Students react negatively to Christopher Columbus
Ellis McGinley – Copy Editor
Some may remember the rhyme: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Monday, Oct. 12 was Columbus Day, also known as First People’s Day, Italian Heritage Day, or Indigenous People’s Day. Originally established in 1971 to recognize the arrival of explorer Christopher Columbus in America, it is one of the 10 federal holidays recognized in Connecticut. Despite this, university students may note that this time classes were not dismissed for the day.
“Here’s the thing: I don’t like recognizing the disruption of indigenous people’s sacred grounds,” said biology major Leah Herde, a senior. “I don’t think Columbus Day should be celebrated; but maybe like a remembrance day. If that were the case, then I would want it off.”
It is now known that Christopher Columbus was not the first to discover the America. Native people, whom historical record shows Columbus enslaved and abused once arriving in the West Indies, had established societies throughout North and South America leading to the push for Indigenous People’s Day to be recognized instead.
Viking voyagers are said to have landed on the East Coast five centuries prior, and Columbus was unaware that he had arrived in the Americas; at first he believed he landed in India.
However, his arrival would enable European settlements to later establish colonies onto the foregin land’s soil, according to CNN.
“It’s dumb. Columbus is not a hero,” said theatre major Sarah Kowalski, a freshman.
Back on Sept. 16, less than one month ago, the university’s Faculty Senate submitted a resolution to President Joe Bertolino stating that “the Faculty Senate of Southern Connecticut State University, henceforth, designates the second Monday in October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” as one way to continually strive to better acknowledge and understand the long, complex, dynamic, and ongoing histories and cultures of Indigenous Peoples.”
The full resolution, which is marked as approved, is available as a PDF on the “Inside Southern” section of the university website.
Regardless of their respective designations for the second Monday of October, other Connecticut universities also continue to hold classes. WCSU and CCSU both reminded students their courses would be in session, although the former closed non-essential offices.
Yale University also does not list Columbus Day as one of their recognized student holidays.
Its student populace aside, the city of New Haven holds its own ties to Christopher Columbus. The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charity organization, was also founded in New Haven and named for the explorer. According to their website, they continue to host their headquarters on Columbus Plaza–just 10 minutes from the university.
Despite Columbus’s legacy in the city, New Haven’s Board of Alders, or city council, recently voted to change the holiday’s name. It will now be recognized as Italian Heritage Day, according to NBC Connecticut.
The city will not be holding a holiday parade this year and has yet to say if they will rename or restructure its theme in the future.
The Hartford Courant also reports that New Haven’s statue of Christopher Columbus, formerly erected in Wooster Square Park, was removed in June after protests.
“He’s too glorified,” said exploratory major Hanan Sumra, a freshman. “I like days off. I wouldn’t complain. But Columbus Day isn’t a day I need off to celebrate.”
Last year, Southern also held multiple events recognizing Indigenous People’s Day rather than Columbus Day, including a panel of Indigenous activists, a lesson with Jessica Kreisberg, a Tuscarora Native American teacher, and Palestinian activist Ali Elissa and a sponsored event at the Palestine Museum in Woodbridge, Conn.
COVID-19 has presumably put a damper on any 2020 recognitions of Indigenous people, Italian heritage, or Columbus Day, and students will have spent Monday in class.