Quinnipiac owes more to its Indigenous roots

Melina Khan, Associate News Editor

In 1950, the Junior College of Commerce decided to expand its offerings to include bachelor’s degree programs. In turn, a name change was needed, and administrators asked the student body for ideas.

Pete Moore and William Denison, students of the college at the time, lived on Quinnipiac Avenue in North Haven. The pair decided it would be a good name for the college, especially since the school was situated in Quinnipiac Valley and was once occupied by the Quinnipiac people, Denison said in a video on the university’s YouTube channel.

A year later, the school was officially converted to a four-year college, it was renamed Quinnipiac College per Moore and Denison’s suggestion.

This is a piece of Quinnipiac’s history that is seldom known on campus.

Students who actually know the origin of the word “Quinnipiac” believe our university is named after the tribe. But in fact, it was a suggestion from students based on a street name.

The name showed up on that street sign in the first place because of the Indigenous tribe that once inhabited 300 square miles of land in southern Connecticut, including Hamden. But nowhere on the university’s history webpage does it mention the Quinnipiac people.

The naming of an institution after a historic group of individuals is something that should be done in honor of them, not just because it sounds like a good name for a school.

Today, administration is still falling behind when it comes to honoring the indigeneity of the land we occupy.

Baffling barely begins to describe my sentiment when the university failed to even acknowledge Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct. 11.

While that date has historically been recognized as Columbus Day, colleges around the country have increasingly adapted to celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day instead. Not to mention, most universities have the day off in honor of either of the day’s holidays.

President Joe Biden was also the first U.S. president to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples Day over Columbus Day, proclaiming it a national holiday this year.

Quinnipiac still held classes.

There was not even a social media post in recognition of the day, like there has been for other recent significant dates like LGBTQ+ History Month, Yom Kippur and 9/11.

This is simply inadequate on Quinnipiac’s part. A social media post, which is not difficult to do, would at least be better than nothing. But our school did not do the bare minimum, which is beyond disappointing.

Inaction like this makes it hard to believe the university’s 10-Point Plan to Advance Racial Justice is being acted upon beyond marketing purposes. The plan lists Indigenous recognition as one of its points and didn’t recognize the one day dedicated to Indigenous peoples.

The Indigenous Student Union (ISU), which works to amplify Indigenous voices on campus and highlight Quinnipiac’s Indigenous history, has in my opinion, made more progress than the university itself.

(O)ur school did not do the bare minimum, which is beyond disappointing.”

— Melina Khan, associate news editor

The organization has hosted educational and powerful events for students to understand the Quinnipiac tribe and other Indigenous people. Its vice president, Gabriella Colello, is making great strides in creating an Indigenous studies minor. It was even named Judith Frank Organization of the Year last year.

In an email statement to The Chronicle, ISU said it is “disappointed but not surprised” at the university’s actions.

“As an institution that profits off an Indigenous name, sits upon Indigenous land, and has pledged (from a marketing perspective) to fulfill a commitment to the Indigeneity Initiative through its ten-point plan for ‘Inclusive Excellence,’ we feel that an acknowledging Indigenous Peoples Day would have been a no-brainer, baseline level of support,” ISU said.

The ISU added that it “heard the administration’s silent answer, loud and clear.”

A silent yet powerful answer is the most accurate way to put it. Quinnipiac’s lack of an acknowledgement of Indigenous Peoples Day is the culmination of my discontent in the university’s diversity inaction. It is incredibly disappointing to pay tuition at a school that does not recognize the origin of not only its name but also the land it occupies.

As students, we must first educate ourselves. Knowing the history of our university, from its origins as a junior college to the way it got its name, is important. From the day the university acquired the Quinnipiac name, it did not do so in an honorable way, but rather an appropriative one.

When you see the name Quinnipiac, understand that it represents a diverse history, and a group of people who were forced off this land hundreds of years ago. When you attend class, hang out in your dorm or hike in Sleeping Giant State Park, keep in mind that the land you are doing it on is not just Quinnipiac University’s land. It is also the Quinnipiac tribe’s land.

As for the Quinnipiac administration, my hope is that it will one day do the bare minimum of acknowledging and honoring the day the way it should, even if it isn’t a university holiday.

I hope that one day the university will acknowledge how it gained its name — that it was per student suggestion and not for historical significance.

I hope that one day the administration will begin to truly understand its obligation as an institution that holds a great deal of power, and reflect that in its actions. I remain optimistic that progress will be made in its biannual Equity and Inclusion Report.

But also, my expectation is that the university will choose to progress in its acknowledgement of the indigeneity of this land, not only from a marketing perspective, but a genuine one.