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Students at Humboldt State University gathered and protested the firing of Jaquelyn Bolman.

Students Protest Against Native Program Director Firing at Humboldt State

Alysa Landry
10/16/14

Hundreds of Humboldt State University students protested Monday and Tuesday against the firing of Jaquelyn Bolman, an administrator on this small northern California campus and a woman known for promoting American Indians and other “untapped” populations in science, technology, engineering and math.

Bolman, Lakota, was director of the Indian Natural Resources Science and Engineering Program (INRSEP), a student support program designed to assist Native students pursuing degrees in the natural resource and science disciplines. A doctoral-level environmental scientist who grew up in Pine Ridge and was once told she wasn’t “college material,” Bolman also served as a mentor for the last nine years.

Bolman was fired October 9, but the university has offered no answers as to why. Because the action was a personnel matter, the university cannot comment, said Frank Whitlatch, associate vice president for marketing and communications.

“We recognize that students want to understand,” he said. “A lot of students were surprised and sad because they were close to (Bolman) and because she provided mentorship and guidance. There was also some anger about it, but because it has to do with personnel, we can’t talk about it.”

In the following days, students organized protests for what they called an “unjust firing” of “one of the few treasured Native American staff at HSU.” In an emailed announcement of the protest, graduate student Keith Parker, who is Yurok, called upon students to “unite against HSU’s eroding of programs for students of color.”

“Indigenous students affected by injustice and misrepresentation are calling an action against the history of internal discrimination on campus, which has gone on for too long,” Parker wrote in the email.

Students formed a drum circle Tuesday on campus. Some danced while others held up signs protesting the university’s actions or the timing of the termination. Bolman was fired just days before the start of Indigenous Peoples Week.

But the protests went beyond the firing, Parker said during a phone conversation. He claims action taken against Bolman was part of ongoing and systemic discrimination against minority students and faculty at Humboldt.

“It’s a trend,” he said. “This is a continued pattern of harassment.”

Bolman could not be reached to comment for this story. In an online biography for the Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, Bolman states that her position at Humboldt allowed her to give back to her Native community and build a culturally strong Native scientific workforce for the future.

“Every day, I help my students make connections between their cultural understanding of the environment and what they are learning in traditional science classes,” she wrote. “I do this by sharing openly everything that I have learned about science and life. I want my students to dream big and succeed. I want them to become leaders so that all of humanity can benefit from their ability to draw upon the power of culture and science to understand our environment and keep it healthy.”

The INRSEP was established in 1974 in response to the lack of Native students enrolled and graduating in the sciences at Humboldt. It is credited with attracting Native students to campus and in 2000 it was a recipient of the Presidential Award in Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

With Bolman’s departure, faculty and staff fear the program will be lost to budget cuts or consolidation. Perhaps more importantly, Native students are losing a “home away from home” that Bolman helped build, said ‎Adrienne Colgrove-Raymond, director of the American Center for Academic Excellence at Humboldt.

Bolman referred to Native students as “sacred stars meant to follow paths that were designed for them,” Colgrove-Raymond said. “Her strength at Humboldt was developing and directing students to research internships, linking them with other indigenous students both nationally and internationally. By her departure, we lose a significant role model in the sciences that understands the plight of our students, identifies with their value systems and has the heart and knowledge to ignite them to successfully navigate the educational system.”

The university has committed to find an appropriate interim director to fill Bolman’s position, Whitlatch said. It also will conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.

Whitlatch acknowledged concerns about losing a Native administrator, but stressed that the university remains committed to the INRSEP, and to Native students.

Humboldt, which is part of the California State University system, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees to about 8,000 students. According to the latest diversity report produced by the university, 1.1 percent of students and 2.5 percent of instructional faculty are Native.

Given the small number of Native students, Whitlatch said it was inspiring to see them unite in what he called a “civil and respectful protest.”

“It’s a mixed thing,” he said. “On one hand, it’s hard to see students upset and distressed, but on the plus side, it’s good to see them standing up for what they believe in.”

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