By Samantha L. Taylor
(Editors note: there is violent and anti-Black explicit language in this post)
Last night I was doing my usual thing: take a break from studying to check Facebook and see what my friends are up to, read some news and get then back to it. This time, I couldn’t get back to my studies. This time I had to stop, think, and breathe deeply. This is what I found:
Knowing how things are often deleted from Facebook pages with the quickness when people share a dissenting opinion that reflects the experiences of a minorities group, I screen capped this image and asked Tyler if I could use it. Then I cried. Then I reposted it. When someone turns “bring back slavery” into a hashtag, you kinda wanna let your friends know so they can safety plan and prepare themselves for the inevitable backlash. Witnessing this level of hate is horrifying. I am beyond exhausted from living under the daily psychological trauma of this – let’s just call it what it is – domestic terrorism.
The student protests at University of Missouri (Mizzo) were a response to an escalation of threats of violence from peers and community members after their entire football boycotted games in solidarity when other Mizzo students got no response from the administration regarding the race- and sexuality-based harassment they’re receiving on campus.
Since the incidents at Mizzou, solidarity protests have been happening on college campuses across the U.S. And for good reason; Mizzou is not an isolated incident.
Howard University, a well-known historically black college/university (HBCU) has also been a target for mass violence and death threats. Last week the person who threatened the university’s Black students wrote in their post, “After all, it’s not murder if they’re black.”
Additionally, this week grad students at Brown University came together to pen and publish 5 demands for their institution to improve the hostile racialized climate experienced by people of color at Brown.
Stanford University recently held a protest in solidarity with Mizzo, Yale, and, Ithaca College. There, they faced a range of violent responses to their need for “safe spaces,” including the politically leveraged debated on what does and does not constitute free speech.
Most recently, our local Lewis & Clark College students have been posting on Yik Yak (which is a quasi-anonymous chat app) death threats to their Black peers. A protest on L&C campus planned for 8 am this morning will occur to bring attention to students’ experience and to demand changes on campus. Here is coverage of the event on USA Today.
Last night I spoke with, Jasmine Reid, a Black law student at L&C. She and her accomplice (similar to an “ally”, however people are dropping that term in exchange for something more action oriented), are members of the L&C chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
The on-the-ground response from these law students has been to create armbands for non-Black L&C students to wear during (and hopefully after) today’s campus rally. The arm bands are orange, representative of L&C colors.
In light of recent events, last year’s open letter of love written and signed by Black professors across the U.S. is circulating again. Faculty at L&C are also trying to publicly support their students by broadcasting this petition.
It is now that I ask Portland State University’s (PSU) administration and faculty to actively and publicly support its Black and Brown student population.
With the recent attacks in Paris, Islamaphobia on campus has increased exponentially. The KKK has been actively recruiting new members in the Portland area and has been making their presence known in The Northeast and downtown Portland. Our college neighbors at Lewis & Clark are on red alert right now. However, sadly this issue is not a new.
It seems to that students of color, queer and trans students, and especially those at the intersections, are not immune to the active marginalization from their peers and professors. The current national political climate has exacerbated this experience.
In light of what’s happening, these are questions being asked:
PSU Administration: What is the plan to de-escalate the already tense and hostile campus environment at PSU?
PSU Students: What can we do to keep each other safe? In what ways can we be in solidarity with other colleges and universities?
As our public safety team was recently weaponized and now carries guns, and contains members of the Portland Police Bureau, we have to consider the how these various forms of violence show up at PSU and contribute to a campus climate of violence. It seems the community needs to ask itself whether it can accept and build trust with campus law enforcement, or rather, abolish their power entirely.
PSU President Wim Wiewel, sent out this email campus-wide, last week:
To the Portland State community:
With college campuses across the country engaged in challenging conversations about race, fairness and justice, I want to share with you how I think Portland State fits into this important discussion. It has heightened our attention to these issues and caused us to reflect even more deeply on how we can continue to ensure our campus is a safe, equitable and inclusive community.
There is no place at this university for racism or any form of discrimination. We have taken significant steps to create an accepting environment for all who study, teach and work here. Still, we have a long way to go and must continue to be vigilant and make improvements on all of those fronts.
PSU has the most diverse campus of any public university in Oregon. That is central to our urban mission. Students of color make up 28 percent of our student body, up from 23 percent just five years ago. Our 2,152 international students add to our cultural richness. But diversity is not just about numbers – it is integral to our academic and institutional excellence. As we write a new strategic plan for PSU, our students, faculty and staff have been engaged to ensure PSU’s new goals and initiatives are infused with concepts of equity, fairness and justice.
We know, for example, that we have not gone far enough to adequately diversify our faculty and staff. Among the initiatives in the new plan is to place a priority on hiring for diversity. The plan also calls for culturally responsive training for faculty and staff, and for culturally specific support for students from diverse communities. Those are a few of the ways the plan suggests we can do a better job addressing issues of equity and diversity at PSU.
We also need to be clear that diversity of all kinds is a great value, but cannot by itself take the place of a deep concern with questions of historical disadvantage and present-day inequality. People come to this institution with vastly different backgrounds and resources in terms of opportunities and personal experiences. Structural inequities are real, and they require great sensitivity, as well as hard work to address.
I want to make sure you are aware of some of our resources:
Our Global Diversity and Inclusion office offers support, information and advice on how to keep PSU a welcoming place for all, and also investigates any complaints related to unlawful discrimination.
Our Multicultural Student Center is a central resource and gathering place for all students, offering information, counseling, social events and friendship.
And many of our academic programs teach, do research and have deep connections with partner organizations that seek to address issues of inequality and privilege.
I encourage everyone at Portland State to become part of this conversation in ways that reflect this university’s values of access, inclusion, and equity.
Wim Wiewel, President
According to community members what they are needing from Wiewel, and all campus administration must go beyond paying lip service to diversity. they want action. Among the action items the community is asking for transparency, about what actions are being taken that are in line with the mission of PSU and are part of the strategic plan. It’s being said that on the campus, and in classrooms there is a much different experience happening for many of Black and African American students.
Authors Note: I do not claim to speak for all Black students, staff, or faculty at PSU. My comments are representative of only me, and not of any of the departments on campus I may be affiliated with or media I represent.