Busy week? We get it. So in the event that you haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and dive into last week’s cover package, here’s a brief primer to get you caught up and, hopefully, convince you to take a look at the full story.
Illustration by Eric Mueller
When Humboldt State University students left campus last spring, a cloud hung over Arcata. It still does. The April 15 stabbing death of HSU sophomore David Josiah Lawson at an off-campus party remains unsolved and many of the feelings unveiled in the aftermath of the killing remain unresolved. Lawson's death — and the protests, vigils and demonstrations that followed — brought into painful focus that racial tensions are very much a part of life in Humboldt County, on campus and off. The 19-year-old's death also started conversations about how to make our community more inclusive and equitable, and how to ensure that students who come here looking for an education are welcomed, supported and safe. In an effort to continue those conversations, we reached out to some community leaders and asked them to weigh in. You'll find their responses printed below, in their entirety. But we'd also like to hear from you. So, please, join the conversation online at www.northcoastjournal.com or send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s a glimpse at what five people had to say:
1) HSU President Lisa Rossbaccher
offered a laundry list of efforts currently underway on campus, including “Equity Arcata,” an effort to better integrate the campus and the community, increased training for faculty and staff, and a Voices of Diversity oral history program on KHSU.
“I am honored to be part of a community where the university, the city and local businesses are working together toward the common goals of respect, civility, understanding, racial equity and social justice,” she wrote.
2) HSU Police Chief Donn Peterson
offered passionate declaration of values in the wake of Charlottesville, applauding the “strong and declarative” messages from local leaders as they work together in a broad effort to tackles these issues. (He also took a bit of a swipe at President Donald Trump’s response to Charlottesville.) He urged everyone to step up and join the effort to ensure everyone feels welcome and supported in our communities.
“In the current climate, silence equates to consent,” he wrote. “Regardless of your thoughts or beliefs, silence is perceived as apathy and apathy may as well be support for white nationalism. If you have been silent or sitting on the sidelines, I urge you to join this supremely worthwhile effort.”
3) HSU Sophomore Katauri Thompson
, a 19-year-old member of Brothers United and a good friend of Lawson’s dating back to their days in Moreno Valley, offered the perspective of a young adult from a diverse area of Southern California who attends HSU and finds he sticks out in a crowd. Thompson acknowledges the campus and the community are working to become more welcoming places for people of color, but doesn’t come across as overly hopeful.
“The campus and community here are working on it, we suppose,” he wrote. “… Change is uncomfortable, so you just learn to get used to that environment. To adapt to the environment, you must be willing to learn and observe differences between yourself, others and the place you may or may not be living in four years. … In all honesty, the campus is being revamped with new ideas, cultural acknowledgement and student population growth. Humboldt State is a work in progress.”
4) HSU Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Executive Director Cheryl Johnson
opined that we have arrived at a precipice as a nation and a community. She believes trusting relationships will help us turn back and “join one another in the long journey toward equity and racial justice.”
“We must understand that creating equity is not about excluding one group to benefit another, it is about creating inclusion for all. The commenter Heather McGree has observed that when a group is accustomed to privilege, equity can, at least initially, feel like oppression. Is through our trusting relationships that we can teach one another that equity and inclusion benefit us all.”
5) Humboldt Area Foundation Leadership Program Manager Ron White
, 60, recalled his experience growing up in a black community in Georgia before desegregation, and how elders would counsel he and his peers that “Change is going to come. Be ready.” Over his two years in Humboldt, White wrote, he’s come to see HSU as disconnected from the greater community, an island of diversity with the potential to bring “new insights, talents cultural perspectives and, therefore, possibilities to our county.” Unfortunately, he wrote, “too often the community treats the university as if it’s an airport filled with temporary visitors. The most we expect is that they will buy something and be on their way.”
While he senses a “deep, irreversible change is afoot,” White wrote that no one seems to have told the “resident majority white population, ‘Change is going to come.’ And by my lights, most of our institutions and structures, from schools to businesses to government and nonprofits, while well meaning, are not ready.”
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