The Arts and Sciences and Engineering (AS&E) faculty voted yesterday afternoon in favor of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in the university’s academic calendars. The vote, which passed with one objection and two abstentions among approximately 60 faculty members, took place during yesterday’s AS&E faculty meeting from 12:00 p.m. to 1:20 p.m. in the Coolidge Room of Ballou Hall.
This faculty vote, based on the Dec. 6 Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate resolution that promotes the recognition of Indigenous People’s Day, means that all Tufts AS&E academic calendars will now list Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day on the second Monday of October each year.
While the vote does not affect the calendars of Tufts schools such as the School of Medicine and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Benya Kraus, chair of TCU Student Outreach Committee, said that the Indigenous People’s Day at Tufts coalition may be pursuing further efforts to institute this change.
The Senate resolution also calls for special events to be held on Indigenous People’s Day in order to acknowledge indigenous communities and raise awareness. The specific nature of the events is intentionally not specified in the resolution to allow room for discussion of what indigenous communities or peoples want and need, Kraus, a sophomore, said. Any programming would focus on centering indigenous voices at Tufts and in the surrounding communities, she said.
As faculty entered Ballou Hall for the meeting, about 20 students stood silently nearby holding signs reading “#IPDatTufts.” Students continued to stand outside the building throughout the duration of the meeting as a symbol of solidarity in the movement to promote Indigenous People’s Day, according to the Facebook event, “Show of Solidarity for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
The faculty vote was preceded by a brief presentation by Kraus and TCU Senate’s LGBT Community Representative Parker Breza, both of whom co-authored the Indigenous People’s Day resolution, along with TCU Vice President junior Gauri Seth and Diversity & Community Affairs Officer sophomore Anna Del Castillo.
TCU Senate has twice passed resolutions in support of Indigenous People’s Day, reaching the faculty voting body once before in 2014 — only to be voted down. The current resolution, which was unanimously passed by Senate on Dec. 6, 2015, was a slightly edited version of the original resolution written by Andrew Nuñez (LA ’15) and Genesis Garcia (LA ’15). The reworking of the resolution called not only for a name change in the holiday, but also for programming in recognition of indigenous communities to be held on Indigenous People’s Day.
Kraus and Breza, a first-year, discussed the importance of the movement and the significant amount of support the resolution has received from the Tufts community. The resolution had received widespread support from both students and faculty, Kraus said. She noted that at least 50 student groups had signed on to support the resolution, and that the online petition in support of the resolution had over 1,200 student signatures when it was delivered to the faculty committee yesterday before the vote, surpassing a similar Feb. 2 petition at Brown University by about 100 signatures.
Kraus also noted the significant amount of faculty support for the movement, referencing a letter of support circulated among faculty expressing solidarity and alliance with the student coalition. A total of 61 faculty members from a diverse range of departments signed on in support of Indigenous People’s Day.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Native American and Critical Indigenous Studies Matt Hooley, author of the faculty letter of support, told the Daily that changing the name of the holiday would allow the university to acknowledge and discuss how it is implicated in the oppression of indigenous peoples and to start creating more space for indigenous communities both on the Medford/Somerville campus and outside the university.
Kraus and Breza said that it is particularly important that Tufts has taken this first step in acknowledging indigenous people’s history, as the university’s Medford/Somerville campus sits on the land that once belonged to the Wampanoag Tribe. According to the tribe’s website, the tribe once populated the entire area from present day Provincetown, Mass. to Narragansett Bay.
Kraus noted that the date of the meeting had been scheduled during Majors Week, a time when many faculty members may have been impeded from attending due to the majors-related events. Specifically, the vote was on the same day as Majors Week events of the History department, Anthropology department and the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism and Diaspora (RCD), whose faculty members had shown particular support for the resolution, she explained. Kraus said that this scheduling of the vote and the potential absence of faculty from those departments could have significantly affected turnout of supportive faculty. Regardless, the vote was passed successfully.
Kim Thurler, the executive director of public relations, congratulated the success of the student group in securing a positive faculty vote and acknowledged the importance of yesterday’s discussion on this issue.
“This is a matter on which it is important to hear from the university-wide community,” Thurler told the Daily in a statement. “We understand that AS&E students have already begun reaching out to students on our Boston and Grafton campuses. The history of the proposal and the recent positive vote by the AS&E faculty will also be shared with the university’s academic and administrative leadership councils. Each school will need to consider how best to engage their respective faculty members on this question. The central administration will continue to stay apprised of these discussions and consider additional steps as appropriate.”
Tufts now joins universities such as Brown, Cornell University and the University of California, Berkeley in celebrating Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day.
Kraus added that the Indigenous People’s Day at Tufts coalition plans to organize a rally of support in the future, which would bring indigenous speakers, artists, performers and food as a celebration of indigenous communities and history.