PSU students, Wiewel intersect at Janet Mock keynote

Media figure and activist Janet Mock received the following question during the final half-hour of Portland State University’s Living the Legacy: Freedom at Every Intersection MLK Tribute 2017 event:

“Hi Janet. You might have noticed a lot of praise for [PSU President Wim Wiewel], the Board of Trustees and our university; however, they have consistently walked on, interrupted, and silenced the voices of student activists—”

The audience audibly gasped.

“—They tokenize and marginalize students on campus. This event is an example, to cover up these things. What do you have to say to our administration about their undemocratic and oppressive actions against students?”

“Shade!” called a voice from the audience. Cheers erupted.

“I don’t see this as shade,” Mock responded. “I see this as uncovering truth and necessary confrontations.”

“Necessary shade!” the same voice called again.

“If there is a student who would like to speak on this,” Mock continued, “I would prefer to do that instead of me coming from my space as an outsider…I would like you to speak on that, or you all to speak on that. That would probably be the most constructive, so please use this platform.”

“Tell the children!” the voice again called.

Kaitlyn Dey of the PSU Student Union first answered Mock’s call. She explained to Mock, along with her fellow speakers Jaboa Lake and Dr. Derrais Carter, the background of the Disarm PSU movement and frustrations students have had engaging with PSU’s Board of Trustees.

“We have the president, Wim Wiewel, sitting there right now,” Dey said. “And we have constantly, constantly talked to [Wiewel] and we feel we are not getting answers from this, and honestly…to hear [Wiewel] give a speech about how [PSU loves] diversity here and ‘we are doing so much for our students here’ is frustrating.”

Donald Thompson III, a member of the Associated Students of PSU Student Fee Committee and fellow organizer in PSUSU, answered the call.

“This is supposed to be Living the Legacy, but I don’t want to live a legacy of tokenization,” Thompson said. “I’m kind of over that. There’s…this word that they use, ‘diversity lens,’ that we use at this campus, which is, ‘we can get away with marginalizing people if we can show that we’ve done small things.’ We can’t let them get away with that anymore. That’s not real change, that’s not productive. That’s deceptive and frankly, that’s using this legacy to further your mechanizations. That’s not permissible. It’s just brutal to see it continue happening here, where we’re a liberal mecca but we’re four percent black.”

Thompson, then turning to directly address Wiewel, continued: “Wim, you’re on your way out, this is your last year. You’ve done a lot for us; they have not been satisfactory, specifically talking about the sanctuary campus. You said you would acquiesce to federal requests. That doesn’t sound like a sanctuary campus.”

Dey and Thompson’s remarks elicited snaps, cheers, gasps and applause during their time with the mic.

“Tonight is a conversation, and I think that I am sharing space with two brilliant people from this institution and they are shaping this conversation,” Mock said in a press conference held prior to her keynote address. “I prefer not to look at questions beforehand, because I want to just be in the moment and answer those questions, but I think that a lot of it will be around how do we envision and dream in these challenging times, and for me, I think the one thing that I would say is that we have to organize and resist. That’s what we have to do.”

Living the Legacy: Freedom at Every Intersection featured remarks from Wiewel praising the university’s actions since 2016’s Students of Color Speak Out event, and also featured remarks from Dr. Carmen Suarez and masters of ceremony Ebony Oldham and Dr. Winston Grady-Willis; two performances from spoken word artist Tazha Williams; and a gift-giving ceremony, where Mock was awarded a quilted blanket from Trhona Johnson. Alexis Lawrence opened the evening by singing the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson. The Mario Sandoval Ensemble played opening music.