BSU moves forward without recognition

Despite not being recognized for the 2014–15 academic year by Student Activities and Leadership Programs, Portland State’s Black Student Union is moving forward.

The BSU formed after several students attended the Oregon Students of Color Conference last school year and realized PSU is the only school lacking such a union. At PSU, the largest university in Oregon, 3 percent of the student population is black, according to an article published in the Oregonian earlier this month.

At a recent press conference, PSU President Wim Wiewel said that 42 percent of this year’s incoming freshmen are students of color.

According to the BSU’s mission statement, the group “serves as a social, intellectual and political community for students of the African diaspora through education, organizing and action.”

The BSU is currently focused on four goals: to attain cultural space in Smith Memorial Student Union; to facilitate education around social justice, cultural competency and political advocacy; to maintain consistent outreach among the student body and surrounding community; and to “stay beholden to the students.”

The BSU is making moves to meet these goals, though it did not meet the requirements necessary to be part of SALP for the 2014–15 academic year.

“[We’ve] started organizing anyway and have a lot more freedom now,” said BSU co-founder Deyalo Bennette.

SALP recognition process

SALP Director Aimee Shattuck said all student groups must follow specific procedures in order to apply for SALP recognition. The BSU needed to draft a constitution that included a mission statement that would set it apart from other student groups.

“One of the criteria for student organization recognition is distinct mission,” Shattuck said. “We make our decision based on those criteria.”

Before the deadline to apply for SALP recognition last academic year, students met with SALP advisor Sarah Kutten to learn how the BSU could qualify to be a recognized and funded student group.

“[The BSU was] ineligible for funding because they were never recognized as a forming group,” Kutten said. “I met with the group last August and we had a meeting with a number of students interested in starting a BSU.”

Kutten said she scheduled several meetings with students attempting to form the BSU, but the group’s organizers missed many opportunities to meet with her.

“They just never got it together, and it wasn’t for lack of trying from SALP,” Kutten said. “I can tell you that because I went to numerous meetings where BSU student leaders didn’t show up—no call, no shows.”

Kutten added that this recognition application process is the same for every potential student group.

“It doesn’t matter who the group is, they all have to follow a process in order to be recognized,” Kutten said. “They need to fill out an application, [and] it needs to be complete with a mission statement. We need to verify that the group is not replicating a group that already exists. They need to have five students who are academically eligible to be student leaders. [The BSU] fell short in a number of those areas.”

Distinct mission

The BSU’s lack of SALP recognition is due, in part, to the group’s resemblance to PSU’s Black Cultural Affairs Board. Kutten said the two organizations were too similar for both to be eligible for recognition.

“We have a number of student organizations associated with Africa and black culture. What they wanted to do is very similar to what the BCAB is doing,” Kutten said.

Kutten added that she offered to work with BSU organizers to draft a mission statement that would be different than that of the BCAB.

“We certainly don’t want to give funding to groups that provide the same service. I provided them with the BCAB mission,” Kutten said. “At the time there was not enough difference between them. They just had a little bit stronger of a political element. BCAB decided they are not taking sides on political issues and the BSU decided they wanted a political voice.”

Bennette said that while the BSU continually revised its mission statement, as recommended by SALP, it was not able to meet the guidelines.

“The BCAB is a cultural organization,” Bennette said. “BSU is serious about attaining a political lens.”
“These two black groups…would have worked so beautifully together, one being very culturally based and the other being politically based,” Bennette added, noting that the BCAB and the BSU are on good terms with one another.

Outside funding and student spaces

Lack of recognition and funding has not halted the union, which has begun looking into grants, scholarships and support from various organizations and alumni.

“We’re talking to community groups outside of [PSU]. Some things may come out of our pocket…snacks and things like that,” said BSU co-founder Danielle Ali-Cassim.

“All of the regulations and the rules and the things that we have to get done in order to be SALP-recognized, we can just do things on the spot based on the group’s needs and we can advocate for things politically,” Bennette said.

Bennette described the group as a union that is guided by a mission, rather than central leadership.

“[If the BSU were funded] we would be offering things more frequently to African-American students and be more involved and geared toward developing leadership, not just within the union,” said BSU member and freshman Daniel Coleman.

