In an interview in the Union’s Dec. 30 edition, Humboldt State University President Lisa Rossbacher emphasized, as did her long-time predecessor Rollin Richmond, the importance of strong campus partnerships with the local community.
Rossbacher noted, “If students aren’t feeling welcome in stores and restaurants and they spend all their time on campus, that’s not helping their growth and their movement toward success in their academic and professional careers.”
She was speaking of Humboldt State’s minority students and the chronic racism they encounter, but of course the welcome mat should be out for all students, who confront a bad social climate on Arcata Plaza.
In the interview, Rossbacher dismissed as “an urban legend” the reports of parents who decide not to enroll their youngsters at Humboldt State because of the abuse, harassment and other anti-social behavior that blights downtown.
Her word “legend” suggests a fiction in some distant past. That is mistaken; the problem is real and current.
Last October, the Union received this text message from an irate Nevada parent and hotel guest, sent shortly after midnight. We published it in full at the time and here it is again, with our emphasis in italics:
Good lord. We’re on the third floor of the [Hotel Arcata] on a Thursday night. Are there zero police officers in your town? Screaming, loud music, open drinking, drugs and pissing, tremendously brazen and aggressive men by the dozens.
Again, do you have police officers? You folk act like this is rocket science. You don’t need a whiteboard, you need a police department. My daughter has decided not to attend college here as a result of a walk on the Plaza this evening.
You all should be ashamed. Did I ask if the town has police officers, cuz through this mess, we saw no evidence. You’ve been abandoned.
Signed, Shawn Garvey
That is anecdotal evidence of course, and President Rossbacher rightly points to the fact that Humboldt State is enjoying record enrollment, even though it is losing at least some prospective students to the foul roistering on the Plaza.
But by themselves, the enrollment numbers neglect the negative social atmosphere and sick role models that students deal with during their four-to-six year stays here. The awful drug and alcohol consumption downtown is the last example impressionable college students should have, prone as they are to the binge drinking and drug abuse so widespread in middle schools and high schools.
Arcata businesswomen and members of the three-month-old Community PRIDE Project (CPP) would, to say the least, be very surprised to hear that the disgusting behavior on the Plaza is “a legend” (Union, Dec. 22, 2015).
The CPP is a commendable grassroots drive to deal with downtown’s bums, safety risks and human filth. One of the serious consequences of the Plaza’s climate, which confronts women of all ages, is the persistent sexual harassment which the Union reported on in a three-part series last spring (April 30, 2015).
Leading businesswomen told us of the out-of-the-way routes they are forced to take to avoid clumps of loudmouthed, indecent males in doorways and alleys. The near-identical complaints were chronicled on the front page:
“There’s a general feeling of entitlement to women’s bodies,” said downtown businesswoman Kassie Carpenter. “It’s a general lack of respect for boundaries and personal space.”
“They grasp at straws for a way to talk to you,” said Sarah LeGar, an employee at Northtown Books. “They’ll say, ‘Smile, sister,’ or ‘You look beautiful’.”
“Your body sovereignty is taken away,” said Alexia Siebuhr, sexual assault and domestic violence prevention educator at Humboldt State’s Women’s Resource Center. “There’s a sense of entitlement to another person’s body.”
The Union respectfully encourages President Rossbacher to make a New Year’s resolution to become an active member of the Community PRIDE Project and to meet one-on-one with downtown businesswomen who can inform her about what female students face when they shop or dine on the Plaza.
We also recommend that the president spend a few late evenings with night duty Arcata Police officers to see for herself what commonly occurs on our town square – and what her students are exposed to.
The ugly reality is no urban legend.