During Campus Equity Week 2015, faculty and students across the nation called for fairness, justice, and accountability. Together, we’re organizing for professional working conditions that lead to improved learning conditions and outcomes.
An organizer at Portland State University Student Union, Alyssa Pagan is already an impressive force in this fight, gaining momentum every week as she pushes to demilitarize campuses in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“My successful interruption of Wim Wiewel got people from around the country to congratulate me, and I say thank you; this is not just my thing, I want this to be everybody’s thing.” Pagan is mobilizing others to stand up for justice and hold bad actors accountable. “It’s the only way.”
When asked about gun control, Pagan says “No. No this is not about gun control.” She is concerned, more broadly, with a militarized presence on campus. Her stance is similar to Professor Henry A. Giroux’s, who believes “The issue of violence in America goes far beyond the issue of gun control. When gun control is the focus — instead of a broader consideration of violence — it can actually serve to deflect the most important questions that need to be raised.”
Ideally, the classroom would be a neutral setting to discuss and debate violence. Instead of arming more and more campus security officers, we should be increasing instructional funding and providing instructors with the resources and training necessary to discuss the issue of violence. We need to get to the root of the problem with critical thinking and compassion, but it has to go further than that. As Giroux says, “the American public needs to do more than talk, it needs to organize educators, students, workers, and anyone else interested in democracy in order to create social movements capable of changing the power relations that create the conditions for symbolic and systemic violence in American society.”
As Pagan and I discussed the issues that impact student learning conditions, it was no surprise that institutional spending, policies, and priorities emerged as major concerns. Adjunct professors often feel isolated in the corporatized higher-education system, but when institutions prioritize profits over education and make unilateral decisions behind closed doors, students also suffer greatly. Neither adjuncts nor students are privileged decision makers on campus, and this is why it’s imperative that we stand together against corporate practices and policies that directly impact campus culture and the educational experience.
Adjuncts and students may be excluded from shared governance, but that hasn’t stopped Pagan from protesting the current administration at PSU and swaying public opinion in a decisive manner. External pressure is key. “It is crucial to be courageous,” Pagan says, “because it’s contagious, and even if we don’t win, being able to successfully resist, I think it has a spillover effect.”
Next up, Pagan will take part in the Million Student March on November 12th. The demands are: 1) Tuition-Free Public College, 2) Cancellation of All Student Debt, and 3) A $15 Minimum Wage for All Campus Workers. This is an opportunity for faculty, students, alum, and parents to stand up to corporate higher ed, to be courageous.
Tiffany Kraft is an Associate Faculty Member in the English Department at Clark College. She also works with Faculty Forward Network. This is not an official FFN statement.