The University of Oregon is adding Juneteenth and Veterans Day to its holiday observance schedule.
President Michael H. Schill said university leaders decided to include Juneteenth as an observed holiday to recognize the importance of the date in U.S. history and to underscore the university’s commitment to inclusion and the dismantling of systemic racism.
“I am very pleased our UO community will have the opportunity to recognize and reflect on Juneteenth and on Veterans Day,” Schill said. “Expanding the UO holiday schedule advances our commitment to equity and inclusion and recognizes the sacrifices of our veterans.”
In recognition of Juneteenth, the university will observe the holiday on Friday, June 18, this year. Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States in 1865, two years after adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a long-standing African American holiday, honoring Black history, culture, resistance and resilience.
Charise Cheney, associate professor of history, teaches about the history of Juneteenth in her classes.
“Juneteenth provides us with a moment to both celebrate and reflect upon our histories as African-descended people in America,” Cheney said. “In the wake of a turbulent year, let us be reminded that empowered whites’ grip on (discriminatory) power can be illusive. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed the enslaved in Confederate states that were in active resistance to the Union. Even so, those in Texas received word of their freedom over two years later. So we must remain vigilant about the vagaries of anti-Black racism, despite the hints of political progress.”
The Oregon House and Senate have approved legislation making Juneteenth a paid state holiday, and Gov. Kate Brown is expected to approve it, taking effect in 2022.
The addition of these holidays to the UO holiday schedule is effective immediately and applies to this year and future years. The university will close in observance of the holidays and eligible employees will receive holiday pay in accordance with policy and collective bargaining agreements. Implementation details by employee group are available on the HR website.
The process of adding Juneteenth to the holiday schedule led university leadership to revisit other state holidays and to also add Veterans Day as a paid university holiday. The university will observe Veterans Day on Nov. 11. Veterans Day is observed annually to honor military veterans who have served in the United States Armed Forces. It was originally known as Armistice Day and coincides with other countries’ holidays, which recognize the end of major hostilities in World War I.
“The addition of Veterans Day and Juneteenth as UO days of observance are new opportunities to further the university’s commitment to anti-racism and inclusion,” said Yvette Alex-Assensoh, vice president for equity and inclusion. “Representation matters, and holiday observance is only one way to acknowledge and honor the diverse heritage, history and contributions of members of the UO community.”
Schill said the UO observances are an opportunity for the Division of Equity and Inclusion and the Office of Human Resources to work together more closely in cultivating cultural humility and inclusive excellence on campus.
They will partner with UO strategies groups. Strategies groups are autonomous organizations of faculty members, staff and students from Native, Black, Latino, Asian, Desi and Pacific Islander, and white communities that are open to people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. The idea for all UO strategies roups came from Native faculty members, staff and students, who organized and modeled the organizational structure for others on campus.
Strategies groups devote time and effort to advocate for inclusive excellence, justice and better support for students on campus and beyond. As part of that work, they also create celebrations to honor Native American Heritage Month and Indigenous Peoples’ Solidary Day, Latino Heritage Month, Black History Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Pride and LGBTQIA history months. The Deconstructing Whiteness Strategy Group also works to raise awareness about racism and how it is perpetuated through individual behavior and systems.
Alex-Assensoh and Mark Schmelz, chief human resources officer, said they welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with faculty members, staff and students on campus to leverage the awareness-raising aspects of heritage and history months and UO days of observance toward more inclusive, just and equitable climate, curricula, policies and practices benefiting the entire university community.