CFA supports family of slain Humboldt State student, calls on CSU admin to better protect students, demands all speakers be treated with respect

As the mother of slain Humboldt State student David Josiah Lawson made her third appeal to CSU Trustees at today’s meeting, faculty and students stood arm-in-arm behind her, echoing her call for the Board to use its leverage to help solve the crime and improve campus safety.

Lawson was a 19-year-old Criminology & Justice Studies student. He was killed at a party near campus in the rural, mostly white community of Arcata on April 15, 2017. As of today, his murder remains unsolved.

HSU students, Lawson’s family, and advocates have protested persistently at city meetings, on campus, and in town since his death. His mother, Charmaine Lawson, has asked the Board twice before for help in finding the killer and make CSU campuses safe for students.

“We demand safety,” Charmaine Lawson said. “The university must work to end the discrimination throughout the CSU system.”

Today, faculty and students from throughout the CSU amplified her message, and called out Trustees for their treatment of Charmaine Lawson during their July meeting. At that meeting, while Ms. Lawson spoke, a CSU police officer could be seen on video standing behind her in an intimidating manner, his hand near his weapon.

“She was treated more as a criminal than a righteous grieving mother,” said Sharon Elise, CFA’s Associate Vice President of Affirmative Action and a CSU San Marcos Professor. “She came to you because her son was murdered. She entrusted him to you for an education and expected him to survive the experience and did not expect to be menaced by the police. She deserves more than that and he deserves justice.”

CFA faces up to racism and takes it on when it occurs and the Trustees need to do it too, she said. The work belongs to all of us.

“David Josiah Lawson lived a short life that deserves our honor and recognition. It is not too late to get to know him and to stand for him. To seek justice,” Elise said. “We are waiting for Black lives to matter.”

Renée Byrd, a professor in the Criminology & Justice Studies program at Humboldt State and  CFA Chapter President, urged Chancellor Tim White and Trustees to think of safety through the lens of racial justice.

“Parents shouldn’t need to worry every day when their kids leave the house, let alone when they go to get an education,” Byrd said. “David Josiah Lawson deserved to come to Humboldt and encounter new ideas and be safe doing that. His life matters… It’s time to show us that his life matters.”

James Thomas, a Cal State LA faculty member and Pastor of Living Word Community Church in Sherman Oaks, told Trustees that if they are recruiting students of color, they need to truly make space for students of color, and protect them from harm. To help them feel healthy and supported.

“If you invite us to your institution, you must allow us to be Black,” Thomas said. “That means the culture of the institution has to change to make space for us. You need to be ready for the students you recruit and you’re not. It means working openly with students, parents, community leaders, pastors, and faculty.”

The police presence in the CSU system and lack of support from administration for families and students of color, particularly Black students, must stop, said Antoinette Sadler, a Cal State LA student and member of Students for Quality Education.

“We can’t enter the administration office without police coming in full riot gear to block the entrance,” Sadler said. “We are students. You all get paid by us… You all need to be held accountable.”

The auditorium was silent as Charmaine Lawson spoke of her son, her voice shaking with emotion. With faculty and students standing in solidarity behind her, she told them of David Josiah Lawson’s life. Of his vibrance. Of his character. Of his love for the CSU.

“My son was smart. My son was compassionate. He was an ambitious leader. He was driven to succeed. My beloved son was destined for greatness. DJ set his sights on higher education when he entered Humboldt State in 2015. He was so excited to be heading off to college, a young African-American man,” Charmaine Lawson said. “As parents, we sacrifice to send our children off to college because we want them to succeed as future leaders. This institution failed our family.”

Click here to read full comments by CFA leaders.