Letter to the Editor: English Department statement on disarming PSU

June 12, 2020


Dear President Percy and the Portland State University Board of Trustees:


We, the undersigned members of the English Department at Portland State, stand in solidarity with the protests against anti-Black racism and violence, and we believe that Black Lives Matter. However, it is not enough to express sympathy in support of racial justice. Solidarity requires action at all levels of the university. This work can neither fall solely on individual faculty who make the conscious decision to engage with racial justice, nor can it be expected to be led and executed solely by the VP of Global Diversity and Inclusion. Called in by the exposure of our country’s racist and anti-Black underpinnings, we acknowledge our complicity and responsibility to do our own anti-racist work, to listen to and learn from our students and colleagues, and to examine and revise the policies and injustices that we perpetuate as agents of an inherently racist system. As part of this anti-racist work and accountability, we are compelled to write this letter urging you to do more than just call an end to systemic structures, and asking you to change those structures over which you have control.

PSU cannot both sympathize with the widespread protests against institutional racism and police brutality and also invest in the armed policing systems that leave our students, staff, and faculty of color vulnerable to the racist violence we have seen for decades in this city, most recently and close to home in the killing of Jason Washington, who was shot and killed by PSU police officers in June 2018. While we appreciate the complexity behind the decision by President Percy to retain armed police officers in the campus safety plan in fall 2019, despite Washington’s death and subsequent, enduring calls from a broad coalition to disarm PSU, we see an opportunity for university leadership to reverse the decisions of the past so that knowledge can truly serve the city.

In writing, we join in solidarity with the following groups in their calls to disarm the PSU police department:



Dismantling systems of oppression entails ensuring our Black, Indigenous, students of color, and students with disabilities are safe on campus. This means taking a stand against the ongoing over-policing of the entire Portland State community, which disproportionately affects people of color and people with disabilities, and, instead, divest from police armament and reform campus police in recognition of the varied tasks they perform for both the campus and the downtown community. We ask that funds from the un-furloughed police force be diverted to critical student services, supporting them rather than policing them. We ask that PSU stop prioritizing the security of its commercial interests under the guise of public safety by making the entire PSU community, especially communities of color and people with disabilities, vulnerable to police violence and institutional racism.

As we write this, the Superintendent of Portland Public Schools, Guadalupe Guerrero, has just announced that Portland Public Schools is “discontinuing the regular presence of school resource officers” and that, instead of investing in police officers, PPS will be investing in social workers, counselors, and culturally specific resources for students. This moment is an opportunity for transformational change. A rare door has opened in which Portland State can follow suit, and shift resources from armed officers to institutions of restorative justice, support for mental and physical health, and training of campus safety officers and other figures in cultural sensitivity, de-escalation, and mediation techniques.

PSU must invest in Black Studies, Indigenous Nations and Native American Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies and in the School of Gender, Race, and Nation. We acknowledge budget constraints, but money could be divested from police and added to prioritize the flourishing of these programs and the development of new ones; the absence of an Asian American and Pacific Islander program is egregious.

We implore the university to elevate more staff and faculty of color into positions of university leadership and set a clear priority for the recruitment and retention of faculty of color.

We call for a dedicated effort to secure additional resources and services for students of color, ensuring that their voices are heard. This must include more financial support in the form of targeted scholarships and graduate assistantships benefiting students of color.

The white supremacist history of Oregon and Portland make it especially vital that the city’s flagship university take the lead in dismantling structural racism by addressing the violence and inequities of this legacy of injustice. Accountability begins at home. We must confront our complicity in the systems of inequality and brutality that have led to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Jason Washington, and the countless other Black Americans murdered by law enforcement. It will take every one of us to work for systemic change, and we at PSU must do our part to build awareness of the narratives and modes of thought that shape our racial thinking, to confront and interrogate our own practices and privileges, and to commit to intersectional, decolonial, and antiracist practice in our teaching, scholarship, and citizenship.

To signal the university’s commitment to joining in this work, we exhort President Stephen Percy and the PSU Board of Trustees to take concrete steps in the direction of justice and in solidarity with the majority of PSU students, staff, and faculty, by disarming PSU and investing in systemic changes to dismantle oppression at our university, and to continue to acknowledge and redress the many legacies of white supremacy in our state and nation.


