A war of words about multiculturalism that began in Portland State publications gained more attention at a public forum last Friday.
The forum was spawned by the Portland Spectator’s May issue titled “The fallacy of multiculturalism,” which generated sizeable controversy on campus and ignited an exchange of attacks between defenders and critics of multiculturalism.
At least 50 people were in attendance, the large majority of which came to express their support for multiculturalism.
Representatives of divergent opinions made up the two panels, which consisted of editors and writers of the Spectator and the outgoing and incoming Multicultural Center ASPSU representatives, leader of the PSU Chicano/Latino organization and the recreational activities coordinator.
The Spectator stood behind the article’s argument that some cultures are better than others and that the notion that all cultures are equal is untrue.
“We don’t want to lose our ability to judge different cultures,” Joey Coon, the writer of the article, said.
Coon continued, “Multiculturalism undercuts our ability to make moral judgments.”
Some members of The Spectator called for an elimination of multiculturalism, but supporters of the movement insisted on the necessity and benefit of increased cultural awareness and representation.
The backers of multiculturalism defended the importance of respecting and acknowledging different cultures, especially those that are commonly underrepresented in the United States.
“For me what multiculturalism and diversity represent is an observance and education and really building a understanding and respect for cultures outside of the traditional canon,” Jesse Shapiro, this year’s ASPSU multicultural representative, said.
The Spectator panel later cited female circumcision, slave trade and mud huts as examples of inferior cultural practices.
Shapiro countered the argument by listing statistics that claim that the United States leads the world in incarceration and execution of prisoners and he enumerated the existence of racism in both past and present America.
“That would be considered by many other cultures to be morally unethical,” Shapiro said.
By pointing out that countries in every part of the world have their own problems, the supporters of multiculturalism hoped to make clear that learning about other cultures is the key to understanding differences.
Shahriyar Smith, senior editor of the Spectator, said that multiculturalism divides more than unites and asked how the panel plans to represent the many different cultures without leaving some out.
Shane Jordan, PSU recreational activities coordinator, responded that the forum itself was a good example of how the multicultural center recognizes and addresses different cultures, ideals and opinions.
While there was little agreement between the two panels as to the value of multiculturalism, most people believed that it was good to get the ideas and opinions out on the table and get an open line of communication.
“The fact is, people must learn to co-exist with each other,” graduate assistant of the center David Reed said. “It is easy to write articles to hide behind, but we made the dialogue go deeper than the written word.”
Audience members had the chance to ask questions at the end of the forum, but spent much of the time denouncing the members of the Spectator.
“You criticize the bastion that allows for this forum,” Erin Pena, an audience member, said.
“This is the first time that a different voice has been heard,” Napoleon Linardatos, editor of the monthly, commented after the meeting.
Linardatos said that he enjoyed the chance to share opinions, but said that he felt like “people were trying to put words in our mouth.”
Long after the forum had ended, participants continued to discuss the issues outside of the Multicultural Center.