Students still striving for Civil Rights
As Marguerite “Peggy” Fiero Rietz ’66 studied the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” just months after its publication, she could not have known that students would still be studying it today. During Cornell’s Martin Luther King week events earlier this year, the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was on display on the Orange Carpet for students to reflect and respond to. Students also joined the Rev. Catherine Quehl-Engel ’89 and the Rev. Richard Thomas, professor emeritus of history, in a vigil honoring the lives and work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Just as the inspirational words of the Rev. King are still present on campus today, so too is the drive to make sure that every American has access to the voting booth. Cole Library has served as a satellite voting location for state and federal elections since 2006, providing voting access to students and helping to teach students the importance of fulfilling their civic duty to vote.
Politics Professor Hans Hassell, Cornell’s resident voting specialist, has led multiple research projects revolving around voter turnout, and has helped students research their passions. In Hassell’s Political Activism class during Block 4 this year, Shaun Room ’14 and Ariam Kiflemariam ’15 explored civil rights in the classroom as a means of bolstering their impact outside of the classroom.
While Room researched the relationship between illegal immigration and political behavior in minority citizens, Kiflemariam utilized her research paper to shed some light on the potential consequences of the Supreme Court’s Voter Rights Act decision that allowed states to change voting law more easily. Kiflemariam said her interest in voting laws began around the 2012 election. “As the infamous voter-ID laws were being publicized near election time, I grew infuriated with the way restrictive election laws disenfranchised significant portions of people, especially minorities,” she said. Kiflemariam has also worked to preserve civil rights through voter registration, having volunteered with the Organizing for America campaign, where she encouraged voting through grassroots efforts.