Just recently, here at the Cascade Campus of Portland Community College, a group of people saw fit over the winter holiday to come onto our campus and leave behind an assortment of anti-Semitic and white-supremacist posters, fliers, and stickers. The current political climate, it seems, has emboldened some racists and bigots to come out of the shadows and impose their views on others.
It is safe to say, I think, that we are experiencing a period of profound transition in American life. At no time since the Civil Rights Era have we witnessed such a sustained and insistent questioning of the existing power structure in our nation. Movements like Black Lives Matter have repeatedly shown – sometimes in excruciating detail – the yawning gulf between how communities of color and the white community experience the criminal justice system. The Occupy Wall Street movement laid bare the corrosive effect that extreme concentration of wealth has on our social fabric. And more recently, a procession of women has come forward to declare “Time’s up!” and hold powerful men accountable for their misdeeds.
Yet even as all these movements have unfolded, we are seeing a pushback, an uptick in the sort of public racism and sexism we have worked so long to put behind us. Nonetheless, our quest for social justice will not wane.
This is why I am proud to say that at the Cascade Campus, we take this responsibility very seriously. We are consciously, deliberately, and unapologetically committed to making our campus a warm and welcoming place for everyone who chooses to study or work here, and to make ourselves a beacon of free thought and discourse for our community. And this is why there is no room at our campus, or in our community, for the kind of racist and bigoted propaganda that was distributed here over the holidays.
Over the past couple of years, we have endeavored to develop a road map – the Cascade Inclusion Plan – to take our campus to where we want it to be. Using critical race theory as our guidepost, we are intentionally working to reshape our campus culture into something better, more enlightened, and more compassionate. A key component of this effort lies in examining, challenging, and deconstructing privilege.
I’ll be the first to tell you – this effort has made some people pretty uncomfortable. When your life has been shaped by the privilege you enjoy, even an attempt to simply question that privilege – let alone dismantle it – can feel like a personal attack. But to this I say – you’ve got to lean into that discomfort, because what’s on the other side is worth it.
We’re not perfect at the Cascade Campus. We haven’t found the silver bullet that will transform us into a model of enlightenment for the world. But I can promise you this: if you choose to enroll here and begin shaping your future, you will find a place that welcomes you no matter your background; that affirms your worth as a human being; that is actively working to remove the barriers that divide us; that is part of the greater effort to move humanity forward.
And if all the haters have to push back with some tired old posters and stickers – I’d say we’re already winning.
Dr. Karin Edwards is president of Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus.