Posted January 30, 2015 by Missy Burgess 

Reflections on Selma

Movie ReviewAfter my previous attempt to see the film was prevented by a sold-out show, I took the opportunity this past weekend to see Selma, the biographical film of one portion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. One of the benefits/consequences of being a student affairs professional when watching movies like this is all the ways my brain begins to spin on topics such as student development, social justice, activism, and their application in today’s society. These are a few things that really stood out to me:

  • Dr. King was only 38 years old when he was assassinated, and he had been a leader in the Civil Rights Movement for 13 years.

    This fact, shared at the very end of the movie—almost in the credits—blew me away. It was one piece of Dr. King’s legacy that I don’t recall hearing about, at least not with my current perspectives. After doing a little more reading, I learned that Dr. King had received his bachelor’s degree, graduated from seminary, and had earned a doctorate by the time he was 25 years old.

    While I understand that this accelerated pace is by far the exception rather than the rule, it caused me to think about the following question: What are we doing to help develop students to have a similar level of impact that Dr. King had—starting at 25 years old, shortly after many of those students are graduating and leaving our campuses? Did anyone in Dr. King’s educational path have a significant impact on the path he took into his future? Do we truly realize what impact an individual student we advise/mentor/supervise may have post-graduation? How do we help them realize such an impact? Admittedly, as I quickly approach 38 years of age myself, Dr. King’s legacy also makes me think about what I have done in my first 38 years. What legacy will I leave? It is humbling, no doubt.
  • What are the parallels between Selma and the Ferguson response?
     A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts and uncertainty regarding the Ferguson ruling and the nationwide response to it. As I watched the movie, I reflected on some of the similarities, wondering if the events surrounding the Ferguson ruling will eventually be looked back in the way we are viewing Selma today. As many of the die-ins and other protests have come to our campuses, we have clearly not resorted to the violence and physical force of the law enforcement in Selma, but do our campus policies and rules—such as where and when such protests can take place, whether they must be registered, etc.—have similar chilling effects to the actions of the past? What roadblocks do we have in our own unions?
  • What is the impact of social media?
    How different would the Civil Rights Movement and the events of Selma have been if they were immediately posted to Facebook? Would leaders have made the same comments if they were quoted on Twitter? How many people would have answered Dr. King’s call if social media had been available? What challenges might it have also presented?

At I-LEAD® each summer, we listen to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as an example of creating a shared vision, and one of the final reflection questions participating students think about is what Dr. King would think of the way things are in our world today. I anticipate this question will generate much more discussion this year than in years past, and I myself wonder what he would think. We often talk about how far things have come, yet it still seems they have a long way to go.

Missy Burgess

Missy Burgess is the Associate Director for Student Involvement at University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh.

Missy supervises student leadership and involvement staff in the Reeve Memorial Union, including volunteer service, student organizations and emerging programs, Reeve Union Board, leadership, diversity and inclusion, and greek life. She holds a bachelor’s from Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville, a master’s from Kansas State University, and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of North Dakota.


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