Martin Luther King Studies Student Spotlight:

Did you know that Union Institute & University offers one of the few Ph.D. specializations in Dr. Martin Luther King Studies in the country? In recognition of this distinct honor, and in remembrance of Dr. King, this month we asked a few MLK students to share how they apply Dr. King’s philosophies in everyday life.

Mildred Van Bergen

Dr. King said, “Develop within ourselves a deep sense of somebodiness. Don't let anybody make you feel that you are nobody.”

I have the privilege of striving to keep that philosophy alive in my position as director of academic support services for SUNY Empire State College at the Long Island Center.

Perhaps nowhere is that belief more visible than in the workshop series Women of Color: Valuing Experience, Identifying Learning. In this series of four workshops, my colleagues and I both support and learn from the women who attend them. We guide them to critically reflect on their daily lives, and emphasize the importance of valuing all learning and ways of knowing, as well as discuss what we all can learn from the historical struggles of minority women.

In addition, these workshops allow a safe space for analyzing and valuing the specific set of skills and levels of understanding that women of color have developed in order to successfully navigate a predominantly white culture, among these is the capacity to translate their experiences about race and gender to others. By supporting these students to tell their stories, and value them not only within the walls of academia, but within themselves, I pass on Dr. King’s philosophy of “somebodiness” to these remarkable women. This experience continues to allow me to better understand not only the students I work with, but myself.”


Mildred Van Bergen is the director of academic support services for SUNY Empire State College at the Long Island Center. She has the responsibility of helping working adult students develop their writing, reading, and research skills. In addition, she develops their prior college level learning—knowledge they bring with them that they can receive college level credit for.

She is also an alumna of SUNY Empire State College, earning a B.A in Cultural Studies and an M.A. in Liberal Studies. Prior to serving as director, she worked for the office of Academic Support Services as a writing learning coach. In addition, she served the university as an adjunct instructor in College Writing and Literacy. Mildred has also worked as a teacher assistant in the West Islip School District, Easter Suffolk Boces and the New York City School System. As a student in Union Institute & University’s MLK specialization, Mildred is researching the cultural phenomenon related to how the creative process allows young women to engage in authority. She is examining how the creative process, or art in general, can empower young women to self-actualize and own their femininity and realize their full potential.

Learn more about Union Institute & University's MLK Studies Specialization

Read more MLK student spotlights: Cheri Scott