Williams College celebrates its last Columbus Day

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WILLIAMSTOWN — In ending the Columbus Day off at Williams College, it came down to accounting.

The faculty voted to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday for faculty, staff and students about six months ago.

The human resources department determined the college would trade off another holiday — Columbus Day — rather than adding another holiday to the calendar.

"This was just a simple trade-off," said Jim Reische, chief communications officer at Williams College. "We didn't do anything with Columbus Day. It was just a three-day weekend."

Administrative staff still had the day off on Monday, but that will change come next year. Classes still met.

Administrative staff will still be allowed to take the Columbus Day off next year if they choose, but they'll have to use a floating holiday day. There will be classes on that day.

"The major driver was — we needed to consider MLK Day a holiday," Reische said. "There was a strong push to make that a day off, to recognize it."

More important to the college in terms of programming is Claiming Williams Day, which began in 2009 after a series of racist and sexist incidents on campus in 2008, Reische said.

Claiming Williams Day includes a full roster of programming exploring what it means to be a diverse and inclusive campus, he said.

"It's much more about academic and community-building than anything we ever did with Columbus Day," he said.

The town of Williamstown took a different direction on Columbus Day earlier this year.

In May, town meeting voters agreed to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Williamstown Elementary School labeled Monday's holiday Indigenous Peoples Day on its website as of Monday morning.

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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