“I would challenge all organizations who adopt Juneteenth as a holiday to not just do the performative gesture of making it a holiday.”
This year marks the first year that Massachusetts is celebrating Juneteenth as an official state holiday, since Gov. Charlie Baker signed the holiday into law last July. Institutions across the Commonwealth added the occasion onto their academic calendars for the first time as well, with Boston University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Emerson College, and Berklee College of Music among them.
The designation of Juneteenth as a recognized holiday entitles all participating universities’ employees to either paid absences from work, or in the case of employees who do work on the holiday, time-and-a-half pay.
BU announced in May that it would add Juneteenth as an official university-wide holiday, along with the renaming of Columbus Day as Indigneous People’s Day on its calendar.
Andrea Taylor, BU’s first senior diversity officer and chair of BU’s Antiracism Working Group (AWG), and Sylvia C. Spears, Emerson College’s vice-president for equity and social justice, noted the impact of the pandemic in revealing racial and social inequalities.
“The country, some people would argue, is in the midst of a racial reckoning, stemming from the murder of George Floyd,” Spears said. “I think more and more colleges are recognizing that they have some work to do.”
In addition to the calendar change, Emerson has compiled resources to encourage an understanding of Juneteenth in historical context, and also to support Black-owned businesses in the local Boston area. A dedicated page, linked on Emerson’s website, includes a brief history, local festivities, panels, and events like Roxbury’s Restaurant Week, mental health initiatives, and educational books and films.
Like BU and Emerson, Berklee is also celebrating Juneteenth for the first time. Lacretia Flash, Berklee’s vice-president of diversity and inclusion, noted the importance of the efforts of students leading into more inclusive changes made by the university.
“I think students have been at the forefront of raising awareness about their experiences and what they want to see more from us,” Flash said. “We actually developed a plan to address systemic racism for campus that was largely informed by conversations from our students, so we try to center their voices and their experiences as much as possible as we carry out this work of looking at our systems, structures, and practices to be more inclusive.”
Berklee’s plan includes re-evaluation of the diversity in its community, faculty, staff, and students, as well as in its campus climate, and culture.
“We are looking at hiring and recruitment practices, and having diverse, talented candidate pools,” Flash said. “We are certainly looking at curriculum, as well as how all members of our community have the level of skills, knowledge, and awareness that they need in order to provide the best learning experience possible for all of our students.”
Alyce Johnson, MIT’s senior advisor to the vice-president of HR on diversity, equity, and inclusion, is excited for what MIT’s addition of Juneteenth to their calendar signals about the anti-racist work to come. Johnson, who had personally been celebrating Juneteenth over the last 20 years, appreciated the addition of the holiday as a marker of cultural and climate change.
“Making this change is part of a systemic approach to addressing inclusion,” Johnson said. “If you want change, it’s got to be at the systemic level. It’s a shared interest of making changes so that we all recognize the US history of which Juneteenth is a part of, so that people aren’t thinking it’s just a ‘Northern’ holiday.”
Spears expressed concerns about performative activism, and hoped that institutions take their reflection a step further in order to make a lasting impact.
“The challenge is … there are businesses, corporations, colleges, and universities all over the country who are jumping on the make-Juneteenth-a-holiday bandwagon,” Spears said. “I would challenge all organizations who adopt Juneteenth as a holiday to not just do the performative gesture of making it a holiday, but also examine their policies, practices, and the way their systems and structures might actually be inequitable or not coming out an anti-racist lens.
“For me, the provision of the holiday has to be coupled with a commitment to anti-racist practices.”
Metropolitan Boston Universities:
YES University Wide Holiday: (on academic calendars)
- Harvard University
- Bentley University
- Boston College
- Boston University
- Brandeis University
- Bunker Hill Community College
- Cambridge College
- Emerson College
- Laboure College
- Lesley University
UNSURE: (not on their academic calendars)
- Bay State College
- Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology
- Boston Architectural College
- Boston Baptist College
- Curry College
- Eastern Nazarene College
- Emmanuel College
- Fisher College
- Hebrew College
- Hellenic College and Holy Cross
- Lasell University
- MA College of Art and Design
- William James