Maybe the best connection that dates back to when it wasn’t often considered “an” institution is that Thanksgiving isn’t even acknowledged as part of the federal holiday season.
But the idea is showing up on college campuses. Last year, the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay faced an online petition from “friends and associates” of members of the university community who objected to the school recognizing Thanksgiving, as it does every year in recognition of the Lincoln family and its ties to the institution.
“Well, you got a lot of students involved, and now I hope that they bring more people together,” Eric Faulkner, a history and political science professor and chair of the university’s interdisciplinary department, said in an interview with The Daily Page.
Students asked how they could add their voices and help support their peers who were pushing the school to honor the holiday. More than 4,000 people signed the petition, said Allison Williams, spokeswoman for the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. This week, the UW–Green Bay Board of Regents renewed the annual designation of Thanksgiving Day for 2018-19 and 2019-20 as a “period of reflection, celebration and goodwill,” according to the statement by Chancellor Heather C. Jamieson.
“Our chapter of the Martin Luther King Jr. Links Fellowship is one such effort,” said member Kay Rawlings, referring to a scholarship. “The other reason [for my involvement in the petition] is that the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land has caused many, many people to question the very word we use, ‘democracy,’ especially when associated with freedom and social justice.”
This is the conclusion reached by John Allison, an associate professor of government, at the University of Utah. In his article in the Chronicle of Higher Education in late May, Dr. Allison asked, “Is the Thanksgiving holiday such a myth that we must rethink it?” He wrote that the holiday’s popularity among Americans and its incorporation of Christianity — dating back to the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving oration — could just be “pure political opportunism.”
“I know this, because I’ve spent a lot of time reading and writing about Thanksgiving,” he wrote. “I’ve participated in several holiday-related events, and — more importantly — I’ve listened to the many, many members of our community (perhaps even many non-Christians) struggling to understand why we celebrate Thanksgiving on a secular holiday, how they can sing about joyous eating and shopping during a time when millions of people are suffering in the world.”
In other words, Allison posits, perhaps the holiday is an extension of the recent push to incorporate more religious practices in our culture, but that isn’t the only possible explanation for its popularity.
While Columbia University students have their own indigenous drumming and singing celebration surrounding the holiday, “We are also mindful that we host a critical moment in a contested national conversation about race and identity. The interplay between our history and our current discourse is important. Much is at stake for our students and for our entire community,” a spokesman for the university said in an email.
Nonetheless, the campus was still able to acknowledge the otherness of this holiday for a larger part of the year.
Professor Faulkner is concerned about not much happening this time — certainly not on campus. “The holiday is widely recognized throughout the country and most notably among the conservatives who tend to dominate the time slot on Thanksgiving.”
“The resistance we faced was partly in response to the fact that the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay planned to address the political nature of the holiday in terms of acknowledging slavery and racism,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that the resistance stopped our plans, though. In general, people questioned the wisdom of honoring a holiday which puts an emphasis on one religious tradition, and that’s certainly not unique.”
You can read Dr. Allison’s full article here.
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