Coalition moves to change the name of Columbus Day
A new student coalition is calling for the University to change “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples Day” on the University’s academic calendar, ahead of the holiday on Oct. 10. Their Change.org petition had over 280 signatures by Monday night of faculty, alumni and students.
The activists and Student Union representatives spearheading the campaign hope to recognize Native Americans within the University community. They also hope their campaign will “acknowledge the reality that Columbus is not a figure to be celebrated, but one who enacted genocide on Indigenous Peoples/Native Americans,” according to the petition. Changing the holiday’s name is the only policy initiative thus far announced by this collective.
Changing the holiday’s name will require a vote by the University Advisory Council, a board within the Office of the Provost composed of faculty and administrators who advise the provost and deans on academic policies, among other topics. In an email to the Justice, Provost Lisa Lynch wrote that changing the holiday’s name was added to her agenda for this Thursday’s UAC meeting only yesterday, after she was forwarded a resolution on Indigenous People’s Day from Student Union Senator at Large Lorenzo Finamore ’18.
Lynch wrote to the Justice, “Changes to the academic calendar are approved by the UAC but, depending on the nature of the proposed changes, the UAC might also ask for input from the faculty at large. I would anticipate that the faculty at large would like to weigh in on this issue,” Lynch wrote.
In the Student Union resolution, provided by Finamore to the Justice, the Union “strongly recommends” that the administration change the name of the holiday, explaining that “the legacy of Christopher Columbus is one of imperialism, genocide, torture, enslavement, and long-term systematic injustices which conflict with Brandeis University’s core principles of social justice.”
Finamore and the Union became active in the issue last Spring after Finamore was approached by Sophia Warren ’18. Warren told the Justice in a phone interview that she’d wanted to see the University change the name of Columbus Day from her first year at Brandeis. After the Ford Hall 2015 protest last year, among other student activism, Warren felt empowered to advocate for change.
“This feels so much like something so intrinsically in line with Brandeis University and what I think about when I think about Brandeis University,” Warren said. “I honestly haven’t really met a student that’s not in support of this proposition.”
Finamore wrote to the Justice in an email, “When Sophie came to us the resolution had to be presented to the Senate, which discussed the merits of the change and ultimately ratified it. I believe the Executive board also made an effort to speak with the administrators they had access to in order to see how they could help. All in all pretty much everyone in the Union at that time put at least some attention into the resolution. You could definitely say it was a collective effort, which has always been an important component to the process of creating this change.”
Several UAC members reached by email yesterday confessed to being unaware of the movement and proposal; it only entered the community consciousness yesterday when students found flyers posted across campus and all along the Rabb steps in the morning, along with a massive banner that reads “sign the petition to change ‘Columbus Day’ to ‘Indigenous People’s Day’.”
The student coalition advocating for the measure signed their flyers across campus as simply “Brandeis University Students” and organized on Facebook as a group called “Vote to Change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day at Brandeis.”
The group writes on their flyers that adding one’s name to the petition supporting the measure supports “expressing the need for opportunities to increase visibility and education of Native Americans and recognition of Native Americans at Brandeis” along with “celebrating the contributions of indigenous communities and cultures” and “acknowledging the legacy of imperialism, colonialism, enslavement, and white supremacy which has displaced and oppressed Indigenous People/Native Americans.”
Warren told the Justice that if the University does change the name to Indigenous People’s Day, she hopes it is only the first step in increasing conversation about Native American and indigenous groups at Brandeis. Warren said that there are early plans for Indigenous People’s Day to include educational programming but that it is still in planning stages.
“There is a serious urgency to changing this day now, and as well to holding ourselves accountable to be educating each other and be part of a community that is truly pushing for social justice,” she said.
“I see Indigenous People’s Day as an important foundational move for establishing some infrastructure for future conversations about policy initiatives that can start on campus and ultimately bring positive change to Indigenous communities,” Finamore wrote to the Justice.
The Cambridge City Council voted unanimously to officially rename its Columbus Day celebrations to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” on June 6.
Columbus Day, or Indigenous Peoples’ Day, is traditionally celebrated on the second Monday of each October. Other universities which celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day rather than Columbus Day include Brown University,
Cornell University and the University of California, Berkeley. At least 16 states have passed similar measures, including Hawaii, Alabama and South Dakota.
Critics of Indigenous Peoples’ Day often point to the pride which some Italian-Americans feel for Christopher Columbus; he was born in Genoa, Italy, even though he discovered the New World on a voyage for the Spanish empire.
Warren said that she discussed this with Finamore, who has Italian heritage, while planning their amendment. “This was something he had been told, and [which] had been communicated to him,” Warren said. But she added that, when thinking about the positive Columbus Day celebrations she saw growing up, “I have to think about there being so much richness and being so much vibrance to at least the Italian-Americans that I know that I don’t feel like the legacy of Columbus himself is the portrayal and is the connection that I see, feel and think of when I think about Italian heritage. It’s a difficult conversation to have, and it’s not one for me to shrug off.”
“It's ridiculous to hold heroes in the Italian American community to such a low standard as Christopher Columbus,” Finamore wrote to the Justice. “I think it's important that Indigenous People's Day be celebrated over Columbus Day given the very ethos of equality that all immigrants to America have always wanted and often had to fight for. Continuing to celebrate a simplistic understanding of Columbus as an explorer, without any attention paid to the people already living in the Americas when he first arrived, only serves to foster division and stall progress in the communities that are still effected [sic] by the legacy of colonialism.”