Elections, convictions and second chances

Sexual assault awareness month is coming to a close, but Portland State still has a lot left to talk about in regard to this issue and how we talk about it.

From 2010–12, Portland State had the second highest number of sexual assault reports out of all the public universities in Oregon and was fourth overall in the state behind Reed College, University of Oregon and Willamette University.

While we might have had a lower percentage of cases in comparison to other universities due to our larger student population, even one sexual assault on campus is too many.

As Associated Students of PSU elections are restarted and news channels have been eating up the controversy on our campus, now is a good time to talk about how PSU should represent itself among our fellow universities.

First, I think it is imperative to have a discussion about how ASPSU representatives are elected and vetted prior to taking office. Currently ASPSU does not do background checks on their appointees or nominees for any position within student government. Seeing as though they are not university employees, they do not have to receive the same kind of scrutiny a job applicant would. While I believe requiring background checks and excluding people due to previous run-ins with the law would be a bad precedent to set, I feel there needs to be some consideration given by ASPSU in regard to the history of potential candidates and those who will represent this school.

Let’s face it: If someone wants to be part of ASPSU and they have some minor charges stemming from past mistakes, it would be ridiculous to make this an impediment to serving in student government and running for office. However, there are certain charges I believe would impact a person’s ability to be an effective leader, and while it makes me uncomfortable trying to make certain distinctions in what criminal charges would be okay and which ones wouldn’t, this highlights an important issue.

Most forms of sex-related crimes are seen by the average American as being among the most deplorable acts a human can do. Now, I’m not talking about urinating in a public park, but more troubling charges such as rape, sodomy, child molestation and kidnapping. Charges like these are not slip ups, and they are not crimes of necessity. Rather, they are intentional actions by those who prey on the weak, the voiceless and those who are often denied a privileged position in today’s society. Most often these victims are women and children.

On a campus where over 53 percent of our student body are women, we must stand strong against crimes that affect them and do our best to make this a campus where people can feel safe from the threat of violent sexual crimes.

With this said, having a student body president who has been convicted of attempted rape and sodomy would be terrible for our campus. Electing someone who has a history of sexual assault toward underage individuals sends a message to our student body, our community and victims that we at PSU are okay with rape and sexual assault.

It would not only normalize rape, but would put a person who has a history of abuse in a place of authority, which is not only inappropriate but despicable. That is one of the main issues which has been overlooked in this discussion.

It can be assumed that when a person runs for office, they care about the institution and want to represent it in the best way possible. With that in mind, if you are someone who has such a controversial past, especially one involving the rape of minors, choosing to represent the student body is not an act of respect but a selfish one.

I will agree that in many cases felons are not given their proper due following their convictions. I am no proponent of civic death. As a Christian, I believe everyone deserves a shot at redemption and second chances.

Nevertheless, in recent weeks I feel this rhetoric of the second chance is being abused and would be insulting to those who truly wish to reenter civil society and be good, law-abiding citizens. By holding everyone hostage to this second chance, you essentially blackmail people to either support you or say they don’t believe in second chances.

This shouldn’t be the case.

A second chance does not guarantee you the right to completely separate yourself from your pasts, and it especially does not require a person to look past it and welcome you with open arms. There are many ways to reenter civic life, and making yourself the center of attention and controversy is not one of them.

That said, I would ask that ASPSU leaders become more aware in the future about people’s criminal pasts and do their best to appoint those who can effectively represent PSU. Maybe this means making a change to the constitution. If that’s the case, then so be it. Many people would prefer to not see a repeat of what happened this election cycle, and while I hope this is a rare event, there will always be arrogant sex-offenders who would love to be in positions of authority.

Also, to those in ASPSU, I’m glad you take your positions seriously, and I’m glad you run hoping to actually be elected, but please, you need to stop pretending student government is an episode of House of Cards. Kicking people out of elections for mild infractions and on small technicalities makes you all seem like elitists, which makes the average student not particularly interested in getting involved or running for office.

In the past few years, I’ve seen you kick two eligible candidates out of an election and then appoint a convicted sex offender. Your rap sheet is looking pretty bad and needs some improving if you ever want to be an effective student government.