Navigating white spaces in Humboldt County as a person of color

By Alyssa Anaya
Flapjack staff

During her first semester at HSU, Vanessa Cota, a 20-year-old political science major, had a frightening encounter at Don’s Donuts in downtown Arcata.

“A guy approached me and asked where I was from and said SoCal and kept telling me to go back where I came from,” she said. “I lost sense of what I was going to do. He threw a glass bottle at my feet.”

Cota’s story is not an isolated incident. Racism is alive and well in Humboldt County, where 77.1% of the population are white, 17.6% are Latinx, and 13.3% are black or African American. This leaves people of color to navigate white spaces, and that is a space that feels not always safe for minorities.

At last week’s Arcata City Council meeting, only a few days after the fatal stabbing of Josiah Lawson, a 19-year-old HSU student and leader of Brothers United, racism in the county was brought up for discussion.

“We cannot continue to ignore the systemic and cultural racism that exists in our community,” said Arcata’s vice-mayor Sofia Pereira. “While we can say we’ve been working on issues of equity in our community, we as a community failed [murder victim] Josiah [Lawson] and other students of color, who have stated over and over that they do not feel safe and welcomed here.”

HSU sociology lecturer Lora Bristow defines racism as simply the systematic oppression of a group based on “what we call” race.

“[This] advantages the dominant group (white folks in the U.S.) and disadvantages and harms other groups,” Bristow said. “ It has multiple levels–individual, ideological and cultural, and institutional, and can be overt/explicit or covert/subtle/even unconscious.”

In Arcata, a college town, racism here isn’t so avert, said 23-year-old Sociology major Danielle Dickerson.

“Arcata is a small town that is becoming more diverse and that makes some white folks uncomfortable,” Dickerson said. “It’s whether or not they are willing to accept that.”

Dickerson also brought attention to HSU’s graduation pledge and how it addresses a so called social and environmental justice.

“For who? Where do people of color lie in the discussion?” she said. “It’s bleaching. Watered down. Paradoxical.”

Dickerson said that language is very problematic.

“There needs to be a change of behavior,” she said. “White people need to be held responsible.”

As Bristow explained, racism can be both subtle and even unconscious. Cota said that she sometimes feels that her professors and colleagues come off as microaggressive.

“Sometimes I will say something and it’s kind of brushed off,” Cota said. “But when a white student says almost the same thing, everyone praises it.”

Racism is not just about minorities, it also calls attention to white folks.

“Racism is immense in its effect, in all layers of our lives.  For people of color, it creates diminished life chances, while it simultaneously increases the life chances of white folks.  Although as a system of power it seeks to dehumanize folks of color, I think it dehumanizes white folks.” said Bristow. “ How can we be good in our souls if we hate others, if we benefit from harm that is done to others and do not work to end that harm?”

Of course, there is no all ending, over night, happy ending when it comes to something as heavy as racism. However, there are ways that it can be combatted.

“There needs to be more accountability, safer spaces, and actually acknowledging gender, and race. Not leaving anyone out of decision making,” Dickerson said. “We need to redefine ally. You can’t just simply agree with the ideologies, you need to be action oriented. People are allies in theory, but they need to put that into praxis,” said Dickerson. “When you have a platform you need to use it.”

“We just had that march for science and it was full of white people. After the recent passing of Josiah [Lawson] we did not see many of these “allies.” They came to the vigils but didn’t show up to the courthouse to show support. Where are the allies?”

Cota agreed and added, “White folks need to not be so defensive. It happened, accept it. Ask what you can do to fix it. Check other white people. It is exhausting being a person of color and trying to educate white people who don’t want to listen to me.”

“At the individual level, we need to have conversations with each other–and white folks need to really listen to people of color.  White folks need to talk with other white folks, to work towards a collective anti-racist white identity,” said Bristow. “At the ideological/cultural level, we need to really examine ideas, images, beliefs–everything–and question where they come from, how they are connected with racism as a system of power.”

Racism has been a system structured at the roots of this nation and it shows at the institutional level.

“We need to see how racism may be operating in our schools, political groups, churches, workplaces, all the social institutions we interact with in our lives,” said Bristow.  “And then work for policies and practices that support racial justice. We need to do the same at the national and global level.”



‘What Now?’ Paying respect to David Josiah Lawson

By Casey Barton
Flapjack staff

In the early morning hours on April 16, 19-year-old HSU student David Josiah Lawson was fatally stabbed at a social gathering on Spear Avenue in Arcata, California. Lawson’s passing has continued to stir conversation on-campus since his memorial service.

