Trustees hear from students at special session

The Portland State Board of Trustees held a special two-hour meeting on Wednesday, May 25, as a space for students and board members to discuss issues such as mandatory health insurance, armed security officers and tuition.

A series of student panels discussed these issues as well as student experience, diversity, governance and decision-making.

Though raising campus workers’ wages was not on the agenda, students wearing red T-shirts that read “raise the minimum wage” stood along the back wall during the meeting. Higher-wage activists also carried a banner reading, “Welcome to Poverty State University.”

The student panel on health insurance provided different perspectives on [PSU’s] mandatory insurance.

“My concern is that I’m mandated to have [PSU] insurance because mine doesn’t meet the requirements,” said Nikki Dennis, a liberal studies major and single mother.

Dennis could not opt out of PSU’s insurance because her private health insurance deductibles were too low. Current policy forces her to pay $776 per term for the university’s Pacific Source insurance that she neither wants nor uses.

Student Dechen Dolkar said that the university’s insurance offers accessibility that is important to academic success.

“Having a student health insurance that [PSU] endorses and having [the Center for Student Health and Counseling] right on campus provides ease of access to health care that many students might see as a barrier,” Dolkar said.

Student Erica Lee Barrios agreed with the accessibility PSU’s insurance offers, saying that it helps undocumented students.

“They don’t qualify for the Affordable Care Act exchange subsidies and they don’t qualify for the Oregon Health Plan either when they otherwise would,” Barrios said.

Arming campus officers was discussed in the panel on campus safety and was revisited in the student experience and diversity panel, as well as the governance and decision-making panel. Every student who talked on this point represented the opinion that PSU should disarm its officers based on racial prejudices, students with PTSD and the level of training required.

A show of hands revealed that a cluster of students at the meeting were for arming campus security but they did not speak at this time.

“The amount of time and training that you’d need to put into this won’t be enough—I don’t think the university has the budget for that,” said Matt Guickenheimer, a student who served in the U.S. military.

Vice Chair of Trustees Thomas Imeson agreed that training should be thorough, but did not outline specifics.

Students questioned why armed campus officers should be a part of their college experience unless absolutely necessary.

“I do not feel safe around public safety,” said student Desiree’ DuBoise. “Being a brown woman, if I see a campus safety officer, I turn and walk the other way. I’m here to learn—I’m urging more empathy. I’m urging some concrete action.”

Olivia Pace, student and PSU Student Union member, also advocated for action in regard to the university’s tuition and finances.

She expressed concern that the administration cannot empathize with the working-class student when they make decisions about tuition costs, and questioned where her tuition money goes.

“It’s being spent in a lot of places, [like] on new logos for the Vikings,” Pace said. “The inequity of where money is being spent is really atrocious to look at.”

Trustee Maude Hines also questioned the money that went into a new logo, but responded to Pace’s suggestion that administrators cut their salaries to lower tuition costs. She explained that people take salary cuts just to be here, because “people want to be here and teach in an institution like this.”

“Everyone at PSU is [already] paid under market rate,” Hines said.

DuBoise disagreed with the discussion’s gravitation toward yes-or-no solutions.

“[We are saying that] we either raise tuition or cut people’s salaries, but there are other options,” she said.

Students on the student experience and diversity panel advocated for more cultural representation in PSU’s curriculum, specifically for the Pacific Islander community and for Chicano/Latino students.

Social studies major Julian Bugari proposed that PSU offer a major in Chicano/Latino studies. He said that this is a growing minority group in Oregon and across the U.S. but “their experiences aren’t being reflected in their education.”

“[When] one student [is] heard, and heard and heard again, that is when people of power will take action,” said student Patrick Gillian. “So we will be loud [and] we will be here until we are listened to.”

Because of time, the governance and decision-making panel was cut short and two panels were rescheduled for a second meeting to continue the dialogue.

Hines noted that the profit model of the university came up a lot.

“I would like to see numbers,” she said. “I think that would help all of our conversations and I hope that today is just the beginning of the conversation.”