Prescott College Alum Sparks Discussion About Indigenous Peoples Day

Emma Howland-Bolton
Shamim Amiri


The unique programs at Prescott College and the self-directed nature of its curriculum attract motivated students, eager to learn in an experiential environment, keen to make a difference in their communities. Emma Howland-Bolton, an educator, activist, and alumna of Prescott College, has been vocal on issues at the cross-section of politics and education. Howland-Bolton made news in March 2018 in response to a Betsy Devos' 60 Minutes interview regarding public school choice and how it affects districts financially. Howland-Bolton was interviewed as an advocate for public school funding. Additionally, she has spoken out about water quality in Detroit public schools. Most recently, Howland-Bolton made national and international news when she wore a “Columbus was a Murderer” sweatshirt on Indigenous People’s Day. She endeavored to create a conversation on this controversial topic with her fifth-grade students at Clippert Multicultural Magnet Honors Academy in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. She hoped for a dialogue on different perspectives on the issue of indigenous rights, but instead, a school administrator asked her to take off the shirt. 

Dr. Ernesto Mireles, Faculty and Co-Chair of the Master of Social Justice and Community Organizing program at Prescott College, states: “Columbus was a murderer. His men were murderers, and the men who came after began the largest and long-running genocide this world has seen. Outright extermination, or open warfare, lasted until the late 1800s and continues through the continued appropriation of native lands and the reservation system. Known in other countries as refugee camps.” He also states that Prescott College faculty are committed to helping students understand the reality of colonial conquest, and how it has been codified through the economic, religious, and social construct known as settler colonialism. In the Cultural and Regional Studies department, students study an anti-colonial curriculum that includes a frank and realistic look at the conquest of the Americas and the subsequent development of the colonial settler system. “Indigenous people in America have been systematically exterminated while their land, resources, and cultures have been relentlessly destroyed and reappropriated.” Dr. Mireles said.

 The Detroit Public Schools Community District says Howland-Bolton’s shirt was first noticed because sweatshirts, in general, are not part of a business casual dress code. Then, the statement on the sweatshirt was discussed because it was not submitted as part of a lesson plan to be pre-approved. Ultimately, she faced no discipline.