"This is another example of political correctness, and it's wrong," local radio talk show host John DePetro said during Monday's rally for Columbus Day, a demonstration against the University's decision last spring to change the name of the holiday weekend to Fall Weekend.
DePetro's rally, hosted on the Main Green in conjunction with the Brown College Republicans and the conservative and libertarian magazine the Brown Spectator, drew an audience of about 50 — mostly community members — along with Department of Public Safety officers, who stepped in at least once to calm protesters.
"As the ultimate politically correct move, the naive, arrogant, haughty Brown faculty last year decided to side with American Indians, less than 1 percent of Brown's student body, and change the name of Columbus Day weekend to Fall Weekend," said Keith Dellagrotta '10, president of the Brown Republicans, in a speech at the rally.
"Universities like Brown seek to diminish the importance of Christianity in the founding of the United States, but they will never win that battle," Dellagrotta said. "American Indians knew not Christianity, and thus lacked the bedrock to construct a great United States of America as we know it today. Columbus, however, was their saving grace."
Several speakers, including Raymond Dettore, Jr., a national orator for the Order Sons of Italy in America group, said though they did not condone Columbus' transgressions against Native Americans, they did not believe those misdeeds detracted from the explorer's successes.
He said finding fault with Columbus was "an attempt to attribute 21st-century conduct to a 15th-century explorer." Because slavery and brutality were more common in those days, Columbus was just following cultural norms, Dettore said.
"What (Brown) forgot — or ignored and gave no consideration to — is that Christopher Columbus is also a symbol of pride to Italian Americans," said Anthony Gianfrancesco '79, a Providence lawyer. "Now he's going to become this great symbol of evil."
Several speakers and demonstrators at the rally said there would be significant financial ramifications for the University's decision to do away with Columbus Day.
Many demonstrators said Brown's decision to change the name of a national holiday is a political statement, which should strip the University of its non-profit status.
Reiko Koyama '11, one of the students who spearheaded the name change last spring, said in a phone interview after the rally that the University is not concerned about a loss of non-profit status. The University "has expressed opinions on political issues multiple times," Koyama said.
"It has nothing to do with Italian-American pride," Koyama said. "The protestors are looking at this issue as a way to cause divisiveness, but it should be a day to come together."
She said both Italian Americans and Native Americans have suffered their share of persecution throughout history. But a holiday in Columbus' name need not be the primary expression of Italian-American pride, she said.
Though the vast majority of protesters avoided confrontation, 2006 mayoral candidate Chris Young was more aggressive, shouting at counter-protester Jerry Wolf Duff Sellers '09.
Duff Sellers — who is of both Italian and Native American descent — stood beside a statue of a caricaturized Italian chef with a toy sword, on which he rested a sign reading, "Columbus spilled BABIES BLOOD (sic) like I spill tomato sauce."
"Brown should pay property taxes if they're going to become politically active by removing a national holiday," Young shouted at Duff Sellers, and demanded that he respond to questions about Brown's tax-exempt status.
The event drew television crews from the local news affiliates of NBC, ABC and Fox, and has already brought Brown into the headlines.
"I went to the rally because I wanted to see what it was about," said Oliver Rosenbloom '13, one of just a handful of student spectators.