This article has been edited for clarity.
Since 1986, the University of Oregon has housed a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. in the lobby of the Erb Memorial Union. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream…”
However, this hasn’t always been the quote that filled the entrance of the EMU and there was talk of the quote changing again. The quote is not going to change, but that decision was not made without some hard thought by the Student Union Board.
Laurie Woodward, the Director of the Student Union said that when she approached the union with the question of if they wanted to keep the current MLK quote or supplement a new one, one of the students asked, “Does the MLK quote represent us today?”
Sophomore architecture student Mia Ashley — who wasn’t on the board — understands this reasoning.
“Diversity is so much more than race. Obviously race still plays a big role. But there are people who identify differently in gender and all sorts of things like that,” Ashley said.
This isn’t the first time students have begun to question if quote hanging above our heads in the EMU is representative of the student body, according to Adell McMillan’s book “A Common Ground.” Until 1985, the Dean of Administrative Emeritus, William C. Jones, occupied the space with his quote. It read:
“-Established by an enlightened state for service and inspiration
-Reverent before its heritage of principle and institution
-Eager in its adventure with idea and deed
-Guardian of the noble in man’s aspiration for the humane society
-Leader in the quest for the good life for all men.”
The quote began to bother students in the 70s, as it spoke of the aspiration and good life of “men,” which was being used as a dated term for mankind, and was therefore not inclusive. It took two separate attempts to finally convince the EMU Board to remove the quote fully after an effort to slightly alter the wording was shut down by the Jones himself.
Though he was not alive when the decision was made to remove the quote, Jones’ was approached with the idea in 1978. He responded by saying “He was unwilling to ‘give hostage to ignorance,” McMillan wrote in his book.
Woodward says she has no idea if the quote will change again in the near future, but she’s merely excited that important discussions like this are being held on campus again. “What words are is important,” she says, “but what’s more important is that people think about what the words should be.”
If it were to happen, this would be a feat that would bring in the entire University of Oregon student population to some extent, which is a big reason she thinks the Student Union wasn’t ready to take it on. Though the quote wasn’t up in time for Martin Luther King Jr. day, Woodward says it is promised to be up in the next couple of weeks. “It’s just one more step in becoming a building.”