On Tuesday, faculty members at Brown University voted to rename their fall break to recognize Indigenous People's Day, choosing to honor Native Americans instead of explorer and colonist Christopher Columbus.
According to the Brown Daily Herald, the school had already shifted away from acknowledging the national holiday in 2009, when the student group Native Americans at Brown requested the name be changed on the school's official academic calendar. The university responded by renaming Columbus Day weekend to the "neutral" Fall Weekend.
But for the 1,100 faulty, staff, students and alumni who signed a petition calling the university to adopt Indigenous People's Day, there was a better option than that. "The change from the neutral name of Fall Weekend recognizes both the role and the plight of Native Americans currently and historically," professor Thomas Roberts, chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, told the Herald.
There is a well-established precedent for Indigenous People's Day subsuming Columbus Day, not just at universities but in entire cities and states, including Minneapolis, Seattle, Berkeley, California, and all of Alaska.
Students have campaigned for the change since October, calling the initial move to "Fall Weekend" the "bare minimum," according to another story in the Herald. The issue got more attention when the newspaper published what the daily paper acknowledged as two "racist" op-eds, one of which argued that indigenous people should be grateful for the colonization spurred by Columbus.
When the university posted the news to Facebook, comments were mixed. Some questioned whether the university should focus on other issues and others were just confused.
"Did Brown, in fairness and with due respect for the consequences of defaulted student loans, also enact a Gratitude for Taxpayers Day?" asked one commenter. "No? My analysis ends here; that's a dreadfully biased organization."
Others on the thread reminded fellow users that while a simple name change won't repair the harm already done, Indigenous People's Day is a step toward addressing the systematic violence perpetuated against Native Americans.
Another student wrote, "As a current student, I think it's only right that the day be renamed in honor of the millions who were cheated, invaded, and murdered by, among countless others, Columbus."
Sierra Edd and Kara Roanhorse, two sophomores in leadership positions for Native Americans at Brown, told the Herald they counted the name change as a win, but know there's much more work to do. They said, "Though we have seen a victory today, Indigenous People's Day on the campus calendar is not the end of indigenous students' demands to the university."