This event not only saddens community members as a loss of young life, but as a possible case of racial hate crime. Students are concerned with their own safety and campus ideals. After a few days the community was eventually granted details to the event.

According to the Arcata Police Department’s Press Release on April 18, authorities were notified of an altercation at 3:02 am Saturday morning and responded within a minute of the initial call. When officers arrived, they found that Lawson had been stabbed multiple times and was bleeding heavily. His close friend and fellow Brother’s United member, Elijah Chandler, was performing life-saving procedures on Lawson as he moved in an out of consciousness. Authorities detained 23-year-old Mickinleyville resident Kyle Zoellner at the crime scene and proceeded to take Zoellner to the Humboldt County correctional Facility, booked under homicide. David Lawson was taken to Mad River Community Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

On May 5, after four and a half days of testimony, a judge dismissed charges against Zoellner, citing insufficient evidence to connect the suspect with the crime.

Chandler testified in court and also in interviews, describing the event in clear detail once he was able to respond to the stabbing incident. His comments point toward the possibility of Lawson’s attack as racially motivated.

“The only thing I heard – it was monstrous, in my opinion – was the two Caucasian women,” said Chandler. “Now that the police had arrived and were just making sure the assailant was going to be OK and that nobody touched him, the women were saying, ‘I really wish that nigger does die. I really hope that nigger dies.’”

The two women referenced by Chandler had apparently been connected with Zoellner during the initial altercations.

At Lawson’s memorial service held in the campus’ Kate Buchanan Room on Thursday, April 20, his family members and campus Brother’s reminded the community of Lawson’s incredibly successful life.

“Are you gonna allow racial tensions or anything like that matter? To cause you to now stop and throw your hands up and say you can’t continue on,” said Phil Griggs, David Josiah Lawson’s hometown pastor. “If you do, you’ve missed the purpose of Josiah’s life. If you do, you’ve missed the purpose of your life.”

As one who saw Lawson grow into young manhood, these words noticeably comforted the audience.

“All of us are alike ‘cause your eyes are the biggest liar in the world,” said Katauri Thompson another Brother’s United member. “Look past what you see on the outside and know what’s inside, whether it’s knowledge, power, and love. Josiah was all of that.”

“This is the hard part where we ask for the community: What now?”

Lawson will be continually memorialized in the hearts of many throughout the HSU community and especially those who he has met along the way. Even though his presence on campus was halted by this sudden event, Lawson made his time memorable and accomplished many admirable goals including his election as president of the Brother’s United club and succeeding in his Criminal Justice studies.

Many can learn from this event, not only from its unfortunateness or lesson in communal safety, but as a reminder to keep living by the positivity and respect that one would expect for themselves or say, even their own child. Lawson was known to treat others with that respect and it was a shared gift to have him as a part of the Humboldt State University community for as long as we did.

Rest in peace, David Josiah Lawson.

Students question campus safety after fatal stabbing in April

By Noel DiBenedetto
Flapjack staff

As a student of color, 19 year-old sophomore Branden Black said it’s hard for him to feel safe on campus after the recent fatal stabbing of a 19-year-old HSU student just off campus.

“We claim to a be a school of diversity and inclusion but I don’t see it,” Black said. “That could have very well been a racially motivated attack, and the fact that something like that could happen to me, that my life could end in a matter of seconds, doesn’t make me feel safe walking home every day.”

Just over two weeks ago, David Josiah Lawson was murdered April 16 at a party located close to campus. Lawson was president of Brothers United.  Charges against 23 year-old McKinleyville resident Kyle Zoellner were dismissed Friday, May 5, due to what a judge called a lack of evidence.

Now, grief stricken students are left in shock, and some are questioning whether or not they actually feel safe on their own campus.

HSU represents itself as a peaceful and earth-loving community that aims to promote diversity and inclusiveness for all of its students, which is why some may find this recent attack so hard to swallow.

Many students of color have also expressed feeling a lack of support from their institution, and feel as though they are simply treated as bodies that help boost HSU’s diversity numbers. The loss of Lawson has perpetuated these feelings.

Although the university has put effort in to reaching out to students, making sure they are provided with counseling services and emotional support, whether or not they have made changes in their security measures remains unclear.

Business student Christian Antuna, 22, said that, for the most part, he feels safe on campus during the day, but suggests that security and university police should be more active around campus at night.

“I constantly see campus security during the day, but never at night, and I think that’s a problem,” Antuna explained. “After 10, it seems like they’re dormant or something, and it can get pretty sketchy around here at night.”

