On April 7, 2009, Brown’s faculty voted to rename the annual holiday on the second Monday in October “Fall Weekend.” The vote was made at one of the faculty’s regular monthly meetings; under the rules of Brown’s governance, all decisions regarding the academic calendar are made by an all-faculty vote. Then-President, Ruth Simmons, and other university administrators were not involved in the decision, while then-chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, James Drier, professor of Philosophy, abstained from the vote.
In their statement released the next day, the Committee noted that, “since fall 2008, faculty, staff and student committees at Brown have discussed proposals to eliminate the formal observance of Columbus Day. Following much discussion, the vote was not unanimous, reflecting the difficulty and complexity of this sensitive and symbolic issue.”
Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937 to honor the supposed discoverer of America. His 1492 landing in the Bahamas marked the beginning of European colonization of the Americas, which would result in the death of entire indigenous populations within forty years, due to disease and warfare. Columbus’ history of genocide has in many ways been erased from our societal narrative, marginalizing many communities. Although Brown faced some criticism in the media following the renaming in 2009, many schools and even cities have made similar decisions.
While the faculty ultimately made the decision to rename the holiday, the movement and strong desires that propelled that decision came from within the student body. “A small group of students who wanted the University to stop recognizing Columbus Day” worked on a project not unlike the sort we see on campus today; recognizing that there was a problem with a celebration named after Columbus, they engaged in months of dialogue with university administrators and faculty.
Although the students initially asked that Brown instead give off another Monday of the month, it was decided that Fall Weekend would coincide with the national holiday to better accommodate the faculty and staff with children in local schools. The Herald poll from the time indicated that “the majority of Brown students disapproved of continuing to call the holiday Columbus Day.”
This brief history lesson hopes to provide information on how we as a university and community came to refer to next weekend as “Fall Weekend.” For many, it may be a surprise how recent a change that was, or the work that past students and some current faculty put into making it happen. On Monday, there will be a demonstration on the Main Green hosted by the Native Americans at Brown with the goal of having the holiday renamed “Indigenous Peoples Day.” BlogDailyHerald will be providing coverage of the protest next week.
While everyone on campus may not support the desires of some students on campus to rename Fall Weekend, we as publication think the topic deserves due coverage. The BlogDailyHerald of Wesleyan, Wesleying, published a post earlier this year called “Responsibility and Inclusion in the Argus and on Wesleying.” The article, which is definitely worth a read, makes the point that campus publications have a responsibility to the students they attempt to represent and report to. “Publications are not mere platforms for discussion, they are institutions that make choices.”
BlogDailyHerald is, of course, not immune to making mistakes in neglecting topics that are relevant to underrepresented communities on campus, and in publishing content that does not properly represent the entire student body whom we hope to serve. As a campus life publication, we need to work hard to make sure we are providing content that speaks to all areas of campus life. We want to acknowledge our commitment to this responsibility.