the EMU director, and a source cited in the original MLK article published by the Emerald; however, it wasn’t until a few pieces had already been published that any outside media attempted to contact the university.
“We saw it being picked up by so many news outlets and we never received a phone call,” McGinnis said. “Nobody from the university received a phone call until Jesse Watter’s team contacted Laurie. And that was several days in after they had already written their own piece, not calling anybody.” Watters is a journalist for Fox News.
McGinnis said the university’s number one priority throughout all of this was maintaining the safety of the student population, specifically the one student who was cited in the story and received the majority of the criticism online.
Before taking her position at the UO, McGinnis worked in suicide prevention. She helped social media sites like Twitter and Facebook keep their privacy policies tight and in a condition that could combat cyber bullying.
“I absolutely saw [bullying] as a risk that could happen to this student. It would not take much for this individual to be the victim of hate and vitriol,” said McGinnis. She stressed that the university was absolutely there and willing to provide any resources for the student receiving hate as well as for any writers that experienced backlash.
University employees said the strangest part was that these attacks seemed to come out of left field. The original conversation within the board hadn’t even begun as a discussion to change the MLK quote.
“It was a discussion that the board had. The quote went back up and everyone was happy about the quote going back up,” Woodward said. “I showed them two different displays, and it was about a choice between the two different displays, and the conversation broadened.”
The board felt the issue was resolved before media outlets focused on the discussion, ignoring the decision to keep the quote up in the EMU.
McGinnis blamed a lack of fact checking for the whole situation.
“There’s a reason that we care about ethics. There’s a reason that we care about investigation, that we study what we do and we want to make it right. From a journalistic perspective, integrity means a lot and it’s only as good as what you’re putting out,” said McGinnis. “It was a little discomforting from that perspective, but especially when you looked at what outlets were choosing to highlight – and that was a quote attributed to a student that had simply expressed an opinion.”
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