While the attack happened off campus, university police has jurisdiction within a mile in all directions around HSU’s campus, which covers a lot of ground including Spear Avenue where Lawson was murdered.

Many witnesses of the attack have expressed their extreme frustration with how the police and paramedics chose to handle the situation once they actually got there, which some say took far too long in the first place.

Records show that police arrived on the scene within one minute of receiving the first 911 call. The first EMTs were on the scene within seven minutes. During that interval, several of the individuals present felt as though the police were blatantly ignoring their cries for help, and that they focused too much on keeping things under control, rather than trying to save Lawson.

While an event like this would cause anyone to feel uneasy about going out at night in their community, several students on this campus still feel as though there isn’t enough being done to ensure the safety of themselves and their loved ones.

Associate Dean of Students Christine Mata thinks that part of the answer lies in strengthening the ties between the community and the students, and strengthening the line of communication between the students, and the institution.

“Improving our safety means we have to create that sense of community, we have to know what our resources are, and we have to be there for each other,” Mata said. “We really need to create that sense of taking care of each other, and being there for each other. I think that’s really important, especially during a time like this.”

Race in Humboldt: Outside the Bubble


by David Crowfield II
Flapjack staff

After the 2015-2016 school year, I decided to stay in Humboldt for the summer. At the time I was trapped in this false illusion that Humboldt was a welcoming place to all, but I soon came to realize that the bubble HSU creates for its students did not expand beyond the campus.

During my stay I worked at the local Target, as a cashier. I had good and bad experiences with customers, but the worst of them came from the locals who seemed to have had racial bias. They would not come to my line even if the other lines were full and when they finally came to my line they would not make eye contact, they would rush me, throw the money, and would have an attitude.

On HSU’s campus one feels welcomed like they are apart of a big family. Many of the students at HSU come from similar backgrounds (The Hood). Growing up in The Hood one can only dream of making it out. Our neighborhoods are filled with corrupt school systems, drugs, crime, and racial segregation. For minorities in America, we strive to prove negative stereotypes wrong, by attending college to better our communities. Viewing college as a safe haven for many, escaping all of the troubles of The Hood.

On November 13, 2015, Robin and Shannon were assaulted by two unidentified white men. They had bottles thrown at them and beer sprayed on them They were taunted with racist remarks and chased by the two men. The students got away successfully and told proper authorities that this was a racially motivated attack. The two women had wanted to attend Humboldt State because they felt they could escape the nightmares of The Hood, but little did they know they were going to face hate crimes.

Ketly Sylla, a friend of the two women, gave insight on how this community view people of color.

“When I first got here I was excited about coming to college and sharing new experiences with new friends,” says Sylla. “But I wasn’t able to do that because I came here and faced new challenges and I’m not talking about academics. I go out into town to enjoy myself and I get looks from white people, like I’m going to rob them or something. Getting racially profiled is not a comfortable feeling.”

A lot of students of color feel unwelcome in Humboldt beyond the campus bubble because of their skin color. Many have questioned themselves on why they should stay in a place where they feel unwelcome. Sidney Broussard, 20, a marketing major at HSU, believes the people outside of the bubble are the way they are because of our institutions.

“If one is a person of color in America, one never gets to take off those glasses,” Broussard says.  “Racism is deeply rooted in our culture and defines society for black and brown people. There is a set of racially biased structures entrenched in the institutions that make up or society and the default setting is white.”

What is race? As defined by Urban Dictionary, race is a biological term used to classify living things.

What is race? bell hooks defines race as a system of power and privilege.

What is race? Race is something more than color. Race is something that divides us in this world. Race is the root of majority of physical, emotional, and mental crimes.

Race has played a big factor in the formation of American. From the founding of this country, African Americans have been considered second class citizens. We were brought over on slave ships, and in the American Constitution we were once considered 3/5 of a person. American society has been made to exclude people of color and social media has depicted us as menace to society.

A College of the Redwood communication major gave some great insight on how African American people are depicted in the media.

“I think that we as African Americans, need to speak out more to the media so that they can not keep portraying our heritage as violent in movies and TV shows. Even though the African American ethnicity is the most copied in the world.”

This is an ongoing matter that African Americans have to face day in and day out. People of color feel as if they need to stick together because of the way we are depicted in the media and the way we are viewed outside of the bubble. The media and the culture of America has helped create a society full of racism.

Helping refugees adapt to U.S.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Christine Ledman
Flapjack staff

Megan Schmidt arrives at work each day to a parking lot of over 50 cars containing refugees from around the world awaiting her assistance. Schmidt, a 30-something, is the Health Education/Workforce Development Coordinator at the Refugee RISE Americorps (RISE) in Iowa City, Iowa.

