Josh Garner stood outside Smith Memorial Student Union on last Thursday, talking to people about efforts to conserve Mt. Hood wilderness. Working for the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), an organization that promotes environmental protection and sustainability, Garner said people at PSU are more receptive than other places he has canvassed.
Josh Garner stood outside Smith Memorial Student Union on last Thursday, talking to people about efforts to conserve Mt. Hood wilderness.
Working for the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), an organization that promotes environmental protection and sustainability, Garner said people at PSU are more receptive than other places he has canvassed.
“It’s an academically rich place where people care,” Garner said. “I could be in the business district for three days and not get as much response.”
But some students are concerned that the presence of canvassers from groups like OSPIRG, and other organizations that petition people on campus, are a nuisance to students.
“I feel like they’re interrupting me,” said PSU student Josh Gross, also the editor-in-chief of student publication The Rearguard, about street canvassers on campus. Gross said that he dislikes being approached and that if he were interested in talking to a canvasser, he would rather approach them.
Garner said that not everyone is interested or has the time to talk to him about OSPIRG, which is also a student fee funded group at Portland State, but that he tries to talk to the people that are interested. “One of the biggest focuses is to be non-invasive,” Garner said.
PSU junior Hillary Noe said that people who are looking for signatures or who are spreading awareness of a cause stop her often outside. “Generally I don’t mind getting stopped, because these things are important,” Noe said.
Noe also said there are some days when she does not feel like stopping to talk to people, but people are usually not pushy. She said she has never personally come across someone who was rude, but that such kinds of incidents are not unheard of.
Groups must contact event scheduling to reserve space between campus buildings, according to Mark Russell, event scheduler for the university. Student groups are not charged for space, but groups that are not associated with the university, such as canvassers, craftspeople and military recruiters, are charged a fee of $100 per day to set up a table directly outside a building. He said many student groups that are politically oriented, like OSPIRG, rent tables.
People such as canvassers that are often present in the South Park Blocks near PSU, Russell said, are allowed to be there. “That’s their free speech,” he said. The Park Blocks are public property and, according to Russell, the City of Portland has jurisdiction over them.
“If someone sets up a structure like a table or a booth without a permit, the city can come issue them a fine or remove them,” said Russell.
Certain groups are too pushy, Gross said, like the Lyndon Larouche supporters who were in the Park Blocks two weeks ago. Gross said that he believes that this group tries to engage conversation about political issues by arguing.
“Their strategy is to piss people off, as it’s been explained to me,” Gross said.
Gross said he has been unhappy with the performance of public safety on campus. In October, Gross was present in the Park Blocks when five members from Bible Believers U.S.A., an evangelical Christian group, were handing out religious texts.
A large crowd of generally upset students eventually surrounded the group and the scene escalated to derogatory language and some aggressive behavior. Gross, who was cited in an incident with one of the evangelical group’s members, said campus security guards were present, but did not intervene because the land was said to be under the jurisdiction of the Portland Police. Gross said the police were contacted, but they said campus safety should handle it.
“It needs to be put solely and squarely in the hands of someone, and they need to take responsibility,” Gross said about who is in charge of the Park Blocks.
Michael Soto, director of Public Safety, said that although the park blocks belong to the city, the university maintains the area. He said that the city police usually respond first in the case of a disturbance, but the university is allowed to enforce behavioral violations. Any violation of the city code, such as impeding foot traffic or using amplification devices, would be reason to remove a group or individual from the park blocks, Soto said.