GVSU doesn't need to 'replace' Columbus Day

By Lanthorn Editorial Board | 9/17/17 9:21pm

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At the Grand Valley State University student senate general assembly Thursday, Sept. 14, senators who favored replacing Columbus Day at GVSU with Indigenous Peoples Day were met with unexpected resistance from their peers.

One of the arguments against "swapping out" Columbus Day was that doing so would have no effect on the status of the federally recognized holiday and that any local consequence would also be irrelevant because, well, GVSU doesn't officially recognize Columbus Day to begin with.

Aside from the very real and very relevant debate about Columbus Day's merit (or lack thereof), the university's avoidance—as a public institution—of a federal holiday is an interesting issue in itself.

GVSU's evasion of Columbus Day is likely an example of the university trying to stay one step ahead of Columbus Day protests from Native American groups and sympathizers. By refusing to celebrate Columbus Day, GVSU is likewise refusing to condone what the holiday stands for. 

Individuals who believe the university should take a more explicit stance by actively supporting Indigenous Peoples Day might believe the exact opposite—that GVSU's evasion of the holiday is either a weak response or even a tacit nod of approval.

But let's be realistic: As a university, GVSU is already doing what it reasonably can do, given that Columbus Day is still a federally recognized holiday. There isn't a need for GVSU to swap out holidays when they aren't even recognizing one in the first place.

Avoiding the holiday altogether is the university's way of calmly and cautiously weighing in on this debate, which at times a state university has to do. The argument to swap holidays on a national level is by no means without merit, but GVSU shouldn't be expected to take a side, as the real fight exists outside the university's walls and control.

However, GVSU still has a responsibility to make all students feel comfortable on campus. This is why administration should continue to encourage student groups to celebrate the diversity of different cultures and events like Indigenous Peoples Day. 

This doesn't have to involve officially implementing a new school holiday—that seems a bit drastic and unrealistic. Rather, GVSU can continue to promote diverse programming and support free speech on campus for groups to express their opinions on issues like this one.

This also calls upon GVSU community members to educate themselves on issues that affect portions of our student body more than others. We—students, faculty, staff and administration alike—have a responsibility to stay on top of these issues and encourage open dialogue about them.

Replacing Columbus Day on a national scale may not be a topic that directly impacts the vast majority of GVSU members, but that does not mean it is any less important. We, as a campus community, can support the students most affected by this debate by continuing to foster discussions and encouraging individuals to voice differing perspectives. That being said, there isn't anything else GVSU can reasonably do about the Columbus Day debacle at the local level.

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