Should SJU Celebrate Columbus Day?



Some students say St. John’s should not recognize Columbus Day as a holiday.

Angelica Acevedo, Opinion Editor, Co-Social Media Manager

A series of Instagram posts by the student activist organization Social Justice Exchange (SJE) called for the University to stop celebrating Columbus Day and recognize Indigenous People’s Day instead.

These seven posts garnered a total of more than 300 likes from various students and organizations on campus, including Global Goals SJU, Feminists Unite and the St. John’s Office of Global Studies.

LJ Vogel, the leader of SJE, said that the conversation sparked by the posts is not just about Columbus Day, but also about a larger issue in the University’s history.

“Our university has a really questionable history when it comes to Native American students,” Vogel said, referring to the school’s prior nickname of Redmen. That was changed to Red Storm in 1994.

“Our University’s mission explicitly points out truth, love and respect,” Vogel said. “In line with these values, [it] should recognize that the truth of Columbus is that he was no one to revere. He is a symbol of pain, of loss and of oppression for Natives.”

Even though many U.S. cities and universities have stopped celebrating Columbus Day, such as Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Austin, Texas, St. John’s still recognizes it as a national holiday.

“Columbus Day is a federal holiday that recalls Christopher Columbus’ landing in ‘the new world,’” Brian Browne, executive director University Relations, said. “For many who celebrate this annual holiday, it is a day that commemorates this event and celebrates Italian-American heritage.”

In addition to sending an internal email encouraging students to participate in the Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan, the University also shared a post on its official Instagram page (@stjohnsu), wishing students a happy day off.

Browne added that, “The parade in New York City that St. John’s has long been a part of is organized by the Columbus Citizens Foundation and is the largest annual celebration of Italian-American heritage in the world.”

In the University’s Instagram post, some students expressed dissatisfaction with the University for celebrating this day.

One comment read, “I know St. John’s [has a] strong Italian connection, but can we stop celebrating this man. The things. Evidence of his atrocities are overwhelming.”

Student Kimberly Balderas, who is one of the leaders of Students of Consciousness, also commented on the University’s Instagram post. She said Columbus’ arrival is responsible for bringing “slavery, diseases and murderers who terrorized a multitude of Indigenous tribes.”

Similarly, the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) condemned the holiday.

“The school is still celebrating Columbus Day even after all these years and the recent massive calling out of its celebration,” LASO said in a statement. “We don’t believe the school’s mission aligns with the celebration of genocide. That’s why as an organization that honors the heritage and diverse cultures, we celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day by posting on Instagram and sharing with our general body ways to celebrate it.”

SJE has not formally reached out to the University about this issue. However, Vogel invites administrators and faculty members to their roundtable discussion on Friday, Oct. 20.

“We are hoping that they show up to our discussion on Friday and talk to students about why recognizing Indigenous people instead of Columbus would be an important and welcome change,” Vogel said. “That being said, if they do not show up, we will make sure we are heard one way or another, though I can’t say yet in what form we will reach out.”

Global Goals SJU (GGS), a student organization dedicated to bringing awareness to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development that 193 worldwide leaders committed to, expressed their support of SJE’s efforts on a national scale.

“Our government needs to recognize its longstanding history of human rights violations” GGS said. “We should be working to combat the long perceived heroics of a tyrannical murderer and instead recognize his invasion for what it actually is.”

Not everyone feels as strongly as SJE and its supporters.

Senior Kristen Rozycki, who is of Italian descent, believes that there could be a compromise.

“I don’t think Italians should lose their chance to celebrate their traditions,” Rozycki said, “but I also think that Native Americans deserve recognition and celebration of their culture as well.”

Frank Obermeyer, president of Student Government Inc., said that the issue of celebrating Columbus Day was brought up by a representative during their Campus Dialogue meeting on Monday and promised to investigate the issue among the greater student body.

“Members of the SGI Assembly were sympathetic to how the celebration of Columbus Day may affect members of the St. John’s community,” he said. “The Assembly is willing to raise these concerns to administration once we are able to further investigate student opinion.”