Pitzer Students Propose Official Rejection of Columbus Day

Pitzer Student Senate will vote Nov. 23 on legislation written by two Pitzer students, Chance Kawar PZ ’17 and Josue Pasillas PZ ’17, that seeks to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. If the legislation passes, Pitzer College will be the first of the Claremont Colleges to declare the second Monday of every October Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the effort to celebrate indigenous cultures and foster a more inclusive environment.

Inspired by cities such as Seattle and Denver, which recently passed legislation recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Pasillas and Kawar sat down to draft a version aligned with Pitzer’s identity as a socially responsible institution. They reached out to Laurie Covarrubias, a student in Pitzer’s New Resources program, who helped them with the drafting process. Covarrubias is a member of the 7C Indigenous Student Alliance and a descendant of a range of indigenous peoples, including the Apache, Ute, Basque, Chumash and Tongva. Covarrubias said that she was excited to hear about the resolution, especially because non-native student allies wrote it.

“The colonial history being taught around Columbus Day is a weapon against indigenous people,” Covarrubias said. “The fact that the Claremont Colleges are willing to examine that means way more than just changing a name on a calendar. It is a validity of an alternative narrative that is so embedded in my life and can hopefully reach out to the other students.”

Covarrubias stressed the fact that the Tongva people once had villages where the Claremont Colleges stand today. During many excavation processes, pottery remains from these communities were found. For her, Columbus Day represents a system of oppression that is perpetuated by Western education.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day has gained traction around the nation. Seattle celebrated its first Indigenous Peoples’ Day this October, thanks to a unanimous city council vote to make the shift from Columbus Day. The Associated Press reported, however, resistance to the change by Italian-Americans who felt stripped of what they considered to be a celebration of Italian heritage.

Senate President Bailey Masullo PZ ’17 said that the resolution is a symbolic movement rather than an action item. Currently, Columbus Day is only recognized at Pitzer by inclusion on the academic calendar. The resolution does not ask for a day off from classes or any other special celebration. Rather, it serves as a step in the process of correcting the marginalization of indigenous peoples, a tradition thought to be perpetuated by Columbus Day's masking of Native American histories.

“I feel like when most people celebrate Columbus Day, they’re celebrating our country and the great things about it like freedom,” Masullo said. “I don’t think people are trying to be malicious in that, but the resolution does seek to recognize that there are two sides to that story.”

Pasillas said that the resolution is aligned with Pitzer’s identity as a progressive and diverse institution. He said that the symbolic action of changing a name on the calendar promotes an inclusive campus culture that stands in solidarity with all its members.

“Hopefully, in the future, this can spur conversations,” Pasillas wrote in an email to TSL, “conversations about who used to live on the sacred land of Pitzer College that we now comfortably live, work, study, and play on. It was the Indigenous peoples’ and their sacred villages and communities that live here. Let’s recognize that.”