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Laura Meyerson is a professor, Academic Calendar Committee chairperson, and Faculty Senate Executive Committee member at the University of Rhode Island. Audrey Cardany is an associate professor and president of the URI Faculty Senate.
The University of Rhode Island Faculty Senate affirms that racial justice and diversity are the business of the URI faculty. As the authorized agent of the URI faculty, the Faculty Senate is committed to improving understanding and appreciation of the unique experiences and perspectives of the URI community, especially those of our Black colleagues, students and staff, as well as advocating for the needs of these and all URI members from marginalized populations.
URI Faculty Senate committees were explicitly charged in 2020 with integrating racial justice and diversity into their mandates. Recognizing that changes to the URI calendar affect not only faculty but the whole URI community, the Academic Calendar Committee surveyed 23 diverse and vibrant organizations across the university to identify important days they want URI to acknowledge and celebrate.
The committee contacted university and college diversity committees; faculty, student and alumni of color networks; student groups including the URI Student Senate, Native American Student Organization, Pink Women, the URI Veteran’s and Military Program, the URI Gender and Sexuality Center; Hillel and the Chaplains Association, and Sustainability URI.
The majority of respondents identified Juneteenth — June 19, which in 1865 marked the end of the enslavement of Black people in the United States — as a day that should become an official URI holiday. In response, the URI Faculty Senate passed a resolution on April 29, strongly supporting legislation at both the state and federal levels to make Juneteenth a holiday to celebrate and honor all Black Americans and to affirm that Black lives matter.
President David Dooley champions this proposal stating, “We cannot achieve ‘liberty and justice for all’ without acknowledging and understanding our past. We cannot truly care for one another without being honest with each other; and establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday will be an important step for our country to reaching these goals.”
Incoming URI President Marc Parlange affirmed, "Juneteenth is an opportunity for all Americans to face the truth about our country’s past, to honor the efforts and struggles of those who fought so hard for change, to acknowledge the work that still remains to be done to dismantle systemic racism in our communities and institutions, and then to commit to being part of bringing about that change."
Juneteenth can only be designated as a paid URI holiday if federal or state legislation is signed into law. State Rep. Anastasia Williams introduced an unsuccessful bill in 2020 to designate Juneteenth as a state holiday. U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline all support legislation declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday, but those bills are currently in House and Senate committees.
Senator Whitehouse notes “Juneteenth is a marker of the progress we’ve made and a reminder of the serious work ahead to eliminate the lingering injustices that stem from the nation’s dark history of slavery.”
The URI Faculty Senate and leadership call on our state and federal representatives to relentlessly pursue the opportunity for Americans to recognize June 19 as the date marking the end of enslavement of Black Americans. We invite fellow Rhode Islanders to support such legislation in affirming one more step toward justice, equality and inclusion.
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