The local NAACP has called on CSU Chancellor Timothy White, right, to find a candidate capable of tackling racism. HSU’s next president will succeed Lisa Rossbacher. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard file)

A local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leader has called for the next president of Humboldt State University to possess a “profound understanding” of institutionalized racism and its effects on students of color.

Sharrone Blanck, the president of Eureka’s NAACP chapter, wrote a letter in late November to California State University Chancellor Timothy White outlining how HSU’s next president must confront historical “norms and practices” that keep racism ingrained in place.

It’s not simply enough for the next president to “talk the talk” of diversity, equity and unconscious bias, as higher education careerists have learned to do, Blanck wrote.

“We are asking for leadership of a higher caliber, a leader who possesses the vision, expertise, track record, and political will to transform (HSU) as a historically white-settler institution into one where students of color see themselves at the center of university life,” Blanck wrote.

Outgoing HSU president Lisa Rossbacher announced her retirement in October. CSU will assemble a search committee for her replacement in early February.

Current CSU trustees will comprise the committee, which will have the guidance of alumni and another CSU campus president. In addition, HSU students, faculty and staff will be recruited to the committee as well, said Mike Uhlenkamp, a CSU spokesperson.

Before beginning its search, the committee will hold an open forum on HSU’s campus to receive input on what to assess in its search.

“I think the key to the diversity comes down to the idea that we have diversity in the committees themselves, whether it’s ethnic diversity or diversity of ideas,” Uhlenkamp said.

In her letter, Blanck requests for the search committee to include members with “demonstrated expertise in understanding racism as a systemic problem,” as well as a job interview process that’s “upfront” about racism in the campus community.

On campus, fixing racial inequities takes policy change, said Cheryl Johnson, director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“One of the things we’re adding to our own search process is racial microaggression training,” Johnson said, referring to everyday words and phrases believed to reinforce social power dynamics. “We also address implicit bias … it’s a question of how to diversify faculty when the 21st century university is what we call the ‘browning of America.’”

“We require a two-hour training session on avoiding unconscious bias in our hiring process,” added David Hickcox, a recruitment manager in the human resources department.

While HSU won’t have a direct say in hiring the next president, whoever gets the job “should be informed of the climate on campus,” Hickcox added.

Since HSU makes an effort to recruit students of color to the community, Blanck wrote, CSU should enlist professional recruitment firms to find a candidate “equipped to confront” institutionalized racism.

Blanck, who didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, mentioned in her letter the unsolved April 2017 killing of David Josiah Lawson and the 2001 homicide of Corey Clark in Eureka. Both were black men who came to a community of mostly white people and “deeply racist roots,” Blanck wrote.

“To me, the next president’s transformational vision will be finding justice for all of us,” Johnson said. She alluded to the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“As the mother of two black sons, this is something close to my heart,” Johnson said. “Racism harms and divides all of us.”

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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