Beginning in 2022, the University will officially observe Juneteenth as a University holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates Black communities and the emancipation of African-American slaves. It originates from Galveston, Texas, and has been celebrated on June 19 in the United States since 1865. The holiday also recognizes and celebrates the growth Black and African-American communities have made towards equity but also the ongoing challenges of systematic racism.
According to the announcement on the UR Newscenter webpage, “The official observation of Juneteenth reflects Rochester’s ongoing commitment to greater equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).”
Karen Chance Mercurius, Associate Vice President of Alumni and Constituent Relations, says that the decision to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday is an initiative toward the commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution. In an interview with the Campus Times, Mercurius said, “The recognition of Juneteenth as a University holiday marks a significant historical moment. It is much more than a day off. It is a day dedicated to learning, engagement, and community building.”
According to Mercurius, the Office of Alumni Relations and Constituent Engagement is working with the Diversity Advisory Council and alumni affinity network toward the commitment to EDI.
“These networks […] honor and recognize our shared history and lived experiences,” Mercurius said. In 2020, the Black Alumni Network held their first Juneteenth event and continued its growth through several events to engage Black alumni, staff, and students, such as Rochester’s Equity & Access Leadership Conversations (REAL), a monthly series that features “brave and candid dialogue around topics of equity, measurable action, and meaningful change.” REAL held its first University-wide Juneteenth event in 2020.
Leadership reporting directly to University President Sarah Mangelsdorf and establishing a University-wide Office of Equity and Inclusion is “a step in the right direction,” Mercurius said, also noting initiatives that are currently underway to review policies, events, and awards to make them more equitable and inclusive.
Juneteenth will be an annual celebration hosted by the Black Alumni Network and the Office of Alumni Relations and Constituent Engagement.
“Juneteenth is an opportunity to learn about the history of the enslavement of African-Americans, to celebrate the contributions of Black excellence, and take action to create a more equitable and inclusive society in the future,” Mercurius said. “I sincerely hope the local community will see this designation as a sign of the University’s commitment to […] creating a more just society for us all.”