Educators and scholars have a long history of silencing voices of color and white-washing history.
Portland State University openly and confidently labels itself an inclusive and diverse community, one that is dedicated to reimagining education for its diverse student population. Yet, in practice, we have seen people in positions of power at PSU, undermine these stated goals of diversity, inclusion, and culturally responsive pedagogy.
Right now, the Faculty Senate has an opportunity to back up the university’s talk by passing a resolution to create a two-term Race and Ethnic Studies requirement. However, with a vote scheduled for the Beginning of May, there has been some push back from the Faculty Senate, While the proposal still has a chance of passing, it is at risk of being dramatically watered down.
THE RACE AND ETHNIC STUDIES REQUIREMENT
During the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in March of 2020, the School of Gender, Race, and Nations faculty began drafting a working proposal for a universal graduation requirement that centers on Race and Ethnicity. PSU President Percy has made recent statements that PSU needs to seriously address white supremacy in all aspects of the university and the faculty senate passed a resolution in November of 2020 supporting policy initiatives addressing racial equity on campus and efforts to support the School of Gender, Race, and Nations. The proposed race and ethnic studies requirement would:
1) create educational spaces that center on confronting racism and White supremacy culture within society, the institution, and within ourselves;
2) reimagine current pedagogy and shift towards one that is culturally responsive and decentralizes White, European, and Western-centric curricula;
3) advocate for the critical self-positioning to racism and privilege, and;
4) Promote a foundation of sustainable growth for BIPOC centered departments, increasing demand for their classes and in-turn, opportunity for department growth.
Over the last several months, the faculty members who drafted the Race and Ethnic Studies proposal have brought it to a number of other departments at PSU to get feedback and to gauge support, receiving generally positive responses. The proposal lays out a 5-year plan of development, a budget proposal for the development and implementation of the race and ethnic studies course requirement, a plan to "double dip" with other courses to fulfill other requirements (to prevent adding adding extra financial burden to students and to maintain the credit hours needed to graduate), and a structure to ensure that decision making power is given to BIPOC faculty in BIPOC centered departments. This would include departments under the banner of the School of Gender, Race and Nations; Black Studies, Chicanx/Latinx Studies, Indigenous Nations Studies. These departments all emphasize culturally responsive pedagogy and the confrontation of White supremacy culture at its roots. The proposal would ensure that the implementation promotes sustainable growth of these desperately underfunded departments in ways that have not been provided in the past.
THE BAD NEWS - PUSHBACK AND POTENTIAL WATERING DOWN OF THE REQUIREMENT
A week before the Faculty Senate was initially set to vote on the proposal some members of the campus community began pushing back, suggesting the School of Gender, Race, and Nations should not have a majority decision making power over what courses would count towards the requirement. Thinly veiled under the guise of inclusivity - through prior change of the language of the motion - this proposed change creates a loophole for approving courses that do not seek to confront colonialism and White supremacy.
Another suggested change (through the alteration in the language of past motions in Faculty Senate) would remove a clause that requires one of the two mandatory courses be taken in a department within the School of Gender, Race and Nations. This proposed change would undermine attempts to create a sustainable future for the School of Gender Race and Nations at PSU.
These suggested changes would have a deeply negative impact on the proposed requirement and on BIPOC staff and faculty, effectively robbing them of support and desperately needed funding. They represent a silencing of BIPOC voices, and a patronizing dismissal of the expertise that comes from lifetimes of study and experience. The suggestions continue to reflect the nature of White supremacy, and a fear of relinquishing power to expert BIPOC and the communities that are centering transformative educational change on our campus.
Since the last Faculty Senate Meeting, the language in the Faculty motion was reverted to align with the original proposal drafted by the School of Gender, Race, and Nations. The first motion would require all undergraduate students to take two courses in Race and Ethnic Studies. One of the courses that would meet the requirement must focus on race and racism domestically, and the other course would center on international narratives. Additionally, one of the courses must be taken within the School of Gender race and Nations (SGRN). The second motion establishes a committee that will administer the requirement, being made up of a majority of SGRN faculty (as the faculty in this school teach courses almost exclusively on race and ethnic studies). There is no other unit in PSU that does this. Although the language in the Faculty Senate motions have been reverted back to reflect the original proposal, there is still concern of the language - and subsequently the proposal as a whole - may still be altered and watered down.
TIME FOR ACTION - SUPPORTING A ROBUST RACE AND ETHNIC STUDIES REQUIREMENT AT PSU
It is time we say enough! If the implementation of a Race and Ethnic Studies requirement happens here at PSU, it needs to reflect the goals of antiracism and diversity/inclusion that the university espouses. The university should be supporting the departments that have been doing meaningful work to address the systemic issues that have been pervasive within its foundations, and needs to continue to retain the core aspects of the proposal as it was created by the School of gender, Race, and Nations.
We are a collective of students who are interested in pursuing institutional change within Portland State University - advocating for the reimagining of a decentralized and culturally responsive educational environment. SPEC - in conjunction with the Associated Students of Portland State University - functions to ensure the university is being held accountable towards its statement of dismantling systemic racism within its own foundation - which includes confronting general curriculum.