"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."—Martin Luther King Jr.

In light of recent events and national news coverage, as president of Tarleton State University, I would like to inform the Empire-Tribune readership and our community of the steps the university has taken to create a learning opportunity out of an unfortunate and distasteful event.

On Mon., Jan. 15, the national holiday to celebrate the birth and many accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a group of Tarleton students planned and participated in an off-campus ‘MLK’ party. Some students attending the party came dressed as African-American stereotypes.

Pictures taken at the party were then posted on Facebook.com, a popular college networking Web site.

Eventually, knowledge of the pictures spread until some students, bothered by what they saw, confronted their classmates who had organized the party and taken the pictures.

Unfortunately, the inexcusable actions of a few have negatively impacted the lives of many.

University officials, including myself, were informed of the happenings on Tuesday,, Jan. 23. Immediately, action was taken to initiate an investigation into the matter. A campus-wide forum was scheduled for Wednesday evening, Jan. 24, to allow students to express their concerns, comments and suggestions.

More than 350 individuals attended the forum, which lasted for nearly three hours. It was an open forum. Speaker after speaker shared ideas and feelings about the MLK party.

With media and the Internet, it didn’t take long for the story to leave the campus and be reported nationwide. On Thursday, local, state and national media converged on Tarleton’s campus to investigate, gather quotes and ‘sound bites’ for their reports.

Wanda Mercer, Vice President for Student Life; Donald ‘D. Ray’ Elder, president of the campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Student Body President Casey Hogan; and many other campus leaders and students stepped forward to offer their input and sound judgment. Although some of the events of the last few days have been upsetting, it has offered members of the Tarleton community wonderful opportunities to become better listeners and, hopefully, gain greater understanding of others.

Wednesday night’s forum was a serious effort to encourage campus-wide dialogue.. Based on what I have witnessed in subsequent efforts and statements from our students, I am confident the forum was successful.

Where do we go from here? The groundwork for establishing an on-going and serious dialog among members of Tarleton’s campus has been created. Let us not waste the opportunity to grow as individuals and to seek a deeper understanding of the cultures that surround us.

The Tarleton community will emerge from this experience much stronger than ever. We need only to engage and take responsibility for who we are and who we want to become.

We can all start by attending the Student Government Association’s Unity Rally on Thurs., Feb. 1 at the Hunewell Bandstand at 6 p.m. The purpose of the rally is to unite the Tarleton family and community behind the university and for what it stands.

In addition, February is Black History Month. I cannot think of a better way to continue our path to increase our understanding of others than to make the most of this opportunity.