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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

If We’re Not Celebrating Veterans Day, Why Celebrate Columbus Day?

Columbus Day is one of those strange, convoluted federal holidays. Some states have decided not to celebrate it while others celebrate a “counter-Columbus Day” called Indigenous Peoples Day. That’s all fine with me. My problem with Columbus Day is how much importance it is given over other meaningful holidays. For example, on Oct. 9, the University of Massachusetts Boston chose to observe and commemorate a day that was set aside to honor a megalomaniac, even though we are a diverse and urban-community serving university. The university did not, however, choose to observe the the holiday honoring innumerable men and women who have fought and died serving this country, as Veterans Day will land on the weekend this year. Considering the diversity of UMass Boston’s student community, I would not be surprised if we have more than a few Veteran’s among our student population.

The majority of public schools celebrate Columbus Day as well as Veterans Day. As the granddaughter of a late veteran, I find it strange that we choose to commemorate a mass murderer and slave trader, seemingly just because observance of the holiday allows us a long weekend. Since Veterans Day falls on a Saturday this year, it will not be celebrated, not on the Friday before or the Monday after. This only happens every eight years.

I understand that schools are allotted only so many holidays. But if that is the case, I’d rather go to school one extra day out of the year and not observe either holiday. Columbus Day does not fall on a specific date, but rather on the second Monday of October. In 2016, Columbus Day was on Oct. 10. This year, it fell on Oct. 9. In 2018, it will be on Oct. 8. The same pattern does not go for Veterans Day; it falls on Nov. 11 every year, regardless of the day of the week.

Columbus may have played a role in the discovery of the Americas, but there were people here long before Columbus ever showed up. We can still recognize Columbus’s contribution to the history of humanity, but to celebrate that contribution—a horrifically violent one—is something we don’t have to do. By recognizing the whole of our history, we can progress as a people while not celebrating murder, rape, and slavery.

At universities, in most cases, changes in holidays typically require a faculty vote. But some of us here at UMass Boston do, in fact, have weekend classes. As it stands, these courses are primarily for the College of Advancing and Professional Studies (CAPS). But, nonetheless, these are still weekend classes. Yes, those are heavy course loads, but it’s either one day stripped off the holiday schedule, or two.

After all, we have made one progressive step forward by changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Why can’t we go further by keeping Veterans Day? If UMass Boston is not granting a day off for Veterans Day, why do we have a day off for Columbus Day?

A Washington Post article from 2012 spoke to the conflict between celebrations of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Robert E. Lee’s birthday at Washington and Lee University, a private liberal arts university in Lexington, Virginia. The article says that students who advocated for the university to close on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day were “concerned, in part, that the day commemorating King [would] be overshadowed by events three days later to mark the birthday of Robert E. Lee.” The university ultimately decided that neither date warranted a closing of its campus.

Our Columbus is to Lee as their King is to our Veterans Day. Lee was a Confederate soldier made an icon after his death as a promotion of white supremacy in the South by those seeking to romanticize the Confederate cause. Alternatively, King was a prominent leader in the Civil Rights movement.

UMass Boston: if we have the day off for Columbus Day (or Indigenous Peoples Day), then why aren’t we celebrating Veterans Day?