Meeting on Racism and Safety Unites Arcata

In an effort to address diversity and inclusion in the community, City of Arcata officials, Humboldt State community members, and representatives of local businesses and nonprofits have come together to develop concrete plans for making Arcata a safer and more welcoming environment.

Invited by Humboldt State President Lisa Rossbacher and Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer, about 65 participants took part in a day-long planning meeting in mid-July. They brought their experiences, opinions, and questions to the table. In breakout sessions, groups confronted a wide range of challenges such as housing discrimination and cultural diversity in the K-12 curriculum.

Based on their work, a series of new initiatives will be implemented in the next few months, while some related efforts are underway or planned for the near future. They include:

• Create a diversity and inclusion awareness campaign. This includes a door-to-door campaign of volunteers visiting students who live off campus. They will welcome them to the neighborhood and invite them to the I Street block party, the annual community fundraiser for Arcata’s sister city, Camoapa, Nicaragua.
KHSU has also launched a series of public service announcements with the theme “Not in Our Town,” which is dedicated to creating safe and inclusive communities.
• Address housing equity. A group of community members, students, and city and business representatives will meet next month to discuss the issue.
• Build stronger relationships between police and students. Humboldt State University and Arcata police departments, coordinated by police chiefs Donn Peterson and Tom Chapman, will host a series of informal discussions with students starting this fall.
• Continue to expand diversity and inclusion training. Many workshops and training programs are currently offered throughout the county, such as: Education through the Equity Alliance of the North Coast, a broad coalition of nonprofits, local governments, and the business community; unconscious bias training for HSU and City of Arcata employees; and HSU classes and workshops on various diversity topics.
• Create a website with community resources and updates on these initiatives.

Student focus groups will be asked to provide feedback on these and other concepts this fall. Groups of volunteers will work to ensure the initiatives are refined and move forward.

Sponsored by the Equity Arcata partnership, the workshop was created after HSU students of color shared their experiences with the local community and asked city officials and other leaders to work on solutions.

“This past school year we heard many accounts of students and residents experiencing racism within the community. We used the input we received over the summer break to develop initial steps and programs that would address racial equity and improve safety in Arcata,” Diemer says. “There is a lot of work ahead that we are committed to in our efforts to root out historical inequities and ensure Arcata is a welcoming and livable community for all.”

Diemer has helped lead the Equity Arcata partnership, which she and Rossbacher founded last year. It’s an informal group of City of Arcata leaders, HSU, and the Arcata business community working to make Arcata more welcoming and safe for everyone. The group has met monthly, discussing everything from policing to concerns expressed by undocumented immigrants.

Officials estimate that the five initiatives listed above can be launched by December, while others will take longer. But everyone agreed that changes must begin immediately, with a long-term commitment to sustain a community that is safe and welcoming for everyone.

Ron White, leadership program manager of the Humboldt Area Foundation, left the meeting energized and optimistic about the future.

“For representatives from HSU, businesses, and the City to think together and lay out plans to create an integrated community where everyone fully participates and has a sense of belonging, is truly inspiring,” he says. “As a black man living here, it gave me hope.”

For Rossbacher, the workshop offered the community a chance to come up with tangible plans.

“As a community, we know that we need to confront the issues of racism and racial equity. We understand ‘why’ these are important topics and we have a sense of ‘what’ we can do, but this meeting focuses on the ‘how’ and the ’who‘ for taking action,” she says. “The ideas coming from a broad cross-section of the community are exciting, and I look forward to moving ahead together.”

Read the notes from the meeting here (pdf).

For more information, contact Humboldt State’s News & Information office at 707.826.3390 or or the Arcata City Manager’s Office at 707.822.5953