Thirteen students attended a meeting Thursday to plan actions in response to comments attributed to Senator Gordon Smith R-Ore. The group Without Fear says its goal is to make the Portland State campus a place where all people can live and work in an environment free from hostility.
Without Fear was organized in response to Sept. 11, but went inactive shortly after. It was revitalized in the wake of comments made Jan. 9 by Gordon Smith, in which he named Portland State as a fundraising mechanism for the al-Qaida terrorist network.
The first community meeting about Smith’s comments took place immediately after the Jan. 10 press conference. About 40 people attended the first meeting. At that meeting, many PSU students expressed concerns about the effect that such comments would have on the image of Portland State. Some also feared that innocent PSU students would become targets of federal investigations and racial profiling.
The second meeting began with some debate as to whether it should be postponed. Organizers expected twice the number of people that showed. The poor turnout was attributed to the lack of advertisement on campus, and members vowed to generate much more interested in the meetings to come. Plans were made to draft flyers, call people who had attended previous meetings and contact student groups that might possibly be affected by the comments attributed to Smith.
The meeting lasted for about 90 minutes and was led by Mark Hinz. Hinz is a member of the ASPSU student senate, which formed a committee Wednesday to investigate Smith’s comments.
The discussion at Without Fear then turned to the drafting of a letter to Smith, demanding an apology to Portland State. Smith circulated a letter of apology the day after his comments appeared in The Oregonian, but it was deemed unacceptable by the members of Without Fear. “He needs direction from us,” Hinz said. “He needs to know why what he said in his letter was not an apology.”
In his letter Smith apologized for the “misunderstanding” that developed from his comments. The apology was considered vaguely worded and insufficient by the members of Without Fear.
Without Fear also hopes to bring Smith to the PSU campus to give him an opportunity to apologize publicly. The organization supports PSU President Daniel O. Bernstine in working to achieve this goal.
“This is a good opportunity for President Bernstine and the administration to join together with the student senate and Without Fear,” Hinz said.
The senate voted to form a committee to investigate the basis for the allegations. Without Fear is focusing on extracting a more acceptable apology from Smith and providing a safe haven for members of the Portland State community who may have been affected by Smith’s comments.
“The senate isn’t a community organization,” Hinz said. “This is a community meeting. The senate has endorsed a public forum, but does not actually organize it. That is what we are doing.”
The next Without Fear meeting will take place in Smith Memorial Center 296 Wednesday Jan. 23.