Driving Out Seeds of Hate: Clark Community Addresses Increased Bigotry on Campus

Native American and black student Lexi Peterson-Burge, 24, volunteers to speak at an open community forum March '18, hosted by the Office of Diversity, about racist events at Clark being nothing new. When she first started attending Clark in 2011, a student with swastika tattoos on his hands gave her a white-supremacy flier on one of her first days. (Luc Hoekstra / The Independent)

By Anthony Bubb

The Office of Diversity and Equity provided snacks and drinks for a public meeting in Gaiser Hall, but few ate: the somber attendees were hungry for change.

Clark students, faculty, alumni and other community members met on March 22 to discuss the increased number of biased-based incidents this year and how to establish campus-wide non-tolerance of discrimination. This was the second public forum of its kind this year, the first in December after “It’s Okay to be White” posters were spread across campus.

The event was prompted by an incident when a group of white men in a car approached a black student walking from the STEM building, shouting profanities at her including the N-word, before speeding away.

“I was so shocked, I didn’t react,” the student, Ndeye Astou Cisse said at the meeting. Cisse is an international student, Vice President of the ASCC and President of the Black Student Union club.

A week after Cisse’s incident, anti-semitic fliers appeared in Gaiser Hall, the Penguin Union Building and Scarpelli Hall. The fliers, which were signed by a local hate group called PDX Stormers who support the neo-Nazi propaganda website The Daily Stormer, were taken down by security that morning.

“What’s going on here is open recruitment,” community partner and alumnus Jessie said. “These flyers. People yelling racial slurs. This is their calling card.”

President Bob Knight opened the meeting, saying these actions go against the values of the college. Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. Loretta Capeheart spoke after Knight and then passed the microphone around the room to anyone who wanted to speak.

Many members of marginalized communities spoke about tackling racism and other discrimination head-on and explicitly calling it out, regardless of who says it.

Chemistry instructor Dr. Hector Ramirez said, “Organized white supremacy is a means of finding justification for unjustifiable acts.”

Ramirez said racists know a large portion of students live in poverty. “That is the bloody water where white supremacists like to fish,” he said.

24-year-old student Lexi Peterson-Burge, a BSU member, discussed her experiences with racism on campus and announced her availability to educate others about marginalization or provide comfort to marginalized students.

Member of the Black Student Union Lexi Peterson-Burge spoke twice at the community forum in Gaiser Hall on March 22 about racism on campus. While speaking, she offered herself as an open resource for education on discrimination. (Luc Hoekstra / The Independent)

Peterson-Burge recalled feeling pride about starting college early as a 17-year-old Running Start student, and the slamming halt that pride came to when a student with swastika tattoos gave her a white supremacy flier on one of her first days.

“It starts off with a flyer,” she said. “Then it becomes a shove. Then someone gets beat up. Racists stick a toe in the water and if it’s lukewarm, they jump in.”

After the forum, Knight said he was grateful for those who voiced their ideas. He said he looks forward to continuing the conversation and pursuing ideas he heard from speakers such as open student panels and more deliberate student outreach by faculty.

The college will host a free, public talk about the history of local white supremacy on May 9 at 4 p.m. in the Penguin Union Building 258 and continue quarterly Power, Privilege and Inequity faculty workshops.

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