State Senate appoints vocal Columbus Day defender to CUNY Board of Trustees


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Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

The New York State Senate approved the appointment of a restaurateur and staunch defender of Christopher Columbus, Angelo Vivolo, to the CUNY Board of Trustees last week, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated him the preceding weekend.

Vivolo was interviewed at the State Senate’s board confirmation hearings on June 7, where he was approved for the six-year-long term. The Board of Trustees is the university’s governing body, which makes decisions on behalf of the colleges, such as on tuition.

“My position on Columbus is very simple: education,” Vivolo told The New York Post. “The best way to deal with Columbus is to provide education, to provide knowledge and to provide the truth. I hope the controversy doesn’t prevent me from being a trustee on the CUNY board. Columbus is someone Italian-Americans look up to. There are detractors. But I’m here to serve the interests of everyone — not just Italian-Americans. I’m just one voice.”

Most known for his very vocal opposition to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to change Christopher Columbus Day to Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day on the city’s calendar, Vivolo considers himself an activist for the Italian community.

De Blasio himself is Italian.

Vivolo is the president of the Columbus Heritage Coalition and the National Columbus Education Foundation, an organization dedicated to making sure Columbus Day is not erased from yearly calendars in the U.S.

“Italian American history and heritage are cultural pillars in so many American cities from coast to coast,” the about page on the Coalition’s website reads in part. “The achievements of the Italian American community continue to have a profound and lasting impact on the country and our collective identity. The Italian American story is the immigrant story, a story with which so many can identify. The pride Italian Americans have in their heritage is the pride every immigrant community possesses. That’s why we are standing together to show our solidarity with Italian American communities nationwide supporting the celebration of Columbus Day, including our successful battle to preserve the Christopher Columbus statue in New York City’s Columbus Circle.”

As New York City moves away from the days of hailing Columbus as a cultural savior and more toward seeing the Italian explorer in a mixed light, Vivolo has been steadfast in his belief that Columbus does not deserve to be portrayed negatively.

He’s also been steadfast in his belief that educating people about what Columbus really did in life is the key to stopping attacks on the explorer, who is often incorrectly credited with being the first person to discover the Americas.

“The key to future success is education,” Vivolo was quoted as saying in an article from We the Italians. “For too many years the Italian American community has not contested the false narrative about Columbus, and have other define who he was. It is extremely important to have an open dialogue with those people who have opposing views. The press has made this a battle between the legacy of Christopher Columbus and Indigenous people. We emphatically endorse a special day for Indigenous people but not as a replacement of Columbus Day. It is essential that we meet those who are opposed to Columbus Day. We also need the support of other ethnicities who immigrated to the US and appreciate that Columbus was the first immigrant and lead the way for all of us to arrive here and prosper.”

While known for his role as an advocate for New York City’s Italian community and supporter of Columbus Day over Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Italian Heritage Day, Vivolo does have some background in education.

The 74-year-old went to Long Island University for his undergraduate studies and then attended Hunter College and Brooklyn College for his graduate degree in education. His brother and sister attended City Technical College for their associate degrees.

Outside of his family’s personal experiences at CUNY, Vivolo also is connected to education from lecturing at City Tech.

He also worked as a high school teacher for schools in Far Rockaway and South Ozone Park, Queens and in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, before becoming the dean of a “special intervention program for high-risk, academically underprepared teenage boys.”

Vivolo is also the university trustee of John Cabot University in Rome.

The new trustee is also a supporter of the education-related organizations of the Partnership for Inner-City Education, the Futures in Education Program and the Child Center of New York.

Other than education, Vivolo’s career focused heavily on hospitality, as he spent 40 years working as a restaurateur, owning five dining establishments in Manhattan.

His culinary and education experiences came together for him when he worked with the hospitality, culinary and hotel management program at City Tech as a goodwill ambassador to the city’s culinary industry.

Baruch College history professor and member of the Faculty Advisory Council of CUNY’s John D. Calandra Italian American Institute Vincent DiGirolamo gave The Ticker an email statement with his thoughts about Vivolo’s nomination.

“Columbus’s importance as a world historical figure is assured. His place in Columbus Circle, and on our calendars, is not. The debate over his legacy is necessary and proper. And we can’t have that debate without his defenders. The fact that Angelo Vivolo has strongly articulated the case for honoring Columbus is no grounds to oppose his appointment to the CUNY Board of Trustees,” his statement reads in part. “I fully expect Mr. Vivolo to render good service to the board. However, if he uses that position to crusade against ‘cancel culture,’ or any such distortion of principled student and faculty engagement with the thorny issues of racism, slavery and colonialism, then his appointment will be regretted.”

This belief appears to be shared by some students, such as junior finance major Matthew Dela Cruz, who responded to a Google Form survey from The Ticker that was shared on Facebook.

“I don’t think Vivolo’s beliefs should be a major factor in deciding whether or not he would be a good fit for the board,” he said. “His past performance and skills should be assessed rather than what he believes in. We should be more concerned about whether or not he will act and make decisions that will benefit all of CUNY.”

The Undergraduate Student Government also provided The Ticker with a statement on its members’ stance.

“As elected student representatives that serve as the Undergraduate Student Government of Baruch College, our mission has and will always be to equitably represent the student body,” the statement reads. “As students we must hold our Board of Trustees to make decisions that positively affect students and do not impede the equality of the institution. Angelo Vivolo has been nominated by the governor and approved by the State Senate. We are not here to bash any individual person; he chooses to be a vocal Columbus Day supporter, as some students also choose to.”

USG went on to say that, while it will give him a chance to prove that he was the right person to be chosen for the Board, that its members will speak up if they feel he does something that isn’t representative of student beliefs.

“However, it should be stated that by acknowledging Columbus Day, there should also be an acknowledgment of the indigenous people who were massively affected by the actions of Columbus and the symbolic nature of this day,” USG said. “Should Vivolo overstep in his actions in policy toward one group because of his beliefs, we will not hesitate in calling out the misappropriation of his position, just as we would for any elected member. Equity should be a priority in a governing body whose student body is the most diverse in the country.”

Baruch’s administration also offered a statement to The Ticker in regard to the college’s holidays.

“For all CUNY schools, holidays are set by the Board of Trustees policy and/or Union contracts,” the statement stated. “That said, Baruch hosts a wide range of events throughout the academic year to celebrate the rich diversity of its student body. In his first year at Baruch, President Wu has reaffirmed the College’s commitment to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for all members of the campus community.”