Graphic by Ollie Hancock

Humboldt Alumni speak out against Homecoming in Hawaiʻi

More than 255 alumni sign open letter in opposition

by Oden Taylor and Ollie Hancock

Humboldt’s alumni organization, Forever Humboldt, planned homecoming this fall in Lahaina, Hawaiʻi, on the island of Maui. In an email, the alumni organization shared their plans for a “fun spin” on homecoming where they would “spread the Lumberjack spirit” in Hawaii.

Colleen Chalmers, Sabrina Gailler, and over 255 other alumni felt this plan did not reflect their values and what they had learned at the university. Chalmers and Gailler drafted an open letter in dissent, hoping the university would reconsider their plans.

Chalmers is a Native woman who graduated from Humboldt with a degree in Journalism and Native American Studies in 2013 and now works in communications, racial equity, and homelessness policy. She felt that Forever Humboldt’s plans contradicted what she studied. She also felt the homecoming event doesn’t align with the school’s own vision, core values and beliefs, and purpose statements. 

“The University consistently says that traditional ecological knowledge is central to solving environmental crises,” Chalmers said. “Then, [they] don’t listen to traditional ecological knowledge when it comes to choosing the   location of their next homecoming event or choosing how to engage in recruitment for new students.”

The school cites Traditional Ecological Knowledge—TEK as a core tenant of learning across curriculums. Traditional Ecological Knowledge, decolonization, and sustainability are all terms used across the school’s stated principles. Kānaka Maoli—people indigenous to Hawaiʻi have been outspoken about the negative impacts of tourism on their place and people. Many alumni who signed the letter left comments of disapproval and disappointment.

“The reality is that centuries of colonialism and racism have taken a toll on Kānaka Maoli, the land, and the water,” Chalmers said. “America has illegally occupied Hawai’i for 129 years. An institution like Humboldt that cares about equity and anti-racist work should care about it in all their decisions. I don’t see that in this decision to go to Hawaii during this time.”

Their open letter has gained signatures from current and former students across nearly 70 different majors, representing graduates from 1973 through 2022. The letter was also endorsed by two nonprofits, Hawaiʻi People’s Fund and Seventh Generation Fund. Kānaka Maoli alumni Brissa Christopherson signed the letter and left a comment for admin and event planners. 

“As a Kanaka Maoli and lifetime resident of Maui, I would highly encourage changing location for this event,” Christopherson wrote. “Our Maui community has been facing over-tourism, detrimental to natural areas and depleting limited water, in addition to the covid epidemic. Please stop perpetuating colonialist behavior with the fetishizing of our island culture.”

The university issued a statement that they heard the concerns raised in the open letter. The university cited recruitment efforts and alumni in Hawaiʻi as reasons for the location of the event. The university intends to follow through with its plans to host homecoming in Hawaiʻi.

 “[The Univeristy] will distribute information about respectful and low-impact tourism to those who will be participating,” School representative Grant Scott-Goforth said.

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  1. Frumboldt Frumboldt Friday, October 14, 2022

    Shit I get it, and ya know I sort of feel that if u wanna soft peddle that philosophy then that should start at home and the campus should be raised and the native ecosystem replace it in its entirety. Start at home, practice what u preach. Also how much of the economically struggling native population could be supported if u instead made sure the coffers where emptied in their favor and all the contracts and hospitality was going to locally opperated and Indiginious owned businesses? Which is really more important? Breaking down modern society which is all build on conquest acquisition, or helping to better folks stuck in it? Are u a philanthropist or an arsonist? Do you love them folks or hate america?

  2. Lyn Barnett Lyn Barnett Friday, October 21, 2022

    So, I’m not one who normally attends homecoming events, but I don’t quite understand the vitriol against the organizers of this occurrence. If a group of friends want to meet (anywhere) to celebrate and reminisce about their halcyon days at HSU – why is this so horribly bad? I’m a Humboldt State graduate who made a decent living in my career, using the knowledge and skills I acquired at HSU, and I am planning to retire soon and do some traveling in my retirement, possibly even to Hawai’i. I might even ask some friends to join me in my travels. I don’t think I have to justify, ask for permission, or apologize to anybody for this. We live in a free country (but perhaps less so now than in the past due to woke cancel-culture).

    Some people are naturally irritable and unhappy in life. Some are jealous of other’s success and happiness. Still others are controlling do-good know-it-alls’ who want to force their unhappiness on others, and who are only satisfied when they convince others to see life as miserable and bleak as they do. I suspect that organizers and petitioners in the open letter fall mostly in the latter category. I can only theorize that they have no real problems in their own lives and have ample free-time to preach to others, or to exaggerate or invent new moral issues. (I use the word “preach” because I believe that woke-ism is a religion).

    Do all the signers of the open letter live in Humboldt County? Do they own businesses? If so, I will make an effort to avoid their places of work should I visit Humboldt again in the future. I don’t want to offend anyone for being a tourist in their community and for offending their religious (environmental) ethics. Since I’m a person of mixed-race, including Native American and two other races, where should I travel so as to not offend someone, perpetuate any sort of “colonial behavior,” or to accidentally “fetishize” any local cultures?

    Lyn Barnett
    Class of ’84 (Natural Resources Planning and Interpretation)

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