The University of Minnesota notified faculty and staff in 2021 that it expects to recognize June 16, 2022 as an official holiday.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, faculty and staff were granted a floating holiday this year that could be used to celebrate the relatively new federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States.
“It’s certainly intelligent,” said Rose Brewer, a professor in the US Department of African American and African Studies.
The holiday serves both as an annual commemoration of the end of American slavery and, in the context of the racial reckoning that has marked recent years, as a reminder for many that the fight for black liberation continues.
Brewer said he felt the university often “always falls a step short of what’s politically important and powerful.” She criticized the university leadership for what she described as a lack of initiative and vision.
“Most of the things that were in the interests of the underrepresented populations on campus have come because they were being pushed,” Brewer said.
Jake Ricker, the university’s director of public relations, said it can often take two years before an official holiday is included in the university calendar as a vacation day for faculty and staff.
“There was some thought at the time that it might go faster,” Ricker said of the 2021 email more than 85,000 students, faculty and staff represented.”
“So much to be desired”
June 17, 2021 was declared a federal holiday by President Joe Biden, but has been observed on June 19 since 1865. It marks the day in 1865 that federal troops freed enslaved people in Texas two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and ended slavery.
U’s Human Resources department emailed faculty and staff on June 18, 2021 to update them on the development. The email also cited the short time between Biden’s announcement and the holiday itself as a reason faculty and staff could not have a day off this year.
“We have children’s summer camps, academic programs, research events and a variety of other activities that would have been difficult to change,” said Kenneth Horstman, the university’s vice president of human resources, in the email. “However, we anticipate that next year this will be a recognized public holiday for all university staff and faculty.”
Horstman encouraged supervisors to “allow employees to use their personal paid time off if they wish” to observe the 2021 holiday.
Horstman sent another email to faculty and staff on December 20, 2021, noting that the Board of Regents had approved two additional floating holidays “to reflect the dedication and hard work of faculty and staff during the.” acknowledge the pandemic”.
Among other things, the time could be used to “honor June 16, 2022 as we work towards providing time for observance of this new federal holiday beginning in 2023,” the email reads.
However, a calendar posted online showing holidays that the university will observe in the 2022-2023 school year for the Twin Cities and Rochester campuses does not include June 16. A January 31, 2022 email from the university seems to indicate that US human resources wanted to release June 16, 2023 and 2024 to faculty and staff on those campuses. However, the department proposed moving one of its current floating holidays to June 16 instead, adding an extra day off for the holiday.
The university’s Civil Service Consultative Committee (CSCC), which “serves as the president’s advisory body,” wanted the U to add a new holiday day to officially celebrate June 16, rather than taking a floating holiday and moving it to June 16 .
“While [CSCC] Members supported the recognition of June 16 as a university holiday, the committee voted unanimously to recommend adding June 16 as an additional holiday, rather than reallocating it from the list of published pending holidays,” the email said.
The university told the Sahan Journal that talks are underway to officially comply with June 16.
“Although it did not become an official holiday for this year, discussion of June 16 as an official university holiday continues as other official university recognition of the day’s importance continues to grow,” said Ricker, spokesman for the US
Brewer, a professor of African American and African Studies, commended past and current student efforts to manifest socially conscious change on campus, noting that the university could learn a lesson from them.
She cited the 1969 acquisition of Morrill Hall, which houses the university administration, as one such effort. The African American Action Committee led a 24-hour demonstration to protest the university’s hostile environment toward black students. It culminated in the establishment of what is now the Department of African American and African Studies.
The decision not to recognize June 16 as an official holiday is an example of how much work the university still needs to do to attract, retain and represent black and African American students and faculty, Brewer said.
“There’s so much to be desired,” she said.
No classes Monday
The university has said this year that there will be no classes on June 16 that will be recognized on Monday June 20 as the public holiday falls on a Sunday. The university will also host a celebration and memorial march on Saturday, June 18 at 6 p.m. in North Minneapolis.
But Brewer said the true meaning of June 16 is often overlooked in favor of the more festive aspects of the holiday, noting that at its core, June 16 is about black liberation.
“It’s not just a holiday,” she said.
As for the university’s plans to recognize Juneteenth for staff and faculty in 2023, Brewer doesn’t have high hopes.
“We’ll see,” she said.