Saturday, marked the second annual Student Power Convergence—an event where students came together in Parkway North in Smith Memorial Student Union for a five-hour brainstorm on how to improve Portland State and strengthen the new student union.
Hosted and organized by the Portland State University Student Union, Students for Unity, the Food Action Collective, the Student Action Coalition and the Community Development Student Group, the Convergence marked the culmination of a weeklong series of student empowerment events called Student Power Week.
The idea was that after hearing the inspiring stories of visiting organizers throughout Power Week, PSU student leaders and organizers would have the opportunity to jumpstart their own collaborative campaigns by taking their ideas straight to the drawing board at the Convergence.
“Last year’s Convergence focused more on the guest speakers and less on student driven workshops,” said organizer Trey Cundall, a senior community development major and co-chair of the CDSG. “This year we really wanted to generate some ideas and passion for moving the student union forward.”
The structure of the gathering consisted of two sets of breakout group sessions, with the entire body in attendance reconvening for discussion after each session.
Organizers prompted students to consider what they believe is wrong with PSU, what the student union should take on after faculty contracts are resolved and what kind of models of success could be emulated in the future.
Ideas ranged from a book swap project to the total redesign of SMSU. Others included more gatherings and teach-ins in the park blocks, more services for students with kids, better food on campus and a campus credit union. Everyone agreed that resources and infrastructure on campus should be student-run, as much as possible.
In the final reconvening, groups described their nascent campaigns and the next steps toward achieving them.
Veronika Ivanova, a senior majoring in philosophy and psychology, participated in the communication breakout group. At the end of the day, she presented to the room her idea for a newsletter template that could easily and efficiently compile student groups’ collective events and plans into one email digest.
Having just heard about the Convergence the evening before, Ivanova did not anticipate taking on such an endeavor.
“I was not expecting to find myself in a room of students so critical, considerate and sincerely motivated to make our university more inclusive and progressive,” she said. “I definitely did not expect to participate in any vital capacity and didn’t expect to be valued to the extent that I was.
“I’m overwhelmingly grateful that I went on a whim. I am walking away from my first meeting [as] an active part of the student union, and I’m looking forward to utilizing all my abilities for the benefit of the community,” she added.
Ivanova was not the only one who ended up at the Convergence unexpectedly. Convergence planners initially regretted that they had scheduled the event for the same weekend as the regional Northwest Student Leadership Conference, also held at PSU, but in the end the Convergence became an added resource to conference attendees.
Steven Button, director of student services at the Kwantlen Student Association, is the equivalent of a student body president at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver, British Columbia. He and two other student leaders from his university stumbled upon the Student Power Convergence in between conference workshops.
Button ended up staying for the entire Convergence.
“You folks are inspiring,” he told the room. “This campus shares many similarities with our own—in terms of the programs we are dealing with as an urban commuter school—but the ideas I’ve heard today are so novel. We are super excited to implement some of these approaches to building community and outreach.”
The organizers were equally enthusiastic about the results of the Convergence.
“I think the SPC turned out great. We had a good turnout and I feel like I walked away from it with a better understanding of what we could do via the student union to organize ourselves as students,” Cundall said.
When asked if the recent faculty contract negotiations and planned student walkout influenced the success of the Convergence, Cundall agreed.
“I think it gives us an easy fulcrum to organize students, as the issue of faculty contracts obviously impacts the student body.
“It motivates students to get involved in campus activism that [they] might not notice or care [about] if there weren’t such a pressing issue for people to focus on.”
Sonya Friedman, a sophomore anthropology major and a coordinator with StAC, agreed that the faculty contract negotiations are empowering more students to ask questions and address their concerns.
“There is no central place for students to obtain knowledge about the current conflict between the faculty union and the administration, but that is changing as we build the student union through events like today’s Convergence,” Friedman said.
Referencing a walkout scheduled to coincide with a faculty info picket on Thursday, Friedman continued, “When we talked about [the] upcoming walkout today, people had many questions and were very interested in what it means for their education.”
Karissa Moden, a first year graduate student in the Master of Social Work program, said she knew of the student union but did not have the chance to get involved before the Student Power Convergence. She learned about the Convergence after a friend encouraged her to sign up for the student walkout text loop.
“I wanted to attend because I have been wanting to use my energy towards a cause rather than feeling flustered and overwhelmed by all that needs to get tackled. I am also tired of sitting and talking, and I want some direction in taking action. I left [the Convergence] feeling rejuvenated and ready to speak up and for the students, as well as myself here at PSU,” Moden said.
Friedman concluded, “Th-anks to the Convergence, I think we’re going to see even more students turning out to support their professors this Thursday.”
Editor’s note: It has recently come to our attention that Sara Swetzoff has been reporting on issues concerning the Portland State University Student Union while also maintaining personal involvement with the organization. The Vanguard recognizes this is a conflict of interest that contradicts our mission to serve as a fair and balanced news source for the Portland State community. We apologize for failing to catch this problem before the stories made it to print and have since taken action to ensure it will not happen again.