Westborough Select Board reevaluates Columbus Day name change discussion, citing concerns

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By Stuart Foster, Contributing Writer

Westborough town iconWESTBOROUGH – The Westborough Select Board recently opted not to entertain a motion to schedule and hold a public listening session about a proposal to change Columbus Day to
Indigenous Peoples Day.

Gathered for a meeting on Sept. 28, the board decided to add the item to their next agenda due to concern over how the proposal, which was unanimously recommended by the Westborough Diversity and Inclusion Committee, had been previously handled.

“I do think, candidly, there is a part of me that thinks that we should entirely table this and start back from zero as a process, but I sort of feel like the cat is out of the bag,” said Select Board member Shelby Marshall.

Select Board, Diversity and Inclusion Committee member reflects on process

Marshall, who is also a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, said that she had
heard many comments from community members that the process was less than ideal, which she said she takes full responsibility for.

At a Diversity and Inclusion Committee meeting on Sept. 23, Marshall said that, in retrospect, the committee should have heard from opponents to the proposal who support retaining Columbus Day.

Select Board Vice Chair Ian Johnson mentioned that he had heard from people who supported tabling the motion and not having a public listening session because the state is already looking at the issue.

Another Select Board member, Patrick Welch, however, said that, while he had heard similar concerns from community members, the state is, in part, looking at how municipalities handle this issue.

“I actually don’t feel comfortable with abdicating our responsibility in the town,” Welch said.

Proposal drew community opposition

Though the holiday would have still been known as “Columbus Day” at the federal level, the
proposal endorsed by the Diversity and Inclusion Committee would have changed the name to “Indigenous People’s Day” in a local context.

“By instituting the new holiday, we will publicly celebrate and raise awareness about the culture and history of indigenous people,” Committee Chair Cara Presley said in July. “By replacing Columbus Day, we honor the perseverance of indigenous people, despite their suffering at the hands of European colonists, led by Columbus, who overtook inhabited lands and committed genocide of indigenous people.”

The proposal was met with opposition, though, drawing a number of individuals to a meeting on Aug. 24.

“The petition to remove Columbus Day presented to the committee was a self-fulfilling
prophecy, for it was inherently biased against Columbus as a person, with no regard for historical fact,” said Ciaran O’Donnell at the time.

Other supporters discussed the value of Columbus Day as a celebration of Italian-American
identity.

‘From its inception, the proposal was tainted’

Earlier in the Select Board’s Sept. 28 meeting, during open forum discussion, Diane Modica, the chairperson for the Commission for Social Justice in the Massachusetts Order of Sons and Daughters of Italy in America (OSDIA), suggested that the Select Board table the matter or vote “no” on the proposal. Modica said that the Diversity and Inclusion Committee process, which originated from a petition that she described as “conclusory,” was biased.

Modica said that it appears the committee had reached out and talked to indigenous Americans without making a similar effort of outreach either to Italian-Americans in Westborough or organizations like the OSDIA.

“A recent comment by the DIC Chair Cara Presley indicated that, in their process in connection with Diversity Matters, she believes that not all voices carry the same weight,” Modica said. “It is clear that, in the Columbus matter, Italian-Americans carried no weight at all, which means that, from its inception, the proposal was tainted.”

Presley said at a Sept. 23 Diversity and Inclusion meeting that she felt good about how the
process had been handled. She said, though, that the committee would make some changes if it were to go through the process again.

She also noted that the purpose of the committee is to elevate diversity, equity and inclusion in town government.

“That doesn’t always mean that everybody’s opinion is weighed equally, because equity is
about dismantling the systemic racism, in this case, the topic of racism, and in order to do that, it doesn’t always mean bringing all of the voices with equal play,” Presley said.

Presley specified that this perspective does not represent the Diversity and Inclusion
Committee as a whole, noting that this was her opinion as an individual.