Statement from faculty and staff at PSU’s School of Social Work on Ferguson

Ferguson: We stand with you

Faculty and Staff of the Portland State University School of Social Work stand in solidarity with communities working to address racism in our society, and in particular in our criminal legal system.  We are saddened and outraged by the St. Louis County grand jury’s failure to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, and we call for individual and collective healing and organizing for justice.

We know that individual acts of violence happen within broader contexts. In the case of Michael Brown’s death and the failure to indict and allow to stand trial those responsible for his death, this larger context includes institutions that continue to perpetuate racism and other forms of structural violence.  We know that communities of color and other minoritized groups are consistently targeted by police and disproportionately represented within the criminal legal system. In this country, when law-enforcement agents harass, beat, choke, and/or shoot civilians – particularly black men – it is done with impunity. The current crisis in Ferguson and subsequent reactions and rallies across the country is symptomatic of this structural anti-black racism.

As a School, we have an explicit commitment to working against racism, and other social injustices; as such, we aim to expose and challenge the forces of structural oppression that result in violence, disempowerment, and dehumanization of minoritized communities.  What is happening in Ferguson does not exist in isolation; it clearly reflects historical and current conditions globally, across the United States, and locally. In particular, it highlights the injurious effects of racism perpetuated by police against people of color, particularly black men.  We know first hand the realities faced by people impacted by discriminatory policing and surveillance and we continue to support efforts to develop alternative models of safety and justice for all of our communities.

As we look toward Ferguson, it is imperative that we strategize around solutions to dismantle racist institutions and practices while simultaneously supporting those who are most affected by the oppression and injustices inherent in these systems.  We are not alone in this work, nor is this a new charge for social work and our allied fields.  There is a long history of racial justice organizing within our professions as well as important work going on at present.  As a School of Social Work, we are well-positioned to respond to our current social conditions and must continue to work to transform our professional work into efforts that promote socially just, anti-racist services, programs, policies, and change.

Toward this end, we  build on the Smith College of Social Work’s statement on Ferguson ( to call upon our communities to:

  • Participate in non-violent social and political actions to interrupt oppressive practices and promote systemic changes
  • Engage in critical dialogue about the systemic forces of race and racism that shape our relationships and communities
  • Strategize around solutions to dismantle racist institutions and practices.
  • Support those who are most affected by oppression and injustices inherent in our systems.
  • Advocate for policies that support alternatives to policing including community-based approaches to safety and conflict resolution.

Please see Dean Laura Nissen’s blog post on this matter including additional resources for learning and action at:

Members of the Faculty and Staff from Portland State School of Social Work:

Ben Anderson-Nathe

Jared I. Best

Bill Boyd

Sarah Bradley

Danica Brown

Beckie Childs

Miranda Cunningham

Ann Curry-Stevens

Joseph Nicholas DeFilippis

Ted Donlan

Erin Flynn

Lisa Hawash

Michael Hulshof-Schmidt

Veronika Ivanova

Pauline Jivanjee

Ericka Kimball

Sandy Leotti

Jennifer Linnman

Analucia Lopezrevoredo

Staci Martin

Michele Martinez Thompson

Martha McCormack

Gita Mehrotra

Pamela J. Miller

James Nash

Bahia Overton

Meg Panichelli

Lisa Race

Teresa D. Schmidt

Claudia Sellmaier

Anne Sinkey

Gary Smith

Susie Snyder

Michael Taylor

Sonja Taylor

Alma M.O. Trinidad

Shannon Turner

Stéphanie Wahab

Norm Wyers

No one is free while others are oppressed

I’ve been struggling for the last several months with the intersectionality and hierarchy created around race, gender, and sexual orientation. I’ve experienced  some personal, professional, and public challenges in these areas.  One example is that I’ve been watching and waiting for people to react to the George Zimmerman verdict for the last few weeks. I’ve been deeply disappointed that some of those who have been so vocal on  issues of marriage equality and reproductive rights, have been eerily silent on the verdict.  Many of those who were enraged by Texas lawmakers passage of strict anti-abortion laws, were silent when the verdict was announced. Nearly all of those who changed their social media avatars to red equal signs of the Human Rights Campaign or the orange & blue messages of MN United for All Families, did nothing to visually advocate for peace and justice in the Trayvon Martin murder case. It was this lack of action, this silence, that deepened my understanding of the importance of discussing race, racism, white privilege, and white supremacy. It was this silence that pushed my understanding of the constant underlying roots of racism and white supremacy in the United States. It was these acts of silence that pushed me to reflect on my experiences.

Several years ago, I had an experience with an African-American man which ultimately ended our acquaintance.  He had asked to store his bags in my room since he had to check out of his hotel quite a few hours before his flight. I agreed. When I offered him my key so he could place his bags in my room, he offered up quite a few concerns about entering my room without someone else present including a concern about being accused of stealing. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. A mutual friend (a white woman) offered to escort him to my room to place his bags. On the trip to my room, he proceeded to make comments about me and this friend including comments of us being aggressive in terms of academics, etc. This created a firestorm of sorts in which I view his attacks on my “aggressiveness” as sexist. I had several other interactions with him that I filtered through the lens of gender oppression. Then ultimately chose to avoid him.  Upon further reflection and while I still believe there are roots of sexism in his comments and actions, I’m able to better understand his concerns and reaction to my flippant responses. I also understand how my flippancy could have put him at risk. My intention was to not be racist but to put him at ease, what I did was fail to understand the long standing effects of institutionalized racism and white supremacy.  My experiences with him were filtered and clouded through my experiences of oppression to the point that I was unable to appreciate his oppression. I’m humbled and deeply changed from this reflection. I get that my dismissiveness of his experiences are similar to the silence of my white friends in the case of Trayvon Martin’s murder. I know I have a lot of work to do. And rather than judging others by their silence, I’m going to continue to reflect, learn, and continue my anti-oppression work.