“I have always had a desire to travel and help people,” said Schmidt.
The RISE program operates under the IC Compassion program which is managed by Executive Director Teresa Stecker. In the past refugees were only provided with immigration legal support by volunteer immigration lawyers like Sue Kirk. It was obvious the needs of the refugees were much greater.

“Before the RISE program many of our refugee families were lost in how to live here in the United States and scared,” said Stecker. “The addition of the RISE program has added the needed path to assimilation with language training, and basic skills training which are absolutely needed to thrive here.

“Megan is a ray of sunshine and the refugee population are very appreciative of the support she gives them,” she said.

The refugee population is growing rapidly in Iowa City with estimates of up to 10,000 or more from Sudan, Congo, Somalia, and many other countries.

Schmidt served in the Zigong China for the Peace Corp from 2007 to 2009. During her tour in China she also met her husband. After returning to the United States for two years Schmidt and her new husband moved to Cali Columbia where she led an 8th grade English Department. After four years in Columbia the Schmidt’s made the decision to return to the United States and continue their educations. Schmidt is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Public Health. Seven months ago she began her position with the AmeriCorps Vista Rise program.
“We loved living in both China and Columbia but we missed our families and felt we needed to return home,” she said.
Services that are provided to refugees via the RISE program are English as a second language classes, one on one computer training classes, classes to prepare refugees to take the citizenship test, personal finance, and general advocacy such as helping them to find housing and work and general emotional support.

“Many of our refugees are so happy to be here and very appreciative of the one on one service that we provide them and some have returned to us to be volunteers,” she said.

Schmidt explained when refugees are accepted into the United States they initially are assigned primary centers. These centers are non-profit organizations around the country that work with the refugees for ninety days. In this time, they supply temporary housing, clothing, provide classes on United States culture, and English if necessary. After this ninety day period the refugees are basically on their own. Many move to cities that have secondary centers. These centers already have refugees in the area and some type of assistance such as the RISE program.

“It is now that the refugees are struck by how hard it is to live in the United States,” said Schmidt. “There is little if any financial support and finding a job can be very difficult for them.”

Schmidt indicated that working with women and young girls presented the most emotional situations that she had to deal with.

“Many of the women and young girls who come here are victims of violent sexual assaults and finding support for them in their native language is extremely challenging,” said Schmidt.

The majority of the refugees Schmidt works with speak French, Arabic, and several other languages including Zulu. Schmidt is fortunate to have many volunteers from within the refugee community and local volunteers who speak these languages.

There are several situations where not all the family members could afford to leave or were not selected from the camps for a variety of reasons. The families that Schmidt helps are particularly concerned about females left behind, knowing the danger they are in. If the families can raise the necessary money to get them here in order to file for asylum it can speed the process up by several years. The problem is, it can cost up to $15,000 per person to make this happen.

“Unfortunately, because I work for the Federal Government I am not allowed to offer any thoughts on the recently signed executive order on travel restriction,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt also spoke of how difficult adapting to the cultural differences can be for these refugees. Some of them have been in refugee camps for over ten years. Most seem to be comfortable with basic cell phones, but the concept of using the computer for everything such as applying for jobs, taking tests, searching for resources is a daunting task for them.

“There were culture classes at my refugee camp, but once I saw my name on the list to go to the United States all I could think about was my new life and I didn’t understand the importance of what they were teaching us,” said a refugee who asked to be identified as Mally.

A more recent offering of RISE is family matching. RISE is attempting to match local Iowa City families with refugee families of a similar make-up. Mally who is a single mother with three elementary school aged children was matched with a local family. Her match family assisted Mally in getting her children registered for school, signed up for soccer, and realizing the importance of girls going to school.

Schmidt is very excited about this program. The matching families reach out to the refugee families weekly and visit them monthly. This continuity of support is something that Schmidt’s team does not have the resources to do.

“We are in the position to help anyone that comes to us, but if they don’t show up they are on their own and we can only hope that they are doing fine,” said Schmidt.

Many of the refugees are nervous about seeking help especially with needed legal assistance.

“I have noticed that clients who have worked with RISE are more confident when seeking assistance and this confidence is of real value when they are in immigration court seeking extended legal status,” said Kirk.

Schmidt said that every day, every hour brings a new and challenging situation to her desk.

“When I leave at night I am usually exhausted and have the feeling I haven’t done enough to help these people, which is what drives me to come back tomorrow to help again,” said Schmidt.