In support of a robust race and ethnic studies requirement at Portland State University

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Petition Background

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 May 3rd, 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 Proposal

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) create a foundation of sustainable growth for BIPOC centered departments, increasing demand for their classes and in turn, the opportunity for department growth.

Over the last 5 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, 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 - Push Back 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, this proposed change creates a loophole for approving courses that do not seek to confront colonialism and White supremacy.

Another suggested change to the proposal 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.

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 Ethnicities 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. 

By signing this petition you are expressing your support for a robust Race and Ethnic Studies requirement that centers the School of Gender, Race, and Nations. The devil is in the details. Please join us in demanding that Portland State University do more than pay lip service to diversity, equity and inclusion.