March 31 declared a ‘no classes’ day
EL PASO, Texas — After several letters of protest, a rally and march to the President’s Office and a Gold Nugget recipient returning his award, Cesar Chavez Day is back as a “no classes” day only for this year.
At their monthly meeting Feb. 8, the Faculty Senate voted in favor of reinstating Cesar Chavez Day and Spring Study Day as holidays for students. Last November, the same entity removed both dates from the school’s calendar to meet a requirement by the state legislature that mandated them to choose 12 staff holidays per academic year.
The reinstatement of the holiday was announced through an e-mail sent by the President’s Office, which included a statement from UTEP President Diana Natalicio.
“We regret the calendar confusion and the misunderstanding that resulted from it,” said Natalicio in her statement. “There was absolutely no intention on the part of the Faculty Senate to dishonor Cesar Chavez or his legacy.”
As a result of the vote, no classes will be conducted March 31, although the university and its staff will work that day.
Carl Lieb, president of the Faculty Senate and biological sciences professor, said there was confusion between staff and student holidays, and because of this, changes were made to the university’s calendar.
“We expect that in the future we’ll be able to protect the holidays that are important for our student population,” Lieb said.
He added that the changes just apply for the current academic year and they still have to study what’s going to happen next year.
Dennis Bixler-Marquez, director of Chicano Studies, said the reinstatement was a “quick bandage” for the problem.
“When the holiday was removed, some faculty, including myself, sent letters to the Faculty Senate and asked them to reconsider their decision,” Bixler-Marquez said. “Now that they have taken back the holiday for the year, they need some time to see how it is going to be in the future.”
Student organizations such as Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MeCha), Miners without Borders and Cultural Artists United for Social Action worked together to make their voices heard.
A group of students and alumni organized a rally where Pete Duarte, former CEO of University Medical Center and 2004 Liberal Arts Gold Nugget recipient, gave back his award to Natalicio.
“The president was not expecting that kind of outcome from students,” said Jorge Gomez, president of Miner Without Borders. “Besides all the confusion, I’m happy that we took action. If UTEP wants to reach tier one, we need to acknowledge our cultural background.”
Students obtained over 1,500 signatures for a petition supporting the reinstatement of Cesar Chavez Day.
“We feel that we have been very successful in getting the day back, however more work needs to be done,” said Gabriel Holguin, member of MeCha and senior political science major. “We collectively have the ability to produce change when we join hands. This power was well demonstrated by Cesar and the United Farm Workers movement, and it was exactly this principle that helped us reinstate Cesar Chavez Day.”
Avina Gutierrez, president of the Mexican-American Student Society and a transfer student in multidisciplinary studies, has never attended a university with a Cesar Chavez celebration. After she learned about the removal of the holiday, she began working with other student organizations to join together against the decision.
“I still think that the removal was inexcusable, but it provided a platform for students to see the mentality of U.S. society on Mexican-American issues,” Gutierrez said. “When we come together, we can make changes on campus.”
Editor’s note: This story was originally publish on The Prospector