The importance of racial diversity in higher education should not be understated. The lack of racial diversity on a college campus can lead to skewed prioritization and underrepresentation while an ethnically diverse campus that encourages cross-race socialization and frequent discussion of racial issues can result in self-confidence, positive interaction between students, and overall college satisfaction. (Gonzalez, 2012) With the topic of racial diversity, reflecting upon historical contexts can provide integral insight on issues of race within a collegiate setting.
In the Fall 1960 semester at the University of Utah, a lecture series sponsored by the ASUU Assemblies and Convocations committee and the Extension Division was entering its third season. The goal of this series was to give “students and faculty a chance to hear the views of some of the world’s great people on some timely and critical problems.” (1961 Utonian, p. 203) Several notable speakers were scheduled to speak throughout the 1960-61 school year. Looking back, it is notable to point out the various speakers that the University of Utah was able to get. From politicians to columnists to anthropologists, the student government undoubtedly succeeded in obtaining an eclectic roster of guest lecturers. What is more interesting, however, is how the University’s media covered the appearances of certain speakers. The University of Utah was a considerably less diverse institution in 1960 and with that, it is important to look at how the school’s media outlets might have prioritized certain speakers depending on their race.
The Daily Utah Chronicle first covered the lecture series on October 3, 1960, by primarily giving attention to the speaker who was going to start off the lecture series, Al Capp. The article gave background information on Capp’s world-renowned work as a cartoon artist. The article concluded by listing some of the other lecturers who would come to speak later that year. One of the speakers who was mentioned was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The following day on October 4, 1960, The Chronicle followed up with a similarly structured article.
This is where the question of prioritization comes in. Is it right to rate the value of certain individuals’ contributions to society? From a 2019 lens, one would probably argue that King had a far greater and important impact on American culture than Al Capp did. Even for the time, King had already made some monumental strides in the Civil Rights Movement. Did America in 1960 not value the contributions of the civil-rights activist? The more likely answer is that the predominantly white University of Utah could not foresee how important King was as an individual.
Eventually, King was given his own article once it came close to the time of his appearance. The January 30, 1961, issue of The Chronicle described King with just reverence and respect when giving readers background information on the speaker who would soon visit their school. Another article was written in The Chronicle about King on the day of his lecture on January 31, 1961, this time offering specific details on what the topic of his lecture was going to be on. The article quoted the subject of his lecture as “The Future of Integration.” (Daily Utah Chronicle, 1961)
Should there have been more attention given to the appearance of Martin Luther King Jr. in those initial Chronicle articles? Or was it sufficient to give him his exposure during the time of his lecture? Given the aforementioned goal of the lecture series, more coverage should have been given to King’s appearance considering that the Civil Rights Movement was a central part of arguably the most “critical problem” that America had been facing at the time. This problem is further highlighted in the fact that King’s arrival in Salt Lake City for the event was delayed an hour due to a bomb threat. (House, 2012) Surely none of the other guest lecturers faced a detriment like that. And surely The Chronicle could not have foreseen such a thing happening to King, but it should have made clear after the fact of who would have been the most important speaker of that lecture series.
Rahul Barkley is a fourth-year student at the University of Utah. He is a double major in strategic communication and film and media arts.
“Dogpatch Ambassador to Speak,” Daily Utah Chronicle, October 3, 1960, 1.
“Capp’s Lecture Kicks Off ’60 Guest Speaker Series,” Daily Utah Chronicle, October 4, 1960, 1.
Elaine Krans, “Martin Luther King Sets Campus Speech,” Daily Utah Chronicle, January 30, 1961, 1.
“Southern Leader Speaks of Race Problem Tonight,” Daily Utah Chronicle, January 31, 1961, 1.
The University of Utah, Utonian (Salt Lake City, Utah: 1961), 203.
Joe Bauman, “King’s visits to Utah are chronicled,” Deseret News, January 19, 2009.
House, Dawn. “Civil rights speaker questions Utah’s History with Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” The Salt Lake Tribune, January 6, 2012.
Clarke, Chris Gonzalez. “Rethinking Research on the Impact of Racial Diversity in Higher Education,” Review of Higher Education 36, no. 1 (December 2012).