Students, faculty and staff members joined the Wake UP “coalition” in a President’s Day March for equality on Monday afternoon. Wake UP is a newly-formed group of students at the University of Portland who say they’re passionate about social and political issues. They came together in response to “political apathy” on campus, according to senior social work major Saige Wheaton, a member of the group.
Students began to gather just before 4 p.m. in the academic quad and soon more than 50 stood in silence, spread out on the grass, wearing hand decorated T-shirts that said, “Justice. Equality. Action.”
Junior biochemistry major Angele Bruce says she attended the march because of the lack of racial diversity on campus.
“I feel proud,” Bruce said, “to represent some type of diversity on this campus.”
She said she feels the University has not done enough to promote a diverse and inclusive environment.
After almost 30 minutes of silent demonstration in front of Franz Hall, the group migrated towards Waldschmidt Hall, where they gathered on the grass behind the administration building.
The group was first addressed by Wheaton, who says she was “on a high of coffee and inspiration.” Wheaton outlined aspects of Vision2020, UP’s five-year “strategic plan” that includes efforts to increase diversity, but highlighted areas that she felt the University came up short in formulating the plan.
She wondered aloud: “Why would people want to come here just to feel excluded?”
Wheaton’s address was followed by a speech by sophomore political science and philosophy major Sitara Nath. Nath expressed that all identities are essential to the community conversation on diversity and proceeded to outline the changes that Wake UP is requesting of the University.
Specifically, the group is calling for: the speedy construction of a Multicultural Center on campus and an interim center in the process, the creation of a Diversity and Equity Office that is separate from the Office of Student Activities, introducing a class to the core curriculum focused on cultural competency, and the creation of an alumni network to assist minority students going into traditionally white and/or male fields.
“I am a woman of color and I am interested in going into politics,” Nath said, prompting cheers from the crowd. “There are only two Indians in Congress. These are the only role models I have.”
Nath clarified that Wake UP did not form to antagonize the administration, but to “encourage the University of Portland to pursue these policies so that all members of our community feel that there is a safe space for their whole self.”
Senior English major Hannah Vogel spoke briefly about the value of a diverse faculty and the importance of stressing nondiscriminatory practices during the hiring process.
Sociology professor Lauren Alfrey cancelled her Monday afternoon class so that students could attend the march. Alfrey, whose students had the opportunity to answer reflection questions for extra credit in her Race and Ethnic Relations class, also attended to stand in solidarity.
One of her students, senior social work major Jesse Barrett learned about the march through Alfrey, but was not there just for the extra credit.
“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “You can just look around — everybody is predominately white and rich. There’s just so little diversity and I think it’s a problem.”
Senior sociology major Zeke Pralle called for “transparency at all levels” from administration, especially when it comes to processes to improve diversity and inclusion on campus.
“If they don’t show us that it’s happening, how can we know?” he said.
“Look around right now,” senior political science major Jenna Kunz said in her address to the crowd. “I am a second semester senior and I have never felt the sense of community that I do right now.”
Following the speeches, the group circled Waldschmidt Hall chanting “Justice. Equity. Action.” When they gathered before the front steps of Waldschmidt, some administrators slipped quietly out the side doors and into their cars.
A public safety car idled nearby as students continued to chant: “What do we want? Accountability! Who do we want it from? Admin!”
From Waldschmidt, the group marched through campus, past the Pilot House and the soccer fields, to the courtyard in front of the Chiles Center. Inside, the men's basketball team was playing Walla Walla University.
There, Nath reiterated the group’s requests and added, “The reason we are marching here at UP today is because we recognize that even though this University has claimed to prioritize diversity and inclusion as part of its central goals, it has not taken concrete, proactive steps to alleviate racial inequity on this campus.”
Passerbys slowed with curiosity at the group's demonstration and some took photos. Freshman soccer player Benji Michel hadn’t known about the march previously, but stopped in front of the Chiles Center to watch.
“I think they have a reason for this,” he said. “They are not happy.”
Director of Institutional Research Elizabeth Lee also stopped to watch the crowd in front of the Chiles Center.
“Well this is fabulous, make sure that their voices are heard,” Lee said. “One of the way that folks know what students are demanding is to have these public and verbal displays. This is the kind of thing that I really support.”
The group marched back through campus and wound up in front of Franz Hall, where they began. They stood along the concrete semicircles in the quad, holding hands in silence as students and professors filed out of the building. At around 5:30 p.m. they gave a solemn round of applause and gathered on the steps of Franz, where they decided that another, similar march will take place next Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 4 p.m. in the academic quad.
“2! 4! 6! 8! Let’s end racial hate!”