On Sept. 14, the Center for Civic Engagement held their first Public Square event of the school year, “Holidays at WSU: Thanksgiving to Juneteenth.”
The Public Square initiative is an ongoing project meant to facilitate discussion around a variety of topics. WSU graduate student Keilah Shaw, one of the program’s organizers, said they decided to take a closer look at recognized holidays at WSU due largely to Juneteenth finally receiving recognition as a federal holiday.
“We don’t talk much about why we celebrate the holidays we do,” Shaw said. “I wanted students to question that, engage and take a closer look.”
The Public Square was held in Butch’s Den in the CUB and the panel featured University Archivist Mark O’English; Sylvia Bullock, an advisor at the office of Multicultural Student Services and Amir Gilmore; associate dean of Equity and Inclusion for Student Success and Retention.
Panelists took turns giving presentations, followed by a Q&A session.
As the university archivist, O’English started the event by providing a brief overview of how WSU has celebrated various holidays over the years. He pointed out how Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day no longer receive the same attention they did decades ago, highlighted Christmas festivities over the years and even touched on some notorious April Fools pranks.
The bulk of the event focused on examining holidays in a culturally sensitive way, from Juneteenth to religious observances like Ramadan. Bullock pointed out that most recognized holidays here at WSU are Eurocentric and Christian holidays.
Although university policy states that students should be accommodated and allowed to freely celebrate cultural and religious holidays, they often do not receive the same consideration to do so. For example, holidays like Rosh Hashanah do not receive campus-wide recognition.
Now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday, Gilmore said that he hopes WSU and the larger community do more to give it proper recognition. He noted the university has put forward a good effort in recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month with events, lesson plans and financial support, so he hopes WSU follows suit when Juneteenth comes around.
“When you dig deeper into Juneteenth it wasn’t the day slavery was over and folks were free, it was two years after the fact,” Gilmore said. “There’s just so much history to learn in that. I hope that we educate, I hope that we do a lot, I hope that we reflect.”
Individuals interested in learning more can watch the entire discussion panel on the Center for Civic Engagement’s YouTube page.