Humboldt alumni speak out against homecoming in Hawaii – The Lumberjack
by Oden Taylor and Ollie Hancock
Humboldt’s alumni organization Forever Humboldt was planning a homecoming this fall in Lahaina, Hawaii, on the island of Maui. In an email, the alumni organization shared their plans for a “fun twist” on homecoming where they would spread “the Lumberjack spirit” across Hawaii.
Colleen Chalmers, Sabrina Gailler, and over 255 other alumni felt that this plan did not align with their values and what they had learned at university. Chalmers and Gailler designed one open letter in dissent, hoping the university would reconsider its plans.
Chalmers is a Native American who graduated from Humboldt University with a degree in Journalism and Native American Studies in 2013 and now works in communications, racial justice and homelessness policy. She felt that Forever Humboldt’s plans contradicted what she was studying. She also felt that the homecoming event did not align with the school’s own vision, core values and beliefs, and purpose statements.
“The university keeps saying that traditional ecological knowledge is central to solving environmental crises,” Chalmers said. “Then, [they] Don’t listen to traditional ecological wisdom when it comes to choosing the location of your next homecoming event or deciding how to get involved in recruiting new students.”
The school cites Traditional Ecological Knowledge – TEC as a core element of cross-curricular learning. Traditional ecological knowledge, decolonization and sustainability are terms used in the school’s stated principles. Kānaka Maoli – Native Hawaiians have spoken openly about the negative impact of tourism on their place and people. Many alumni who signed the letter left comments of disapproval and disappointment.
“The reality is that centuries of colonialism and racism have taken a toll on Kānaka Maoli, the land and the water,” Chalmers said. “America has illegally occupied Hawaii for 129 years. An institution like Humboldt, which cares about justice and anti-racist work, should take this into account in all decisions. I don’t see that in this decision to go to Hawaii at this time.”
Her open letter has received signatures from current and alumni from nearly 70 different majors, representing graduates from 1973 to 2022. The letter was also supported by two charitable organizations, the Hawaiʻi People’s Fund and the Seventh Generation Fund. Kānaka Maoli alumni Brissa Christopherson signed the letter and left a comment for administrators and event planners.
“As a Kanaka Maoli and a lifelong Maui resident, I would strongly encourage a change of venue for this event,” Christopherson wrote. “In addition to the Covid epidemic, our community on Maui is facing overtourism that is adversely affecting natural areas and consuming limited water. Please stop perpetuating colonialist behavior with the fetishization of our island culture.”
The university issued a statement that it listened to the concerns raised in the open letter. The university cited recruiting efforts and alumni in Hawaii as reasons for the venue. The university intends to pursue its plans to host Homecoming in Hawaii.
“[The Univeristy] will be distributing information about respectful and sustainable tourism to those who will be attending,” said school representative Grant Scott-Goforth.
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