In solidarity,


Marie Lo, Associate Professor of English

Janice Lee, Assistant Professor of English

Keri Sanburn Behre, Senior Instructor of English

Kathi Inman Berens, Assistant Professor of English

Hildy Miller, Professor of English

Jessie Carver, Adjunct Publishing Instructor

Kate Comer, Assistant Professor of English

Susan Kirtley, Professor of English

Elisabeth Ceppi, Professor of English

Maude Hines, Associate Professor of English

Michele Glazer, Professor of English

Jonathan Walker, Professor of English

John Vignaux Smyth, Professor

Justin Hocking, Senior Instructor

Sarah Read, Assistant Professor of English

Tom Fisher, Professor of English

Paul Collins, Professor of English

Gabriel Urza, Assistant Professor of English

Bishupal Limbu, Associate Professor of English

Joel Bettridge, Professor of English

Chloe Bobar, Academic and Program Coordinator

Josh Epstein, Assistant Professor of English

Maria DePriest, Emeritus Associate Professor of English

John Beer, Associate Professor of English

Dennis Stovall, Assistant Professor Emeritus

Lorraine Mercer, Associate Professor of English, Emerita

Lucas Bernhardt, Writing Center Coordinator

Ari Rosales, Graduate Teaching Assistant

Brendan O’Guinn, English Dept Manager

Lee Ware, Graduate Teaching Assistant

Nada Sewidan, Graduate Teaching Assistant

Dustin Prisley, Graduate Teaching Assistant

Adam McDonald, Graduate Teaching Assistant

Karyn-Lynn Fisette, Adjunct English Instructor

Melissa Meskell, Graduate Teaching Assistant

Sarah DeYoreo, Adjunct English Instructor

Joshua Pollock, Graduate Teaching Assistant

Jarrod Dunham, Senior Adjunct Instructor

Kathleen Levitt, Graduate Teaching Assistant

Caroline Hayes, Adjunct Instructor, Writing Center Consultant

Jacqueline Arante, Senior Instructor Emerita

Greg Jacob, Emeritus, Associate Professor

Douglas Wolk, Adjunct English Instructor

Elizabeth Backer, Adjunct Instructor

Thea Prieto, Adjunct English Instructor

Robyn Crummer-Olson, Publisher, Ooligan Press, Adjunct English Instructor

Dan DeWeese, Director, PSU Writing Center

Neil Hetrick, Graduate Teaching Assistant

Lauren Hobson, Adjunct Instructor

Roxanne James, English department advising liaison

Perrin Kerns, Adjunct English Instructor

Tony Wolk, Professor of English

Consuelo Wise, Adjunct English Instructor

Lezlie Hall, Adjunct, English

Shaun McGillis, M.F.A., 11; M.S.PT.W 19

Anoop Mirpuri, Associate Professor of English

Rowan Reed, Graduate Teaching Assistant

Liza Dadoly, MA ‘20

Nitya Prem Brorson, MFA, student worker at the Disability Resource Center

Anna Noak, Adjunct English Instructor

Alexandria Gonzales, Publicity Manager, Ooligan Press

Mary Sylwester, Adjunct English Instructor

Kassidy Van Velkinburgh-Porter, Graduate Teaching Assistant

Benjamin Kessler. Adjunct Instructor

Alex Dannemiller, Adjunct English Instructor

Abigail Ranger, Adjunct English Instructor

Bill Knight, Associate Professor of English

Elizabeth Brown, Adjunct English Instructor

Susan Reese, Assistant Professor

Kirsten Rian, Adjunct English Instructor

Sean Hennessey, Adjunct Writing Professor

Michael Clark, Professor of English

Jennifer Cie, MFA ‘20

Matthew Robinson, Adjunct Writing Instructor; Writing Center Consultant; MFA ‘15

Laura Lampton Scott, Adjunct Writing Instructor

Kjerstin Johnson, Adjunct Writing Instructor

Alastair Hunt, Associate Professor

Jessie Herrada Nance, Adjunct English Instructor

Rachel Noorda, Director of Publishing and Assistant Professor of English

Laura Stanfill, Adjunct Publishing Instructor

Bailey Potter, MA ‘21

Karina Briski, MFA ‘20

Lynn Otto, Adjunct English Instructor, MFA ’13

Kelley Dodd, Adjunct Publishing Instructor

Diana Abu-Jaber, Professor of English

Kiaya Gray, Department Operations Coordinator

Amy Harper Russell, Adjunct Writing Instructor

Leni Zumas, Associate Professor of English

Katya Amato, Senior Instructor II