Campus Compact of Oregon is working to help our members create inclusive and equitable learning opportunities on every Oregon campus that strengthen communities and empower students to be agents for positive change. To achieve this vision our agency must convene and support our network of higher education presidents, K12 schools, and education nonprofits to improve their practice around institutional equity, collaborative learning, and community engagement so they can respond effectively to a racially diverse and changing Oregon.
Sitting in our offices in downtown Portland over the last week, I frequently heard the chants of protestors demanding that the results of this recent election not lead to the targeting of immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ people, or the rolling back of progress made by communities of color and the movements for racial and social justice. I heard and felt on a daily basis my own anxiety and that of my staff who are all people of color or LGBTQ. The level of stress being felt by the people of our country and our state is incredibly high. We are on the verge of demographic changes that will make people of color the majority demographic in this country for the first time since colonial explorers landed on the shores of the indigenous nations who called this land home. For the first time, major party candidates for President of the United States were asked questions about systemic racism. Terms like structural racism, implicit bias, and equity were introduced to many voters for the first time.
In the United States, race is an experience. How you are treated and how you experience this country is radically different when you look like me (a white cisgender man) than if you are a person of color. These realities are used to divide us and that division can create a profound isolation, fear, sadness, and anger.
Last week Wim Wiewel, President of Portland State University, announced that PSU would be a sanctuary campus. President Wiewel shared several ways in which the university would protect undocumented, DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals), Muslim, and other immigrant students, faculty and staff from federal immigration officials. I was struck by how quickly the President and the Board of Trustees moved to make this announcement and I was struck at the concept of sanctuary-- sanctuary being a sacred place of refuge and solace; a holy and safe space. This seems to be what we all need to be working towards. I don’t mean the current political meaning of sanctuary, although if your campus is looking for ways to support undocumented, immigrant and other targeted identities we just added resources to our website here, I mean more in line with leaders like John Powell and Sandra Bloom who have talked about belonging and sanctuary far before me. We all need to be working towards extending and promoting a culture that promotes belonging over othering; wholeness over compartmentalization.
How different would our campuses feel, would each of us feel and in turn would the world feel if we all had a safe, sacred place we could go to when we felt under siege, fearful, and need of comfort? What might it be like if each of us built our skills to BE that sanctuary for others, even those we disagreed with? How might our goals of eliminating educational inequities and promoting graduation and completion goals be more easily achieved if campuses were the places of refuge that our faculty, staff, and students felt drawn to in their most challenging times? The fear and anxiety that many feel right now can and must be heard, validated, and addressed. Regardless of whether or how we voted I call on all of us to build a movement for sanctuary. Let us seek to build community, promote belonging, and ensure that we can bring our full selves to our places of learning. Let us work together to make all students feel valued, seen, and loved. Let us not require or reward behavior that leaves emotion, spirituality, artistic expression, and anything less than our full selves at the door of our institutions. A movement towards sanctuary will require us to embrace love as a tool for belonging and wholeness. So with love let us inform and educate each other when we say things that harm another. With love let us listen deeply to those we disagree with, believing in the words of the Dali Lama that our enemy is our greatest teacher. With love let us deeply explore our differences so we may celebrate how they make us stronger, more interdependent, and more connected. Just as a grove of trees provides sanctuary from a storm because its intertwined network of roots keeps it grounded and secure and its tapestry of branches and leaves block out the rain, let us build the community that is made up of many but connected together as one. Join us in this movement, together forward.