Diversity shuffle?

To the Editor,

As one of the students who attended the Monday [May 10,2004-ed.] meeting but didn’t get a chance to speak (“Weighing in onNytagodien,” May 11, 2004, Vanguard), there are several elementsthat seem relevant vis-a-vis Portland State’s rhetoric, versuspractice, of diversity.

For one thing, Ridwan, originally from South Africa, has been aprogressive political activist, as well as faculty adviser to theAssociation of African Students (AAS). During the first Gulf War,another Black Studies teacher, Abdi Hassan, originally fromSomalia, was faculty adviser to our student activist group,Progressive Student Union. When students turned in 500 signatureson petitions to then-PSU president Judith Ramaley to sever PSUbusiness ties to the white minority apartheid government inPretoria, Abdi set up the meeting with the president.

Subsequently, Abdi Hassan’s part-time position in black studieswas eliminated. To no avail,

40 students participated in a sit-in in the president’s CramerHall office to protest the loss of Abdi’s job. There does seem tobe a pattern at PSU, over time, of “talking” or “marketing”diversity, but not actually “walking” diversity as a practice. Inthe past year, the issue of including students of color andprogressive voices in ASPSU was the subject of a student senateprotest by activist students in March, prior to the much-contestedtwo ASPSU elections held this spring. Do we do enough to break downthe predominately Anglo cliques in Smith Center to include race,gender and low-income students who may not be part of the “innercircle” among the SFC-funded student groups?

Students not privy to the inner workings of Smith Center studentpolitics or administration diversity shuffling still ask activiststudents what was the deal, for example, with the two ASPSUelections this spring. None of the campus print media did much todistinguish among the three main ASPSU presidential candidates, andthis may have been enough to affect the close outcome of the race,more than the highly contested, and expensive, nature of thecontest itself.

For example, Progressive Slate’s Polly Birge has a longstandingrecord of inclusion and practicing diversity, as Polly wasco-coordinator of the PSU Women’s Resource Center. However, thewinning ASPSU presidential candidate, Christy Harper, aside frombeing a registered republican, was this year’s PSU homecomingqueen. Moreover, the candidate endorsed by the so-called Vanguard,Justin Meyers, was a former writer for our campus’s conservativepublication, The Spectator. These distinguishing backgroundelements were missing from campus print media coverage even thoughProgressive Slate’s flyers did promote Polly’s WRC experience.

In part, as a result, student government for the next year looksto be mostly run by the same group of primarily conservative, Anglostudents, some of whom swapped jobs straight up (Christy Harper andRyan Klute switched from SFC committee to being student bodypresident and vice president while ASPSU vice president Joe Johnsonswitched to SFC, and, of course, Tracy Earll continues for a thirdyear in her slot as SFC chair). What about a little diversity,here, too – not just in retaining faculty of color at what is nowmarketed as “Oregon’s Largest University?”

Activist students are glad to see some diversity “walking” notjust “talking.” Two years ago, PSU’s current president DanBernstine chose Miss America to be PSU commencement speaker, ahotly protested choice. Last year’s speaker, James DePriest, andthis year’s speaker, John Lewis (a civil rights activist andDemocratic Congressman from Georgia) are vast improvements over abeauty queen for the slot.

In opening up ASPSU, in retaining faculty of color, and insevering the University’s ties to corporations which exploitworkers of color, many activist students hope that PSU will start”walking” the diversity “talk” in practice, rather than givingstudents and faculty alike the diversity “shuffle.”

Lew Church, member of PSU Progressive Student Union