Arcata, CA–Erin Youngblood-Smith and Amy Mathieson met in the Graduate Social Work program at Humboldt State University. These women are from two completely different backgrounds, who formed a friendship through their love of social work and advocacy.
Amy Mathieson grew up in Montana, CA and moved to Humboldt County when she was 16. She completed undergrad at HSU, graduating with a degree in Psychology. Erin Youngblood-Smith is originally from Oakland, CA and she received her B.A in African-American Studies from UC Berkeley. While completing the MSW program at HSU, she is also raising two young daughters ages 12 and 3.
One component of the MSW program, is to create a community project that meets a community need.
“Me and Amy talk about our differences all the time. She’s white, I’m Black and we have never really had these experiences before cross-culturally,” Youngblood-Smith said. “We were like, people can do this, they just need the opportunity to get to know one another.”
The idea of a poster campaign was something the two discussed before they decided exactly what their project would be. After HSU student David Josiah Lawson was killed in the community last year, the divide between the small community of Arcata, CA and the university became apparent. This is when the idea of a poster campaign became final.
‘We Are Your Community’ was created as a way to bridge that divide and broaden student exposure.
“There is this university on the hill and there is the community and they are seen as very separate. We felt like that was a disservice to both groups,” Mathieson expressed.
Posters were created with students and HSU alumni of color, describing who they are and the things they enjoy locally. Store owners were asked to place these posters in their windows. In addition, videos supplemented the campaign which were uploaded to the ‘We Are Your Community’ Facebook Page.
Angel Sylva is a junior at HSU studying Journalism and she participated in the ‘We Are Your Community’ campaign. Although it may be hard for many in the local community to accept or understand her experience, Slyva says that she wanted to share her story for not only the community, but prospective students.
“I felt it was important to share my story because Humboldt [State] lies to many incoming freshmen, it doesn’t tell them the truth about how racist the school actually is.”
Sylva says that she hopes someone watches the video and it saves them from wasting time and money on an institution that she believes doesn’t care about the students well-being or safety.
Video: Cameron Rodriguez
Youngblood-Smith relayed that she was surprised by what students and alumni of color were relaying in the campaign videos. This made her realize that coming here with her family offered her a support base that students of color do not usually have in Humboldt County.
“Another thing I was a little surprised to learn was that there was not structural support for students of color like there should be. They are recruited and sought after to come up here but there is a lack of preparation to support these students in the ways you hope they would be supported.”
Erin Youngblood-Smith says that students see this and it is impacting thier educational experience.
“This is a time when all students should be spreading their wings and instead they are worried about their safety and are on the front lines of advocating for their safety.”
In addition to the poster campaign, another aspect of ‘We Are Your Community’ is “Diversity Day” at Arcata’s Farmers Market May 5. They are currently looking for local groups who would be interested in tabling during the event or doing any type of cultural demonstrations such as singing or dancing.
Mathieson says the response they have received from the community on the campaign has been very supportive.
“I believe that we all benefit from diversity. I have benefited so much through my relationship with Erin, she has learned from me and we wanted to find a way for students of color at this university and community members to build relationships,” Mathieson said.
To contribute to Diversity Day: https://www.gofundme.com/diversity-day
Check out more student videos and profiles from ‘We are Your Community’