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Letter to the Editor: Psychology Department Disarm PSU Statement

June 11, 2020


Dear President Percy and the PSU Board of Trustees,


We, the undersigned faculty, staff, and graduate students of the Portland State Psychology Department stand in solidarity with our colleagues in the PSU School of Social Work and others across campus in calling once again for an immediate and permanent disarmament of Campus Public Safety Officers. Our call to disarm CPSO follows the solidarity statement we issued after the killing of Jason Washington, a Black man, by CPSO in 2018, and also echoes the countless students, faculty, staff, and community members who have voiced their opposition to an armed CPSO dating back to 2014. 


We appreciate the university speaking out in support of Minnesota and Georgia and calling for racial justice following the police killing of George Floyd. It is important to acknowledge the role that systemic racism played in these tragedies, and the importance of working toward equity and justice at Portland State. As you stated in your conversation about racial justice with Incoming Vice President of Global Diversity & Inclusion, Ame Lambert, “to do nothing is to be complicit in white supremacy and the systemic racism that has prevailed in our country for centuries.” Disarming campus police is perhaps the single most important way that Portland State University can take action to meet the moment, and to help bring justice to Jason Washington, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and far too many other Black lives taken by police.  


Across the country and locally, we are seeing calls for and actions toward divesting from policing in schools, colleges, and universities. On May 27th, the University of Minnesota ended contracts with the Minneapolis Police Department. On June 4th, following pressure from city leaders and advocates, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced that the Portland Police Bureaus’ entire school resource officer unit would be removed from Portland Public schools, as well as David Douglas and Parkrose School Districts. It is past time for Portland State to join this growing movement.


Along with reaffirming our support for disarming PSU, we also echo our colleagues’ questions about why CPSO has been exempted from the furloughs that have affected so many other workers across our campus. Further, we were very concerned to learn that CPSO swore in a new officer on June 4th, long after a strategic hiring freeze was implemented in early March. Arming CPSO has come at a high cost, both financially, and in the loss of campus community members’ feelings of safety and trust. It is time that our approach to campus safety lived up to our reputation as a top 10 most innovative university. Non-police alternatives, including bystander intervention workshops and the development of crisis intervention teams, were recommended by the PSU Student Union, the School of Social Work, the Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative, and others in response to the Margolis Healy report on campus safety. These models currently exist on our campus and in our community, and they need to become the core of our campus safety plan moving forward.    


In addition to divesting from policing, we must also commit to investing in Black students, staff, faculty, and programs. We appreciate and advocate for suggestions similar to those provided by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Chairs in their recent call to action. Clear and necessary actions include the urgent need to fund the Black Studies Department at PSU at higher levels, both because of the importance of its purpose, and also because of its historical and woeful under-funding; increasing tenure-track hires of Black faculty members across campus; and providing additional resources for Black students, staff, and faculty to address the disparate impacts that COVID-19 has had on Black communities. While we feel that it is important to center our statement and suggested actions on addressing and combating anti-Blackness given the disproportionate impact of police violence on Black people, we also recognize the critical need to take action on our campus to respond to and dismantle systems of oppression that affect all Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. 


PSU community members have stated time and again that guns on campus do not make them feel safe. Disarming CPSO is a necessary, and long overdue, first step to combating systemic racism and institutionalized violence at Portland State University. 


As a way to make sure PSU administration and the Board of Trustees remain accountable to your expressions of allyship with Black communities, we request responses to the following action items by June 30th:


  1. Revisiting the decision to arm CPSO
  2. Transparency regarding the decision not to furlough CPSO
  3. The inclusion of AAUP, PSUFA, GEU, SEIU, ASPSU, and non-unionized student worker representatives on any task force created to dismantle systemic structures of oppression at Portland State University


This statement was signed by 50 faculty, staff, and graduate students of the Portland State University Psychology Department and sent today to President Percy and the PSU Board of Trustees.