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Martin Luther King Jr. month kicks off with ‘Agents of Change’

UNH honored “Agents of Change” on Thursday, Feb. 8 at its second Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK)  event of the month. The 27th annual MLK Tribute Memorial Union Building (MUB) wall chronicled UNH’s history of social change and progress, beginning in 1916 and continuing to this day.

Major events are captured in “wildcatgrams,” which are posters that resemble Instagram posts and include a short description of each milestone. These milestones include the first African-American and woman to graduate from UNH with a baccalaureate degree, Elizabeth Ann Virgil, whose portrait can be seen at the Dimond Library.

Also honored is the 1991 establishment of the university’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) as “a safe space to share experiences related to being at a predominantly white university.” The final snapshot on the wall is a blank one that asks current UNH students how they are affecting change.

The university welcomed four UNH alumni “agents of change” to speak about their experiences at UNH and social changes they are currently making through their careers today: David Watters, Selina Taylor, AliciaAlec Dufield and Alex Loughran-Lamothe.

Founder of the African-American studies minor at UNH and co-director of the Black New England Conference, David Watters, has been at UNH for 39 years. He spoke of the extreme social progress UNH has made during his time at the university as well as the progress we have yet to make, highlighting the fact that the Hamilton Smith building is just now becoming handicap accessible.

“The struggle is not over,” Watters said.

Selina Taylor held an executive position in the Black Student Union for three years and received the UNH social justice award twice, among other accomplishments. Today, she works for the university as an academic/student support assistant for the Office of First-Year Programs, and coordinator for the Liberty Mutual-Sponsored Diversity Network Program. Taylor grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and when she came to UNH she felt “thrusted into social justice work, being a black woman on a predominantly white campus.” She spoke of how important it was to be involved in the community and understand power in privilege in order to advocate for others.

“Being an agent of change is simply being present [as a black woman on a white campus],” Taylor said. “We need to pay more attention to what is going on around us…we need to wake up.”

A common theme covered by all four agents of change was recognizing privilege at a predominantly white university that is not conscious of its whiteness. When Watters came to UNH in 1978, there were only three black faculty members.

“UNH taught me to have difficult conversations, and to listen rather than talk,” AliciaAlec Dufield, who now works with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, said.

Following the opening of the MUB wall, attendees were invited to participate in a “hot chocolate reception and good conversation.”

The “Wildcat Agents of Change” wall can be viewed on the third floor of the MUB next to the information desk.

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