TCU students silently walked across the BLUU Ballroom as words like “fag", "nigger" and "retard” were displayed on a pair of projection screens.
The words were part of an exercise to kick off the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, a national event that was run by the TCU Center for Community Involvement and Service Learning and the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
The MLK service day gave TCU students an opportunity to “make it a day on, not a day off.” Around 200 students participated in serving Fort Worth’s Como community on MLK Day, said Liz Schmitt, a senior social work major and one of the event’s student leaders.
As the words were revealed, students moved towards opposite walls to indicate whether they felt comfortable or uncomfortable with a word. No one was allowed to stand in the middle.
Quinton Phillips, a guest speaker, helped lead the activity. He said he hoped students would look into themselves and consider their mindsets.
“Some of us may be able to use words and we can just become so comfortable with what we are doing that we never stop to even think about what the ramifications of those words are, or even how we possibly feel ourselves about them,” he said.
Vanessa Norris, a senior biology major and a student leader with Alpha Kappa Alpha, said the activity helped the student volunteers understand other people’s perspectives and experiences better.
“I definitely think [the activity] makes [volunteering] more meaningful because sometimes when you are from a different background than the population you are serving you kind of have this preconceived idea … you don’t really have an understanding of the culture you are going into,” she said.
Bryan Tony, a first-year economics major and student volunteer, said the exercise provided a good reflection on what MLK’s message was.
“The activity made a lot of people get out of their comfort zone in a way, and that is something that a lot of people need to be able [to] do and is a lot of what MLK was about … trying to eventually get people comfortable with diversity and the African American race,” he said.
The volunteers worked at the Como Community Center and Lake Como Community of Hope. They helped clean up, organized and played bingo with senior residents.
Some volunteers ran a car wash while others assisted with a non-profit organization called Opening Doors For Women In Need.
Schmitt emphasized how important it is for TCU students to maintain awareness and take a step away from campus to get involved.
“I think a lot of students at TCU have probably never been to the Como community or a lot of the communities around TCU," she said. "We kind of live in a little bubble here, so I think that any opportunity that students have to get out and meet people that live around them is a worthwhile experience."