Kutztown University’s Vote Everywhere Ambassadors successfully campaign to take Columbus Day off the academic calendar
(Kutztown, PA) — The Vote Everywhere (VE) team at Kutztown University (KU) has achieved an important victory. After a year-long campaign, the Vote Everywhere Ambassadors, including current Team Leader Shanna Yarush, and AGF alumni Rachael Cohen Hamilton and Nykolai Blichar, together with students from the Diversity Committee, have successfully advocated for a vote that will remove Columbus Day from the official KU academic calendar.
The initiative began during the Spring semester of 2017 when Blichar made a change.org petition to remove Columbus Day from the Kutztown calendar and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Though the petition was well-received, it failed to obtain the 200 signatures that the team wanted.
During the Fall 2017 semester, the VE team and the Diversity Committee brought their concerns to the Calendar Committee, headed by Ted Witryk. Originally, the students advocated for Columbus Day to be replaced with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but had some difficulty gaining support. Cohen Hamilton explained, “As we sat down with the calendar committee, it became clear that we weren’t going to reach a compromise that way.”
The two groups back-tracked, regrouped, and made the choice to focus on the removal of Columbus Day. “We thought the most important thing was getting Columbus day off the calendar, to begin with,” Cohen Hamilton said about the coalition’s decision.
Yarush agreed, stating, “In this day and age, calling something, ‘Columbus Day’ after a man who committed mass genocide against Native Americans is inappropriate.”
After appealing to the calendar committee again, both groups agreed on a compromise: Columbus Day would be removed from the academic calendar, but the day would be replaced with fall break instead of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The change will go into effect for the Fall 2018/Fall 2019 academic year.
The VE team and Diversity Committee believe this is the first step in reaching their initial goal. Yarush explained, “our future goals are to work with literature and anthology professors, as well as Indigenous groups throughout Pennsylvania, to change the campus holiday to Indigenous People’s Day.”
When asked about the impact this will have on campus, Cohen Hamilton said, “Changing the calendar will show our students that we are an accepting and diverse campus. We’re ready to move forward with the times.” For now, she believes, this change in the calendar will show that Kutztown is committed to the truth and to history.
Nicola Costa, Vote Everywhere Program Manager who advises the Kutztown team, is thrilled, “AGF is always excited to see our Ambassadors successfully advocate for positive change on their campuses. The collaborative effort between our VE team and the Diversity Committee at KU to make their university a more respectful and inclusive place embodies Andrew Goodman’s legacy of standing up for what is right and using your voice to create meaningful social change.”
About Vote Everywhere
Established to continue the legacy of Andrew Goodman, a civil rights worker murdered during Freedom Summer 1964, The Andrew Goodman Foundation partners with America’s colleges and universities through its Vote Everywhere program which provides student leaders with a platform to register and mobilize voters, organize campuses, and collaborate with their peers. Launched as a pilot program in 2012, Vote Everywhere now operates in 23 states and Washington D.C. and is directed by over 100 student Ambassadors. Its current network of 54 campuses is home to a student population of nearly a million.