Miranda Cunningham’s words at Sunday’s Occupation for Jason rally

 

MIranda Cunningham 1

#DisarmPSU speech Sunday Sept 30

[Before I begin my speech, I just want to say thank you to the student organizers who are gathered here today, for the occupation. Every night when I go to sleep, in a bed in my own house, I am reminded that a number of our students are sleeping here, on the concrete, inside tents, because of your commitment to #DisarmPSU. This is a radical act of love and I’m so thankful for it.]

My name is Miranda Cunningham, and I’m a non-tenure track faculty member in Child, Youth, and Family Studies. I began teaching in CFS full time in January of 2015.

First I want to thank the student organizers who’ve brought #DisarmPSU back. It was never gone, but the killing of Mr. Jason Washington earlier this summer by two of PSU’s campus police officers has reminded our community that #DisarmPSU cannot be a plea, but must be a demand.

I speak to you as a faculty member now, but when I came to PSU eight years ago, I was a student. As a non-tenure track faculty member, I’m aware of the risks I take in speaking up. But today I’m holding the words of one of my favorite educators, Paulo Freire, who reminded us that when we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and those with less power, we are not neutral, but support the powerful. So I will promise you today that I will not be silent. I will not let my silence protect the people who forced the arming of campus police officers against the will of so many of our students and staff, amidst the outcries of community members, and the majority vote of faculty. I will bear witness again, and again, and again, as long as it takes until we #DisarmPSU.

I was a PhD student and an adjunct instructor in the fall of 2014, during the special meetings held by the Board of Trustees. These meetings were a crash course in the uses (and abuses) of power in a university. Let me share with you some of the things I remember, to bear witness, in an attempt to hold the powerful accountable.

  • I remember Kevin Reynolds’, our vice president of Finance and Administration, and his argument that PSU was the only large urban university that lacked an armed campus police force. I remember the slides he shared that depicted crime rates at each of these universities. I remember that he failed to note the fact that crime rates at those other urban universities were higher than the crime rates at PSU, as demonstrated in his slides. His data didn’t support the decision to arm police. There is no evidence base for arming campus police. There is no evidence that arming campus police makes the university and community safer: not from active shooters, nor from sexual assault. However, there is ample evidence that arming campus police makes certain communities less safe, particularly people of color, people with mental health issues, unhoused people, and other members of our community who are disproportionately targeted for police interventions.
  • I remember Board Member Pete Nickerson asking why students, faculty and staff, and community members had such a negative view of police officers. I remember him recalling the police officers he encountered in his youth, who “gave him Tootsie rolls.” I remember feeling stunned by his lack of awareness of police brutality.
  • I remember hearing again and again that our armed officers would embody the “ethos of PSU.” This phrase was used countless times without anyone ever defining the “ethos of PSU.” I remember the growing dread I felt as I realized that our leaders were convinced by these words, they were comforted by these words even, and there was no amount of data faculty or students could produce, no concern of community members that could reach their ears.
  • I remember courage, too. I remember our colleague Maude Hines and a former Board member, Swati Adarkar, casting the only “no” votes in that meeting in December 2014. I remember Maude’s resolve, standing firm in her vote as other Board Members closed ranks behind our president…

Former president Wim Wiewel: I am disheartened to share what I remembered of you in those meetings. I remember behavior that was unbecoming to a leader. I remember your overt displays of disrespect to students, faculty and staff, and community members. I remember you rolling your eyes at a student I knew personally to be thoughtful and measured, when they suggested compromise: deputization without arming. You rolled your eyes at one of our students when they asked the Board to consider steps that might prevent a tragedy like Mr. Washington’s death. I would never treat a student that way and it was profoundly disappointing to see you, the president of this university — this university that I love, by the way, behave in such a manner.

To the family of Jason Washington (public servant, father, husband, friend, and grandfather)…I remember our fear that this would happen. I remember our letter-writing, our walkouts, our marching, our die-in, all of our attempts to convince the Board of Trustees of the dangers of arming campus police. I remember the fear that someone, someday would be hurt by this decision, that someone would lose their life. I have no words that are adequate to address your pain and your loss. I have only this: my ability to remember and bear witness, to continue to witness, and continue speaking up until we #DisarmPSU.

 

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