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.