Kenyon’s annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on Jan. 21 featured a keynote address by Leslie M. Harris, professor of history at Northwestern University. Events began at 3 p.m. in Rosse Hall, and Monday’s class schedule was adjusted to allow students and faculty to attend.
Harris is a prominent scholar in the field of African American history, with research interests including pre-Civil War African American labor and social history, slavery in the U.S., and African American women’s, gender and sexuality history. Prior to joining Northwestern in 2016, Harris was a faculty member at Emory University, where she co-founded and co-directed the Transforming Community Project, an initiative that used history and dialogue to address diversity challenges in higher education. Her address at Kenyon was titled “Community is a Verb: Access to Equity in Higher Education” and raised questions of higher education’s responsibility to model and help create a more equitable society, and whether institutions are doing enough to handle the challenges and opportunities offered by diverse populations.
“Dr. Harris’ interest in community building is absolutely appropriate for any day of dialogue honoring the legacy of Dr. King,” said Professor of English Ted Mason, associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion and special advisor to the president. “Her thoughts will be especially apt for Kenyon, as we have been thinking about the ways in which a stronger community might be developed through our own collective conversations and initiatives.”
Harris’ book “Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies” will be published in February. Other books Harris has authored or co-edited include “In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626–1863,” “Slavery in New York,” “Slavery and Freedom in Savannah” and “Sexuality and Slavery: Reclaiming Intimate Histories in the Americas.” She earned her bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and her master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University.
In addition to Harris’ keynote address, the “Day of Dialogue” program also included remarks by President Sean Decatur, a performance by the Chamber Singers, and a panel of community members — Assistant Professor of Sociology Austin Johnson, sociology major Michaela Jenkins ’19, and Mason — who discussed topics raised in Harris’ address.
Prior to the afternoon program, Knox County community leaders gathered for the 16th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Breakfast, held in partnership with Mount Vernon Nazarene University, at 9 a.m. in Peirce Hall. Harris served as keynote speaker, focusing on the theme “Sisters in the Struggle: Pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement.”