By Alexandria Hasenstab
Humboldt State University has not had a reported incident of blatant racism on campus in the past few years, however, the same cannot be said for the surrounding areas of Humboldt County. Several incidents of racist attacks, both verbal and physical, have been reported in Arcata. The most recent suspected incident resulted in the death of sophomore David Josiah Lawson.
Elijah Chandler is a close friend of Lawson. The two were members of Brothers United, a cultural club at HSU where Lawson served as president. Chandler felt a culture shock coming up to Arcata, which is predominately white, from South Central California which is known to have a high a population of people of color. He also believes that the population from Humboldt County has a hard time accepting the students of color entering the community
“People fear what they don’t understand,” Chandler said. “Most of these people aren’t used to seeing people of color. It’s a shock to their system as well. And when people fear something they lash out in hate towards it.”
Another member of Brothers United, Katauri Thompson, has dealt with racism in the community first hand only about two weeks ago.
Thompson and some of his friends were approached by police officers who had their guns drawn in Arcata and were asked to get on the ground. Thompson said that when he asked the officer what description they were going off of, the officer replied the only description was that some people in town from Florida were armed and in the area.
“That’s Florida, that’s a state that’s not a race,” Thompson said. “So why would you pick us out?”
Despite this, Thompson said that he doesn’t assume that all Humboldt County locals are prejudiced.
“It’s more ignorance,” Thompson said.
Thompson expected the community to be less diverse than what he was used to in Inglewood, California. However, he said he felt that the school’s reputation is misleading.
“I was told it would be liberal and diverse, and I don’t consider this to be diverse,” Thompson said.
HSU’s President Lisa Rossbacher acknowledges the lack of diversity in Humboldt County and the negative effects it can have.
“There isn’t a lot of ethnic and racial diversity in this region, except for what the university contributes,” Rossbacher said. “We do end up being a very diverse community as a university in the midst of a region that is far less diverse. That certainly creates some tensions.”
For student Laura Carlos, who is from San Jose, coming to Arcata from a very diverse area was difficult.
“I don’t feel unwelcome due to my skintone,” Carlos said. “But as soon as I speak or can’t pronounce words I can feel some vibes and get some looks that’s like ‘you don’t have the potential’.”
Carlos also feel that professors and lecturers need to be more understanding of students from different backgrounds and incorporate that into their teaching.
“It’s a downer as a Latina who’s working hard to reach a certain goal for their family,” Carlos said.
Although racism is everywhere junior child development major Brianna Allen believes that Humboldt State was not transparent about the lack of diversity and racism in the community.
“You learn about racism, but you don’t know what it really is until you’re in a white environment and a white institution,” Allen said.
Allen said that the school could be more proactive in creating a safe space for students of color. One solution she thought of was hiring more faculty and staff of different races.
“I can count on one hand the number of professors of color I’ve had,” Allen said. “It’s hard to get staff of color because of the environment.”
Allen said that when she first arrived in Humboldt she truly believed it has an open minded and liberal place.
“My little blindfold about Humboldt came off very quickly,” Allen said. “The school likes to present itself as liberal. They’re hippies in their appearance, but in terms of activism there’s no fight.”
Allen has been able to avoid racism in the community, although she did face a racist remark in the residence halls. As a community advocate, Allen has been able to live on campus for the past three years.
“I felt like being able to live on campus was a safety net,” Allen said.“Now I’m not doing the job and I am worried because I will have to live in the community.”
Allen said that the school is held more accountable than the city, but still more could done between both parties.
“I feel like more discussion about social and environmental issues and justice, especially in the community,” Allen said.
One staff member who is taking initiative is Corliss Bennett-McBride. Bennett-McBride is the director of the Cultural Center for Academic Excellence. She came to Humboldt nine months ago and has already been working to make changes in the community.
“I’m on several committees and task forces,” Bennett- McBride said
Bennett McBride works with local business to help them become culturally sensitive when people of color enter their businesses.
“You have a student who walks into a grocery store in Arcata and when she reaches into her purse to get her payment the cashier says ‘we don’t take EBT’,” Bennett-McBride said. “And that was a Latina student.”
Bennett knows that the students have a lot of power in the city because they make up such a large portion of the population.
Bennett-McBride also joined the Arcata Public Safety Task force in an effort to create a safer community for students.
“I know the relationship with the police, no matter where you live, and being a person of color is an issue,” Bennett – McBride said.
The task force works with the local government and the police to create a safer city.
Ben Yang is a local from Eureka and a member of the Asian Desi Pacific Islander Collective. As an Asian-American he felt that Humboldt had no spaces for him.
“I think usually when you see a person of color and you’re a white person you have a feeling that ‘I’m white I’m more privileged’,” Yang said.
Yang does not feel that HSU is big improvement from the county in term of resources for people of color.
In regards to the stigma about locals, especially after the stabbing this month, Yang felt that people have the rights to make judgments about the Humboldt locals based off of people’s actions. Yang also feels that many Humboldt locals are conservative despite HSU’s liberal ideals.
“I think they’re conservative deep down inside,” Yang said. “But I’m sure they could be an ally when it’s necessary.”
Senior Emily Murphy has also lived in Humboldt County her entire life
“I thought I knew everything about Humboldt County until I came to HSU,” Murphy said.
Growing up in Trinidad, Murphy attended Arcata high, but had friends from neighboring town Eureka and Mckinleyville.
Murphy didn’t see racism first-hand growing up but she acknowledges that exists in Humboldt County, especially in the institutions and the police. Murphy believes that the reason that many conservative people live in Humboldt County is because many of the towns were built off of logging, the logging community tends to be conservative.
Murphy admits that she wonders whether people make assumptions about her due to the fact that she is a white local.
“I don’t want to be stereotyped,” Murphy said.
Murphy hopes that people won’t judge all people from Humboldt County based off the racist actions of certain individuals.
“That’s a total misrepresentation of what the locals are like,” Murphy said.
Murphy is not the only person who fears people make assumptions about her because she is white. President Rossbacher said that she constantly faces the challenge of people assuming she is not fit to handle issues of racism as a white female.
“What I find difficult is that I find people assuming that I have particular challenges,” Rossbacher said. “The assumptions that are made about the challenges of leading an institution as a white woman.”
Rossbacher has had experience dealing with race when she worked at a school in Georgia with a high population of students of color.
“That challenging part is finding the ways and the times and the places to have the conversation,” Rossbacher said.
Bennett- McBride acknowledged that Rossbacher and the administration were very supportive
Chandler, on the other hand, feels that having the conversation in college is too late. He feels that intervention in the youth is necessary to make change because adults already have ideas ingrained in their head.
“It takes a particular type of person to see past that after they’ve become an adult after they have theses ideas reinforced,” Chandler said.
Despite the pain the Chandler has endured at the hands of resident of Humboldt County, he still refuses to give into hate
“I can’t let other people’s actions shape who I am,” Chandler said. “That’s become increasingly harder, but I still don’t hate them. Hate won’t bring anything positive.”