Educator Jane Elliott headlines host of events celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.

WCU students, faculty and staff participate in the annual MLK Day March on Jan. 15, which was one of several events taking place in January to celebrate the birthday of the slain civil rights hero. Photo by WCU student photographer Lindsay Kappius.

Western Carolina University will celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a variety of events throughout January, highlighted by its annual MLK speaker.

Jane Elliott, renowned teacher, lecturer and diversity trainer, will be the 2018 MLK speaker at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 29, at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. Elliott is the creator of “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes.”

As a third-grade teacher in an all-white, rural town in Iowa, Elliott struggled with a way to explain the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. to her students. As a means to help them process his death and educate them about discrimination, Elliott created an exercise in which her students were treated differently based on the color of their eyes.

Elliott has spent the past 50 years educating people across the world and has appeared on “60 Minutes,” “The Tonight Show,” “Oprah” and several other media outlets. She has presented at more than 350 colleges and universities. In addition to her numerous awards and accolades, Elliott also has been criticized, discriminated against, threatened and challenged as a result of her work, but she has remained committed to helping people better understand the impact of discrimination.

The event is free and open to the public. WCU faculty/instructors are encouraged to invite their students to attend. The presentation will last until approximately 8 p.m., with the last 15 minutes devoted to a question-and-answer session.

WCU’s Department of Intercultural Affairs will hold a Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity Education session titled “I’m Not A Racist” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18, in the A.K. Hinds University Center’s Raleigh Room. Intercultural Affairs Director Dana Patterson will facilitate the interactive session.

The WCU Fine Arts Museum at the Bardo Arts Center opened an exhibition Tuesday, Jan. 16, by Willie Cole titled “Soles and Boards from Highpoint Editions.” Cole draws from his own African-American heritage and celebrates African art and culture while confronting viewers with the painful history of slavery in America, utilizing imagery of clothing irons and ironing boards. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

WCU’s Center for Service Learning will hold a MLK Day of Service volunteer event for a community project on Saturday, Jan. 20. For more information, contact associate director Jennifer Cooper at 828-227-7184 or

Earlier in January, students, faculty and staff engaged in several MLK events. On Monday, Jan. 15, the annual MLK Unity March took place, followed by a reception at the A.K. Hinds University Center’s Illusions Club. It was sponsored by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and WCU’s Intercultural Affairs department.

On Wednesday, Jan. 17, “Unity, Not Uniformity” was held in the UC’s Grandroom. The performance-based event allowed for creative expression of King’s legacy of cooperation, brotherhood, peace and respect. It was sponsored by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., WCU’s Inspirational Gospel Choir, Black Student Union, Sexuality and Gender Alliance, the NAACP at WCU, Latino Appreciation Student Organization and WCU’s Department of Intercultural Affairs.