BSU co-founder Jasmine Westmoreland said the group is interested in using funds to create a designated space for meetings.

“I think a big thing is to have a space for everybody to come to and meet, so we don’t need to meet in [the] Park Blocks or mezzanines where there are so many other people and so many other distractions,” Westmoreland said as several members gathered in the Smith Memorial Student Union mezzanine last Tuesday for a meeting, where funding and other foundational aspects of the BSU were discussed.

Currently, the BSU is working to attain more cultural space.

“Cultural space increases retention, student recruitment and academic success,” Bennette said. A petition supporting cultural space for black students will likely be circulating within the next few weeks, he said.

“A lot of black students feel that the whole campus is a white cultural space. The whole city is, in a way, a white cultural space. That’s why that argument kind of hurts in a way,” Bennette said.

The union has also emphasized cultural competency training for teachers on campus. Bennette said a petition can be expected to circulate around campus within the upcoming weeks for this as well.

Coleman is interested in starting a book club through the BSU.

“[It’s important] not just to see each other on campus,” Coleman said, “but to educate ourselves through African-American literature and societal literature that will inspire us as African-American students.”

Coleman said that as a freshman, he is pleased at how accepting the BSU is of his ideas.

“We’re political, intellectual, social; that’s what’s really important in any culture, any group of people that gets cut off from a group. They end up adapting and making their own culture basically, and that’s what we’re doing on campus. And we’re just making sure we can relate and have community and all of those aspects and connect to people,” Ali-Cassim said. “That’s my biggest thing, I guess I’m more on the social side of it. But just connecting people because everybody has different experiences. At the end of the day what it comes down to is we’re all black or at least considered black even if we’re only half or a fourth.”

BSU discusses potential sworn officers on campus

The BSU is currently focused on the deliberations over having armed Campus Public Safety Officers at PSU.

“For me to talk about the whole BSU’s view would be a little bit inappropriate, even though I can tell you that black students generally do not want any arms,” Bennette said.

According to Bennette, some students prefer unarmed CPSO, while others are vying for nonviolent forms of mediation alternatives to police.

“We are working on the CPSO deputization stuff,” Ali-Cassim said. “So that’s a big focus of ours right now for obvious reasons, in my opinion.”

Ali-Cassim said recent events in Ferguson, Missouri have exaggerated concerns over armed officers on campus.

“Unfortunately, blacks…have been shot down or abused by the police, so that’s one of our major targets. We just want to prevent that here on campus,” Ali-Cassim said.

“Basically, when I throw out names like Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and people who have been shot by police, they all happen to be black males, and maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe not, but it sounds like profiling essentially. So that’s why deputization right now is a concern of ours,” Ali-Cassim added.

PSU has issued a campus safety informational page at According to this website, PSU campus police would be integrated into the campus community. It goes on to say that the university would be responsible for the control and guidance of the department.

“Hundreds of campuses across the country have armed police. Compared to other universities nationally, PSU is unusual in that it does not. The other two large universities in Oregon have armed police officers on campus full-time,” according to the informational page.

“PSU being one of the only campuses that does not have an armed police force, we think that that statistic is actually in our benefit. We think that’s in the benefit of not trying to do that even more,” Bennette said. “We have that opportunity and that chance, this little moment of light, this little crack, to be able to try something else. And the research and the studies show that these alternatives work better.Nonviolence works 50 percent more than violence.”

BSU member Cindy Shepard said that the timing of the CPSO debate is insensitive.

In keeping with their investment in the discussion over sworn police officers on campus, the BSU is a member of PSU’s Safety Action Coalition.

The BSU is also working closely with the PSU Student Union in the discussion of sworn officers on campus. Bennette thanked PSUSU for its organizing skills and dedication to the issue.

“There’s no doubt that CPSO brought us together,” Bennette said. “The relationship for the organizations is clearly going to be long term.”

Bennette continued by saying, “I mention this because it really is the highlight of this organization…The fact that two homogeneous groups joined forces, and have a beautiful relationship.”

Thursday, Dec. 11, the PSU Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on the potential hiring of sworn officers on campus.