ASPSU members call for greater student involvement during town hall meeting

The Associated Students of Portland State University held a town hall meeting on Mar. 3. The main topics of discussion were ASPSU’s recent role in the authorization of an armed police force on campus, inclusion and a perceived lack of student involvement.

ASPSU held the town hall meeting as an open forum designed to inform students about projects, answer questions and receive feedback. In response to a question posed as to whether or not ASPSU did enough to prevent the authorization of an armed police force on campus last December, members were split.

ASPSU President Eric Noll said that in the long-term, student government could not prevent it from happening.

“There was a lot of inertia built on this campus around the policy,” Noll said. “We could have fought to stop it from happening, and we could have fought to stop the board from taking a vote in the affirmative…and we may have won that this year, but at some point there would have been a lack of student government at, or a lack of student organizing…or enough momentum that they would have pushed it through.”

Tony Funchess, director of Multicultural Affairs, defended student government and said students were not active enough.
“ASPSU can only do what its students are willing to do,” Funchess said. “When students aren’t engaged it makes it difficult for us to know what is the next step.”

Senator Danielle Ali-Cassim was not a member last fall during the controversy and reflected that as a student she wished ASPSU had been more proactive.

“I kind of feel like, all together, we did just back down,” Ali-Cassim said. “I feel if we were to [have] taken a more proactive step, students would have been more involved, knowing that their student government was willing to take that step.”

Funchess explained that student government will have a role in implementation. The Campus Public Safety Office Implementation Committee will have input on training, recruitment and policy. So far, nothing has been decided. Funchess encouraged students to engage with the discussion via the ASPSU website and during upcoming forums.

“At this stage we are just going over all the policies to make sure that we have been very thoughtful and intentional and inclusive as we move forward,” Funchess said.

Members also talked about the possibility of future renovations to the Smith Memorial Student Union Building if students decide it would be worth the increase in fees. Jonathen Gates, University Affairs director for ASPSU, said that students would be able to have a lot of input.

“There is tremendous opportunity to re-engage Student Media, for instance,” Gates said in response to a student’s question about possible renovations.

Gates also related possible future renovations to SMSU to the need to make PSU more inclusive for people with disabilities.

“There’s entire sections of this building which are completely inaccessible to students [with disabilities],” Gates said.

Members of the Cultural Competency Committee emphasized the importance of the Cultural Centers for students with disabilities.

“The cultural centers don’t just serve folks of a specific identity group, but they are there for all students,” Funchess said. “There’s computer labs there, meeting space, community, events, information, the cultural centers represent a great resource that is underutilized on campus.”

With few students in attendance at the town hall meeting, the question of engagement came up, especially among non-traditional students.

“Is there any thought about proactivity around how to get students here, how to get older students, and people that are not necessarily in the dorms [to be more involved]?” asked student John Pinney.

Noll said the problem was the lack of diversity in representation.

“There is a wide spectrum of identities across campus,” Noll said. “One of the ways we can get ourselves a good start about outreach to different groups and events like this is to have a very diverse representation in government.”

The next student Senate meeting will be held March 9, 5 p.m. at SMSU 236. Campaigning for student elections begins in April.