By: Hunter Cresswell
The Times Standard
As the Humboldt State University clock tower struck noon on Tuesday there were already about 100 people gathered on the campus quad in anticipation of a walkout to protest discrimination in
the community and demand justice for David Josiah Lawson.
As the series of speeches made by faculty, staff and students started moments after the clock silenced the crowd seemed to almost triple in size. HSU African American Center for Academic Excellence interim coordinator Kenya James Nunley started by saying “justice for Josiah” — the 19-year-old HSU student who was fatally stabbed at a house party in Arcata — and the gathered crowd responded with a raucous cheer and round of applause.
“It is so important that we see each here standing in support,” James Nunley said.
Many of the students who spoke were part of the protest marches and demonstrations over the weekend in response to a judge’s decision that there was not enough evidence against the suspect, Kyle Zoellner, to bring the case to trial.
James Nunley said this is the time for students, faculty and staff alike to stand up and take action against the systems of oppression at work against people of color.
“To the family and friends [of Lawson], we recognize that this is still a time for grieving,” James Nunley said before holding a moment of silence for Lawson followed by another to recognize that this walkout took place on historically Weott Tribal lands.
“It is very much a community issue and we all need to step up together and recognize our role in the system ... . If you do not take action you are part of the problem,” she said. “We should not have to fight for our basic rights alone in 2017.”
James Nunley introduced numerous HSU faculty, staff and students that took the microphone to address the gathered crowd. Latinx Center for Academic Excellence coordinator Fernando Paz talked about systemic racism, classism and homophobia.
“The fight for students of color is not new, what we’re doing is not new,” he said.
Paz said the setup of systems in the United States, such as the education or justice systems, didn’t take into account people of color. He then had the crowd repeat “I am the other” after him to try to break down divisions.
“’Cause when we are the other, the other is us and we are in love with each other ... With love, nothing can stop us,” Paz said.
HSU sociology assistant professor Renee Byrd defined racism as “state-sanctioned vulnerability to a premature death” and said the people who came together on the quad were standing up to indifference toward racism.
“The state may not be the primary source of justice,” she said. “ ... Maybe justice for Josiah is elsewhere.”
Lawson’s justice may be the community as a whole coming together to support one another, Byrd said.
“Let’s build a new kind of justice for Josiah,” she said.
Two students came forward with demands for the university: safe and affordable housing for students; better funding and staffing of the office of diversity, equality and inclusion and all cultural centers for academic excellence; requirements for administrators, staff and faculty to be educated about bias and microaggressions against people of color; recruit and retain more faculty and staff of color; and that the center for teaching and learning focus more on inclusive, anti-racist and anti-oppression teaching practices.
These goals were discussed further in the Kate Buchanan Room after all the speeches.
Lawson’s friend Alex Foster spoke during the demonstration.
“I know for a fact that I left home to learn about myself ... I know for a fact Josiah came to do the same thing,” he said.
Foster said he’d heard of instances of discrimination or racism that gets “swept under the rug.”
More demonstrations are set to take place this week.
One at 4 p.m. Wednesday is scheduled to march from the quad to the Arcata Police Department and another on Thursday is set to take place at the Humboldt County courthouse in Eureka.
“I’ve had friends victimized and not returning [to HSU],” Foster said. “ ... I don’t want this situation to be swept under the rug, too.”