Mad River Union
HSU – Student protestors are blocking classes in Humboldt State University’s Native Forum in a calculated strategy to force President Lisa Rossbacher to reinstate the head of a prominent Native American science and engineering program who was fired last fall.
HSU student Conor Handley, one of the protestors’ leading representatives, warned as the occupation began Jan. 19 that the Native Forum adjacent to the Behavioral and Social Sciences Building “is one of the biggest classrooms on this campus. They [the administration] can’t work without this classroom, so we’re staying here until we have justice.”
The students define “justice’ as the immediate reinstatement of Dr. Jacquelyn Bolman, summarily dismissed last October without public explanation. She is a Native American who had been director of HSU’s INRSEP program since 2005. INRSEP stands for Indian Natural Resources, Science and Engineering Program.
In announcing the sit-in, Handley warned, “We are not going to stop until we get the things we want.”
He alleged that the new Rossbacher administration, which was seated last July, had cynically concluded in private, in Handley’s words, “that our [Native American] population is unsatisfiable, that whatever [the administration ] did was not going to be enough for us.”
The administration confirmed in a prepared statement January 20, the first day of spring semester classes, that the protestors’ strategy is working. The unattributed statement affirmed students’ right to protest but said the day-old occupation had already affected five classes with high enrollment. “The first class [on Tuesday] was held in the room with protestors present and others are being relocated,” the university reported.
The school said unidentified HSU officials were reaching out “to those who are protesting to discuss their concerns.” But it appealed to them “to leave the facility so that classes may continue as scheduled,” adding, “the current action is affecting the education of other students.”
The university denied a student allegation that the school had recently begun internally to refer to the Native Forum as part of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Building in a bid to lower the visibility of the forum and the Native American community on campus.
Accusing the Rossbacher administration of making "the biggest mistake of the university's 100-year history," students attending the Native American Activism Conference Jan. 19 renamed the forum the "Dr. Jacquelyn Bolman Native Forum." They presented her with a portrait mural and performed a tribal music ceremony in her honor.
Bolman had just finished addressing the conference when the tribute was announced and she wept as about 100 faculty, student and community attendees applauded, whooped and whistled in support of her triple recognition.
In an exclusive interview afterwards, Bolman said she felt both "overwhelmed" and "fearful" that the Rossbacher administration might retaliate, although she did not speculate about what the occupation’s ultimate impact might be.
Conference speakers alleged that Humboldt State systematically attempts to "marginalize" and "coerce" Native American students and "use them for its own agenda." It is unconscionable, they charged, that the school fails to finance the hiring of a full complement of full-time Native American faculty when the campus sits squarely on ancient tribal lands that settlers confiscated with massacres and genocide.
Students claim Bolman's dismissal violated the university's official commitment to the advancement of social justice, which is enshrined in its mission statement and student graduation pledge.
It is also part of HSU's student recruitment and marketing initiatives.
In its prepared response, the university said, “Campus officials have had ongoing dialogue with Native students and many others about issues and challenges related to diversity. The university remains deeply committed to diversity and to providing support to help all students be successful.”
It did not specify the nature of the support or its relevance to Native American students.