OSU to recognize Juneteenth as holiday for 2021, potentially for years to come

Oregon State University will be recognizing June 19 as a holiday this year. OSU political science Professor Christopher Stout said that the university’s decision to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday will encourage community members to learn the history of the day and educate themselves on its significance.

Cara Nixon, News Contributor

This year, on June 19, Oregon State University will be recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday as part of its “Moving Forward Together” initiative, diversity strategic plan and Strategic Plan 4.0. 

Chris Stout, an associate professor of political science whose research focus includes racial and ethnic politics, explained the history behind Juneteenth. Though the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, Stout said, slavery did not really come to an end until a couple years later. 

In April of 1865, the Civil War officially ended, making enslaved Black people officially free. However, in some places, this information was not revealed to the public, leaving many African Americans illegally enslaved until June 19, 1865. Juneteenth commemorates that day as the official end of slavery in the United States. 

“By recognizing Juneteenth as a university holiday, we share a message that Black students, faculty and staff—and Oregonians—matter and that racism and violence against people of color must end,” Steve Clark, vice president of University Relations & Marketing, said. 

The announcement about making Juneteenth a university holiday for 2021 came directly after the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd last May. After the “Humanity and Hope” community event following the verdict, OSU announced new antiracist initiatives, including the recognition of Juneteenth. 

“Moving Forward Together” is an OSU plan which seeks to enhance its commitment to “leading change and dismantling systemic racism.” The diversity strategic plan represents a path for OSU to improve inclusive excellence, while Strategic Plan 4.0 includes goals to create and refine equitable access to education for all and to demonstrate dedication to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice. 

Since June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, OSU will recognize June 18 instead as paid day off. Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Dan Larson, said although the paid holiday falls outside of the traditional academic calendar, recognizing it will still send an important message to students at OSU. 

“Students, specifically Black and African-American, will know that Oregon State University acknowledges the true end of slavery in the United States in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation,” Larson said. “Members of the OSU community also will know that we acknowledge that the treatment, experiences and struggles of Black Americans within the U.S. and specifically, within the state of Oregon, are well documented.”

The Oregon Legislature is expected to pass House Bill 2168, which would adopt Juneteenth as a statewide recognized holiday. However, Larson said that even if this bill does not pass, he sees OSU continuing to recognize Juneteenth in the years to come. 

“The decision to recognize the holiday at OSU is a values-based decision,” Larson explained. “While the potential of Juneteenth becoming a state holiday reinforces the university’s decision to observe this holiday, OSU’s recognition of this important day is not dependent on a state holiday being adopted.”

Stout said he expects Oregon, and eventually the U.S., to make Juneteenth an officially recognized holiday. He explained that in the past it has had bipartisan support. However, he also said some politicians have been known to drag their feet on such bills, as was the case when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was being adopted as a national holiday. 

Despite what the future may hold for Juneteenth, Stout said he believes no push would have happened to recognize it without the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“I don’t think any of this stuff happens without Black Lives Matter,” Stout said. “This is driven by systematic discrimination. And this systematic discrimination has deep roots in our history. By making the public more aware of this, it makes people want to learn more. And it also makes legislators want to be more responsive.” 

Stout said that OSU recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday will encourage community members to learn the history of the day and educate themselves on its significance. He said when those people dig deeper, they can come to better understand the trials and tribulations of Black people in the U.S., which will eventually lead to more substantive change. 

Damoni Wright, who helped write the proposal for the idea, was reached out to for comment but did not respond in time for publication. 

The NAACP Corvallis/Albany branch was reached out to for comment but did not respond in time for publication. 

The OSU Black Student Union president was reached out to for comment but did not respond in time for publication.