At 6 p.m. on July 23, Associated Students of Portland State University President Luis Balderas-Villagrana held a special senate meeting to discuss the recent Campus Public Safety officer-involved shooting of Jason Washington and construct a step-by-step action plan for campus safety.
The senate was unable to meet the required quorum of voting members to pass any official motions, but those who attended stayed for open discussion regarding campus safety. “I think it’s really important that we acknowledge that this happened, and people need to be held accountable,” Balderas-Villagrana said. “And if it means fixing policies, fixing institutions or fixing anything that needs to be done to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
A central topic of discussion was the Disarm PSU campaign. The PSU Student Union–headed campaign, which aims to reverse the PSU Board of Trustees’ 2014 decision to introduce an armed sworn campus police force, experienced a resurgence since the June 29 shooting.
“I want to make sure this is what the students want, and I will be supportive of it all the way,” Balderas-Villagrana said. “I would really like to know what will come from this discussion. How can we [assure] we hold those people involved accountable, how can we [assure] this doesn’t happen again?”
“The only concrete thing that can be done to ensure that doesn’t happen again is to disarm our campus public safety,” Senator Patrick Meadors said. “We can demand that CPSO disarm itself, we can demand the director to do so…We can push that.”
Other members had contrasting opinions. “I think better training is the answer,” said Tristan Crum, Student Fee Committee member. “I don’t think disarmament is going to happen. CPSO has the same training as the Portland Police Department. If CPSO wasn’t there, PPD would have shown up, and the results could have been the same. If PPD is there, they’re going to have guns.”
PSU students have a history of opposing sworn officers on campus. In 2014, ASPSU surveyed 21,344 students on the topic via email. Roughly 1,200 students responded, and of those, 58 percent opposed armed security. The PSU faculty senate also opposed armed campus police, passing a resolution opposing an armed police force by a margin of 3 to 1. In another survey, the American Association of University Professors polled its 1,200 PSU members, and of the 400 respondents, 256 opposed and 119 supported the idea of an armed force.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be asking ourselves: Do we delay doing the right thing because [the decision to disarm CPSO] is difficult and we [don’t] want to take a position, or [do] we step out in front of it because we [have] an opportunity to stand up for what we [know is] right?” Senator Camilo Abreu Assad said.
Balderas-Villagrana, who also sits on the University Public Safety Oversight Committee, said he also wanted to hear from students who feel safer with armed campus security. “I want to make sure we listen to those students who do feel safe with CPSO being armed,” he said. “I come from an area in Eastern Oregon that’s very conservative, very pro–Second Amendment. I had individuals [pull] a gun on me in spaces where that shouldn’t have happened. The only resource I had was police officers. If it wasn’t for police officers, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
“Someone being killed on campus is very alarming, and it really hurts,” Senator Fatima Preciado said. “PSU has kind of become our second home for many of us, and to think this incident happened, it’s obviously very concerning.”