SJU Won’t Close On Columbus Day This Year

University says Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion opening is just a coincidence

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SJU Won’t Close On Columbus Day This Year

St. John's University participating in last years Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan

St. John's University participating in last years Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan

Photo Courtesy/St. John’s University

St. John's University participating in last years Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan

Photo Courtesy/St. John’s University

Photo Courtesy/St. John’s University

St. John's University participating in last years Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan

Angelica Acevedo, Editor-In-Chief

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When St. John’s University released the calendar for the 2018-19 academic year, a slight change in the holiday schedule was easy to miss. For the first time in recent memory, the University will be open on Columbus Day and closed on Veteran’s Day.

Not only will the school be business as usual, it also will be a historic day. The new Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion (ACEI) will open on Columbus Day, chief diversity officer Nada Llewellyn announced before hundreds at the State of the University Address this month.

Although some may assume that this was St. John’s way of choosing to no longer recognize Columbus Day as a holiday, University spokesperson Brian Browne said this is not the case. For example, he said the University will still participate in the Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan.

Most universities in the metropolitan area are closed on Columbus Day. But several schools, cities and even states across the country no longer celebrate the holiday, citing evidence that questions Christopher Columbus’ place in history.

Last year, various student organizations — including Social Justice Exchange, Feministe Unite, Students of Consciousness and the Latin American Student Organization — called for the University to instead recognize Indigenous People’s Day.

This year, the sentiment continues, especially among student organizations that represent the Latin and Indigenous communities.

In a statement to the Torch, the Latino fraternity, Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc., said that, “The University should use the day to observe and pay respects to the growing movement for replacing Columbus Day with a day that celebrates the Indigenous people of the Americas.”

Columbus is most aligned with Italian heritage in America. But Annamaria Basile, the president of the Italian Club, feels a holiday in his name is wrong.

“I disagree wholeheartedly with the Italian-American community about why we should celebrate it,” Basile said. “Just on the basis that Columbus didn’t do anything for the Italian community, he [was] just Italian, but he did this all in the name of Spain.”

Basile refers to the growing list of historical evidence that shows that Columbus and the men he brought with him when he accidentally discovered the Caribbean were violent and exploitative.

She also is not comfortable with the traditional Columbus Day parade in Manhattan, which the Italian Club and other members of the St. John’s community have participated in during previous years.

Basille said that this year, she wasn’t encouraging her members to go and miss classes.

“We do things with other orgs whose … communities [were] harmed by Columbus, so what kind of message does that send from us?” she said. “Like are we really an ally if we’re allowing ourselves to continue participating in this harmful figure?”

Annalisa Sacca, professor of Italian and the advisor for the Italian Club, said in a statement to the Torch that she is fine with the University remaining open on Columbus Day.

“I believe we should make this day ‘the Migrant’s day.’ This is a land of migrants,” she said, “We all came from some other part of the world and we all have been given the same opportunities to succeed.”

Sacca, who is from Italy, said that although “it would have been easy” to complain about the school not honoring Columbus Day, she cited the controversial history surrounding the figure as the reason that she doesn’t see an issue with this new change.

“If we look at what the British and French did to the American Indians, I see no difference with what happened to the Indigenous people of Hispaniola,” she said. “The world has always had its wars and violence, and what is history if not a long list of conquests and defeats. We cannot judge if he was better or worse than others, but certainly power is a very tempting lady and Columbus was a human being like everyone else.”

A University spokesperson steered clear from weighing in on the debate. He said the decision to keep the school open was strictly a calendar issue.

“With a limited number of days on the Academic Calendar that may be taken as holidays, the University will observe Veterans Day on Monday, November 12 this year,” Browne said.

He encouraged people to visit the academic calendar on the University’s website, which was set by the Calendar Committee comprised of administrators, faculty, and students.

A 2019 holiday schedule posted on the university’s human resources website says the school’s administrative offices will also remain open on Columbus Day next year, as well.

 

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