EDITORIAL: Change name of ‘Columbus Day’
In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, “discovered” America and enslaved and tortured its inhabitants. On Sunday, members of the Brandeis community organized a petition calling on the University Advisory Council to “Vote to Change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day” during their upcoming Oct. 10 meeting. The petition encourages faculty to support a name change from “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous People’s Day” on the academic calendar in an effort to disregard the misplaced honor of a figure who persecuted Native Americans. Should the UAC vote yes, the measure would likely go before a broader faculty vote.
This board applauds the dedication of student activists in pursuit of the name change — a strong reflection of the University’s core values and commitment to social justice — and urges greater student and eventual University support.
The petition, circulated today on change.org, has already gathered well over 200 signatures, and this number will likely continue to grow. The broader campus community must acknowledge the abuse and challenges the Native American community has faced, and even mostly symbolic efforts, such as changing the name of a holiday, serve to reframe historical narratives around marginalized groups and force the University to think critically about historical figures.
Columbus’s horrific effect on indigenous populations had long-term implications. He killed and enslaved many people during his quest to conquer the “New World.” Columbus and his men attempted to convert Native Americans to Christianity, often against their will, and subjected women and young girls to sexual assault. Additionally, he exposed the Native Americans to horrible diseases that they had no ability to fight. This issue in particular haunted the people of the “New World” for many years to come.
This board urges members of the Brandeis faculty to carefully consider the values of the University and vote in support of the proposed name change. Functionally, the proposal will not change any policy about how the holiday occurs on campus, but proponents are hoping that the day may include educational programming about the plight of Native Americans and indigenous populations. This can only be celebrated; greater education and information about a marginalized community falls directly in line with both the mission of a University and of Brandeis in particular. The only real negative point to this change would be a break from tradition, and tradition shouldn’t outweigh doing the right thing.
Goals of the proposal also include educating the larger campus community about the Native Americans and admiring the contributions of the community and “acknowledging the legacy of imperialism, colonialism, enslavement and white supremacy which has displaced and oppressed indigenous People/Native Americans,” according to the group’s Facebook event page. This board hopes this student initiative, if successful, will achieve these goals, and we encourage the faculty body to vote yes on this measure.