If you were on campus on Sept. 23rd, you would have noticed that more than half of the students were wearing all black, including myself. Holding up signs that they made in the quad in an undercover area, the rain did not stop them from their peaceful protest following the Sept. 16 publication of an open letter from former student Carrie Taveira, detailing harassment and discrimination she said she faced while attending Pacific. Whether they knew Carrie or not, these students were there because they were tired of waiting for someone else to step up and demand change.
“It’s everyone’s problem,” said Arni Gmeiner, a music therapy student at Pacific.
Carrie’s letter was not only a call to action for the school and the students, but it was also a sign to show that other students have gone through similar experiences. Emotions were high at the protest, as many realized they were not alone in experiencing the trauma of discrimination.
Many first year students at the protest echoed a feeling of betrayal, standing in solidarity for someone they had never even met. “It hurt to know that right after you get somewhere new that stuff like this is going on,” Jefferson VanDomelen said, a transfer student at Pacific who helped organize the protest.
“I feel really conflicted right now, coming here as a new student, because I chose to come here thinking that I would be valued, but then hearing about Carrie’s own experiences here is making me feel a little different,” said Allison Wills, a freshman at Pacific. Some expressed not feeling safe on campus anymore knowing that Pacific doesn’t take action.
Being a transfer student myself, I definitely understand their perspective, especially considering the fact that I chose this school over others to which I applied. I do consider that this is an issue that happens at multiple institutions around the country, but the reaction from Pacific is what is shaping our experiences and thoughts towards the school.
Like most institutions in the country, Pacific University was not built to serve the needs of students of color. The demographic of students of color has been growing over the years and many schools are not prepared for the growing diverse population on their campuses.
In an article written earlier this year in USA Today, Chris Quintana explains the situation of the Latino/Hispanic community growing at colleges: “These institutions are not monolithic, and that’s partially because many Hispanic-serving institutions didn’t start out intentionally to serve these students. They become Hispanic-serving often when the Latino population in an area grows…”
This does not just apply to this one demographic. It can be applied to any minority because all minorities have a growing number of students attending college.
“Higher education was never built for students of color or first-generation students,” says Yadira Baltier-Moreno, a junior at Pacific, who also mentions that this is an ongoing problem that’s not exclusive to Pacific University, but we just don’t hear about the same experiences that other students have faced at different schools.
I am the first person in my family to be born in the United States, and the first in my family to attend college. Because of this, I have had to navigate my way through college by myself since I started. One thing I noticed since I started going to college was how many other students were in the same position as me, and some in even more difficult circumstances. Portland Community College and Portland State University worked together to implement a DREAMers Center, specifically built to support the needs of POC and first-generation students. I think something like this could be beneficial at Pacific.
Over 1,000 current students, former students, alumni, and community members have signed a demand letter, published by a website called Pacific Doesn’t Care, in support of Taveira, calling for action from the University on several issues. Not only do the students at the protest and other students who participated in the blackout ask for their demands of change to be fulfilled, but they also ask for consistency and for the university to stand by what they agree to.
“If they meet all of our demands, how do we know that they are going to continue or how do we know that they are going to adapt to the next time this happens?” said Rhiannon Harris, Pacific University freshman. Pacific cannot just meet the smaller demands, but must exceed them and tackle the bigger picture.
What students are asking for is transparency. When a company or business has a conflict or makes a mistake, the way they express their actions and whether or not they try to justify them shows how transparent they are being with the community. The less transparency there is, the more it feels like the institution is trying to hide something.
Completely disregarding the experiences of students of color is not transparent.
“I think it’s very important for schools especially to acknowledge that and say yes, we are built on the roots of white supremacy. We are racist, inherently,” said Harris.
Acknowledging that an institution is built on the foundation of whiteness but working towards getting away from that and becoming a more inclusive school is that next step. “Having zero-tolerance for injustice on the campus,” VanDomelen says, needs to be part of that next step, as well.
Students want their demands met, and we are fighting for this not to get swept under the rug. “If we don’t get any kind of justice or change, then it is going to get bigger,” said Ruby Smith, another Pacific University student at the protest. Pacific has many angry students, and the outcome depends on their response to these outcries. — Ashley Meza
(Editor’s Note: In a press release to the student body on Sept. 25, the university “categorically denies the allegations made in the 12-page letter published by the former student.”)
As our goal is to lift up the voices of the community at Pacific, we welcome any comments, feedback, or concerns you may have regarding this or any other situation. Feel free to write us a letter with your thoughts and opinions and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Students peacefully protest outside of the UC on Pacific’s Forest Grove campus on Sept. 23 (Ashley Meza)
Ashley Meza was born and raised in Portland and is a senior studying journalism. She is currently the student life section editor and hosts the Index Podcast. She holds the DACA Coordinator position at the Student Multicultural Center and enjoys making short films in her free time.