HPU Responses to American Civil Unrest

HPU Responses to American Civil Unrest

Amid the recent events that have underscored the nation’s challenges related to racial injustice and violence, HPU’s leadership responded with communications across our ‘Ohana.  Please read the following messages, first from President Gotanda on June 2, followed by a message from Provost Walsh on June 11.


Aloha HPU ‘Ohana,


Amid the COVID-19 pandemic perhaps you, like I, have had occasion to wonder what could possibly happen next to compound the uncertainty and pain that so many people are experiencing. Unfortunately, the answer has come to our nation and to the world as protests—some peaceful, some destructive—grip cities across America and beyond in the wake of the unjust and senseless death of George Floyd.


People in Honolulu and in our other communities across the Islands have raised their voices in peaceful gatherings and marches, but, thankfully, Hawai‘i has been spared unrest.  Our state has known its share of racial and ethnic injustice throughout its history. As someone who was born and raised here and then spent many years of my adult life on the mainland, it’s my view that we are further along here in Hawai‘i in our embrace of multicultural tolerance and the ways in which we welcome people of all races. It is true that Hawai‘i is a melting pot, where people of many different races and ethnicities have found a home and have contributed to the island’s unique culture. While we are far from perfect, our history of relative progress comes from our inherent Hawaiian values—the same values we at Hawai‘i Pacific University weave into all that we do. 


We live pono, with a sense of righteousness and harmony.  We live kuleana with a sense of responsibility to our unfolding purpose in life and our mutual responsibility to one another. And we live Aloha, as we shape our lives with love and compassion. Our university stands in solidarity with African Americans and all citizens of our nation and the world against racism and discrimination.  We celebrate our differences along with all the good we share in common.


HPU is, by design, one of the most culturally diverse universities in the world. This sets us apart. Seeing our local, mainland, and international students paint their futures with lessons learned from and alongside one another, guided by our caring faculty and staff in this cultural crossroads, forms the perfect environment to critically examine our most pressing issues and to work together toward positive change. So when we are all together again for Fall semester, now less than three months away, I want to suggest that we will be in the best place to answer questions that I’m sure have been on many of our minds this past week:  What can I do to help; how can I make a difference?


We need to all truly see our campus, and our ‘Ohana, as the place to solve the problems in our communities at all levels.  Through the power of education, the embracing of ideas and debate, and the development of problem-solving intelligence we will prepare the next generation of leaders to do what is pono by seeking justice and equality, to embrace one’s kuleana by taking responsibility, and to spread aloha by inspiring compassion.


Pupukahi i holomua: Let us all unite to move forward.


John Y. Gotanda


Aloha Colleagues,


Like all of you, I have been horrified by recent acts of violence that have given new life to the #BlackLivesMatter and related social justice movements. As story after story of heartbreaking loss has dominated the news, I have tried hard to quiet my own voice so that I can listen acutely to the cries of the oppressed, to sit still so that I can lament and mourn with those who are grieving, and to use my platform of privilege to amplify the voices of those who are too often marginalized or excluded altogether. The collective anguish heard in conversations across the nation from every sector of our society, including our law enforcement and military communities, has been acute and intense.


Although the last two weeks have been difficult, I am and remain hopeful. The peaceful protests taking place all over the globe, the spontaneous marches culminating at symbolic seats of political power, and the surprising unity of voices--young and old, rich and poor, black and white--calling for meaningful and lasting change suggest that the future may look substantially more promising than the past. It has also given me an opportunity to reflect on how I can translate my own lived experiences, as the granddaughter of a poor undocumented immigrant from Mexico, and as the parent of a LGBTQ daughter, into focused advocacy for the benefit of others.


I know that this is a question that all of us are asking, and it is one that we at HPU are uniquely positioned to answer. Last week, President Gotanda reminded us that our institutional commitments to live pono, with a sense of righteousness and harmony, to live kuleana, with mutual responsibility to one another, and to live aloha, as we reach out to one another with love compassion, are ones that we can offer as a model to the world. And as our academic deans noted yesterday, we have an opportunity as teachers and scholars, to foster conversations in our classes and in our communities so that this momentum is not lost.


To that end, I invite us to collectively think through ways in which we can advance this conversation within the framework of our respective disciplines in such a way that honors and respects our full diversity, elevates our institutional values, and promotes the common good. We must take care not to elevate some voices at the expense of others, and we must recognize that our students, like all of us, bring into their new experiences a lifetime of personal experiences that will undoubtedly shape who they are and what they believe.


Over the next few weeks, I will be putting together a discussion plan for August so that we can greet students and talk about all that we have experienced and so that we can capture and share our diversity of perspectives. Current opportunities on the list include:


  • UNIV 1000: First-Year Seminar Course with focused discussions on Hawaiian culture and values, race and ethnicity, and support for LGBTQ students. (Content expertise provided by Lynette Cruz and Ramsay Taum, Ngoc Phan, and Jessica Garlock. Mahalo nui for your help!)
  • Student club conversations on diversity, social justice, and support for LGBTQ students
  • Conversations with University Chaplain, Kawika Haglund
  • Engagement opportunities with alumni in focused fields most affected by recent conversations, including criminal justice, diplomacy and military studies, anthropology, sociology, and social work


What else would you like to see us do? If you send me your ideas, I will work with our leadership teams to ensure that we are ready to guide our students through this historic moment in the Fall.


Grateful for you and all you do,


Jennifer E. Walsh, Ph.D.

Senior Vice President and Provost