Humboldt State University
September 18, 2014
Campus culture and our sense of community

Dear students, staff, and faculty in the Humboldt State Community:

Two events have occurred in the last week that reflected cultural insensitivity and which have caused both offense and distress to members of the University community. These incidents, in particular, have made a strong impression on me.

The first was a mistake by our administration. For a variety of reasons, including miscommunication, Homecoming & Family Weekend was scheduled at the same time as the important Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and the major Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. While we can't always avoid scheduling conflicts, we need to make a major effort to be aware of and sensitive to potential conflicts. On behalf of the University, I apologize for this mistake. I commit that we will pay close attention to such potential scheduling conflicts in the future.

The second occurred during a recent campus athletic event. One of the fans attended the game wearing a Native American-themed headdress that deeply disturbed a number of other attendees, who experienced this as a serious affront to Native American culture and heritage. Such casual use of clothing or symbols that have cultural and spiritual significance, or that reinforce cultural stereotypes, adversely impacts many members of our campus community. This can occur in a variety of situations and settings and is an issue experienced by campus community members from many different cultural backgrounds.

These incidents highlight lessons that seem to me to be quite important. These occurrences are fundamentally inconsistent with Humboldt State's values of mutual respect, cultural sensitivity, and inclusion. Our sense of community here at Humboldt State is an important part of who we are, individually and collectively, and I am committed to always seeking ways to strengthen this.

And so I am writing to encourage us all to demonstrate a clear respect for each other and for the many cultural traditions represented on our campus and throughout the world. Our goals should include being more aware of our own words and actions, as well as helping others learn. As a University, we have a responsibility both to impart values related to diversity and inclusion and to foster dialogue so that we can all question assumptions and learn from other experiences.

In the coming weeks, we will be scheduling campus forums where topics related to culture and shared understanding can be discussed. In addition, the MultiCultural Center and other departments on campus host many events throughout the year that provide opportunities for engaged learning around cultural diversity. And as Halloween approaches, I strongly urge everyone to consider the impact we can have by the costumes we choose to wear. HSU is participating in a broader national effort with the theme of “We're a Culture, Not a Costume,” which highlights the negative effect of wearing costumes that draw on cultural stereotypes.

We are all far from perfect. We all have our own cultural biases and prejudices that impact our actions and interactions, which we know from experience as well as from years of scientific research. As a university, HSU is well situated to facilitate a learning environment that allows all members of our campus community to engage in a process of lifelong learning around issues of diversity and inclusiveness. Our efforts to build cultural awareness and sensitivity must be an on-going part of the education that we provide as part of our fundamental mission.

We have built an extraordinary community here at Humboldt State. Please join me in continuing to strengthen this through demonstrating respect for the diverse range of experiences, backgrounds, and cultures that are part of this community.

With Best Wishes,

Lisa A. Rossbacher, Ph.D.

Humboldt State University