Black Student Safety-Survival Guide
For the Freshman:
You have finally made it. I know the euphoric sense of freedom that you are experiencing and I want to say congratulations. If I can offer you any advice for success, it would be to turn in all of your class assignments and do not view attending class as ‘optional.’ They are both tickets to a fast declining grade.
If you are from the city, specifically the inner-city, I don’t know if the culture shock has set in yet, but it will. Learning how to ride that wave, will be critical for your survival in Humboldt County and Humboldt State. These are places that are worlds within their own–hidden away behind four – five hours of winding roads, mountains and Redwood Trees. This is what it means when you hear the saying you are “behind the ‘Redwood Curtain.’“
Your Community is What You Make It and Will Be Important For Your Success.
The friendships that you build both on and off campus will be critical to your survival at HSU and in the local community. Often times you will be the only Black person in your classes. Most of the time, depending on where you are, you will be the only Black person in sight. Black Professors at HSU can be counted on one hand and their presence historically at HSU has been close to non-existent. Solid friendships will help to fill the void of loneliness that can engulf you due to being secluded in a small, rural, remote area. It will be your network that will help carry you through the hard times. Your Latinx brothers and sisters will be some of your strongest allies, so make sure to tap in with each other and keep strong alliances. When you make these connections with staff and professors on campus, cherish and hold on to them.
Humboldt County is Like A Scene From Get Out
In order to understand where you are, you will need to understand the local history of Arcata the surrounding counties. History of Black people in the area is not something you can easily find, unless you know what you are looking for. Basically, Humboldt County lacks representation of Black people and those who live in Humboldt County do not want to ruffle the feathers of the dominant group. It appears to me like most of the Black people who have lived in Humboldt County for some time and some who work at HSU, live in the sunken place. I learned the hard way that ‘all skin-folk ain’t kin-folk.’
They might not come out with signs and protest but there are faculty of color and professors who still understand the power of seeing each student as an individual, who help students reach their full potential through individual relationships. Due to the politics of jobs, families and income, Black faculty have to walk a very fine line just like any employee. However, their worries are magnified when race is compounded. Look what HSU did to their former Indian Natural Resources Science and Engineering Program Director, Jacquelyn Bolman. I was just a student but watching what happened to her unfold sent a clear message to me. In 2014 Bolman accepted $105,000 and agreed to drop a lawsuit against HSU. She also could not apply for any positions within the CSU system and had to refrain from criticizing the school.
“The firing, which Bolman claimed came in retaliation for her criticizing the university’s treatment of and advocacy for minority students, prompted weeks of student protests (The North Coast Journal).”
No Homie Left Behind.
Growing up, before me and my cousins went out, my grandmother always told us, “if we left the house together, we better return together.” My grandmother’s words are forever etched into my mind and I use this same logic when I go out with friends today. This way, I help to ensure the safety and whereabouts of my friends and in return, they usually give me that same love and respect. Look out for your friends and learn deescalation tactics as a tool of survival. You are not represented in positions of power locally, so things are not going to work in your favor if some serious shit pops off. #Staywoke.
Microaggressions: It’s Not You, It’s Them.
It was interesting coming to a supposed place of higher learning and be faced with the reality that most of the students and faculty are not as “culturally aware” as they should be. White Supremacy thrives and is reinforced on predominately white campuses because historically, Black people have been locked out of these spaces. Black people are still not represented proportionally within positions of power at these institutions and HSU is no exception.
Most of the people who are supposed to care about your well-being and development, really are unable to understand you due to cultural differences and their own miseducation. So, a lot of times, people will say stupid things that might not come from places of ill-intent. Sometimes it will because some people want to see if the stereotypes of Black people and Black women especially, are true. I am not the biggest fan of respectability politics but I will just say learn to pick your battles wisely.
Learning To Love Yourself & Your Roots As Tools For Survival
In a space where you are not represented, it is important to develop a level of self love and awareness about your roots and history. When I was a freshmen it was hard to adjust to HSU after growing up in the inner city. In order to survive, I had to learn the art of code switching which I never fully mastered. Resentment towards these predominately white spaces came after I dealt with the resentment and shame of my up-bringing. I will never forget attending a job fair at HSU and a Black woman who happened to be there asked me where I was from. After replying that I was from South-Central, Los Angeles, I kind of put my head down as I unconsciously had been doing. This woman pointed it out to me and said, “Don’t ever be ashamed of where you come from.”
“Learn to love yourself in a space that will call everything about you into question.” Your melanated skin, your kinky and curly hair, your food and your traditions, are all a part of who you are. Embracing them can help you live your truths and be fully yourself.” –Lauren Whiteman Assistant Director of African American Student Life at the University of Oklahoma (The Root).