On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the President of the United States pleaded with Americans to remember “what America has stood for.” As the incidents of Arab-American hate crimes grow, we, the Editorial Staff of the Vanguard, grow increasingly more uncomfortable with the tepid dialogue that has accompanied these events.
With all due respect, we believe it is important to remember that what America “stands for” has not always been as fair-handed or minded as the Presidential Public Relations office attests. Examining actual historical precedent, minus rhetorical and political flourish, of American ideas and attitudes during times of international conflict is precisely the analysis that will illuminate the paths leading away from the present hate, intolerance and ignorance.
The most egregious historical example of misguided patriotism was the internment of American citizens after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Americans were denied due process rights, civil liberties and dignity. In the name of defending America within her borders, supposedly fixed American values were trampled. In its wake, an obvious reminder that a suspension of any freedom for anyone residing in America is an affront to everyone and a warning to us all.
Here, at Portland State University, dozens of students did not take their seats in classes on Monday because of fear of reprisals based on their ethnicity, religion or country of origin. Again, if our classmates walk in fear, alter their religious convictions or censor their speech, then all of us are with them, possibly one step behind, but nevertheless on the same distressing path. Some students have questioned the validity of the claims of those fearing for their safety, but one only need to explore the campus to see disturbing brands of hate cloaked in nationalism and patriotism: scrawled messages in bathrooms, “dead or alive” posters, vehicles with soaped messages such as “Let Freedom Ring their Necks”, begs the question who “they” are? This is especially prescient when a complete case for justice has not been presented to the international community, not the least of which includes a clear and compelling case presented to the American people.
In a time of conflict and “war”, the Portland State University community, and, indeed, every academic community, must take on a much more active role in providing a safe haven for all citizens, a safe haven for discourse and debate, a safe haven for people from all places and backgrounds. Integral to these goals is a flexible and supple response to the needs of the students, especially an ability to absorb the surge of students clamoring for more knowledge and information about the present situation. As recent classes, such as Palestine and Israel and Modern Arabia attest, the university has not fulfilled this obligation. Students were denied entry because of a lack of seats, while larger rooms, just hallways away, sat at less than 50 percent capacity. This is unacceptable.
In addition, beyond statements from President Daniel Bernstine, the community must be open to freely discuss the circumstances and conditions of all of our students; reports of hate-filled messages left at the Middle Eastern Student Center should not be covered by the public relations bureaucracy of a corporatized education system but, instead, should be reported and exposed to the students and faculty. This includes the absolute assurance that our professors speak candidly, free of restraint and reprisal, to the press, or whomever they wish. Secrecy only perpetuates a lack of awareness.
It is the responsibility of each student to question and challenge intolerance, racist and xenophobic remarks. It is the responsibility of the student to educate themselves and others on the implications of present events, and to not solely rely on the drumbeat of war emanating from the mass media. It is also the responsibility of the student to demand a campus that is free of violence and one that fosters safety and intellectual freedom for all students.
It is our greatest hope that Portland State University takes a leading and active role in dispelling damaging stereotypes, fostering communication and providing a sanctuary from fear, because if it does not happen here, where will it happen, at all?