California's Humboldt University Names First Black President

Humboldt State University (HSU) announced on May 22 that the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees appointed Dr. Tom Jackson, Jr. as the university’s eighth president.

Jackson, who previously served as the president of Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, is HSU’s first African American president. He will replace Lisa Rossbacher after she retires in June following five years at HSU.

“Dr. Jackson has been an inspirational leader who has demonstrable success at the highest levels of university administration,” CSU Trustee Peter Taylor, chair of the HSU search committee, said in a statement. “Throughout his career, he has been a champion for access, quality and student success, all hallmarks of the HSU mission.” In a statement, Jackson praised the university and said that few institutions were so “closely tied to the success of their respective communities as HSU.” Jackson said that he looked forward to working with the university’s staff and community members. “A degree from HSU can lift the life of the person earning it as well as the lives of their family, and those degree holders drive the success of the entire North Coast,” Jackson said. “I welcome the opportunity to work with HSU’s talented faculty and staff, alongside community members, to ensure that those life-altering opportunities are expanded for current and future students.”

HSU and Jackson did not immediately respond to The North Star’s requests for comment. Jackson visited the HSU campus in Northern California the day his appointment was announced to meet with students and faculty members at the university’s main library, the Times-Standard reported. He was met by a crowd of more than 100 people, whom he told he would always be available to talk.

“Take the time, stop me as I’m walking across the campus and let’s chat,” Jackson told students, according to the Times-Standard. “You can buy the cup of coffee. But tell me your story because… that’s what’s most important.” Jackson is a military veteran and earned a doctorate of educational management from the University of La Verne in Southern California, according to his CV. He held several administrative positions at universities across the US, including the University of Louisville and Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Jackson spent five years at Black Hills, where he introduced a way to earn a low-cost degree, advanced the institution’s sustainability practices, and helped launch two women’s sports programs. He told the Times-Standard that he is ready to begin long-term work at HSU. Earlier in May, a search committee consisting of faculty, community members, and a few students moved three finalists forward to fill the president position. Jackson was viewed by committee members as “accessible and available,” Joellen Clark-Peterson, the executive director of the Arcata Chamber of Commerce, told the newspaper.

In February, students emphasized the importance of hiring a diverse candidate to fill the job. Although the university’s student population is predominantly white (43.7 percent), it boasts a large Hispanic/Latinx community (33.7 percent). Six percent of students identify as multi-racial and 3.19 percent as African American. Jackson is set to be the first Black president in the university’s more than 100-year history.

The university has faced allegations that its administration has not properly ensured the safety of its Black students. This belief was highlighted by the 2017 stabbing death of David Josiah Lawson, a Black student who was killed at an off-campus party in the predominantly white town of Arcata, California, Inside Higher Ed reported. The case remains unsolved.

“No question, there’s some healing we’re all going to have to do as a community,” Jackson told the Times-Standard about Lawson’s death. “There are issues we may have to address very rapidly over the coming months.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.