A cohort of 12 Portland Community College students took an audience of administrators and staff through a tour of the Sylvania campus recently, as part of a community forum on an innovative critical race theory initiative for facilities on the campus.
"If PCC is serious about change and becoming an innovative college, they should invest the time and work to make that happen," said Amara Perez, instructor and leader of the student cohort, when answering an audience member's question at the community forum held at PCC Sylvania.
Critical race theory is a broad social scientific approach to study race. It views race as a socially constructed concept that functions as a means to maintain the interest of the white population that constructed it and provides a critical analysis of race and racism. The theory posulates that people of color, those who experience racism, are most suitable to study racism and focuses on "intersectionality" — no one has a single unitary identity, everyone has overlapping identities, loyalties and allegiances to include nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, social class ranking and more.
Space Matters, the name of the project the students are participants in, is a collective effort to understand and interpret the design and landscape of the PCC campus while applying concepts of critical race theory to make space inclusive and equitable for all students.
The project is supported under Measure 26-196, which was passed by residents living within PCC's district in 2017. Bonds from the measure are set to fund a new child care center at the Rock Creek campus; upgrade the public safety building at Cascade campus; enhance safety and security district wide; and renovate the Health Technologies building at the Sylvania campus.
The tour was lead by students of color and took audience members though the College Center building and the Health Technology building. Student leaders surveyed more than 200 students and collected quotes about their perceived experiences though spaces that included communal lounge areas and various resource centers.
According to one student surveyed, the big, open windows along the multicultural center made that student "feel like I'm being watched and put on display." This was a common theme for most all the student centers; administrative offices all had smaller windows with coverings, such as blinds, while all student centers had open and exposing windows.
The topic came up when students spoke about why privacy is important to them, especially at places like the queer resource center.
Other students expressed gratitude for the change in location of some centers. Until recent renovations, both the multicultural and women's resource centers had been hidden away behind a partition at the far end of the cafeteria, making them hard to find. Both are now more visible, accessible and neighbor the other resource centers.
Observations from the tour also included single seat desks that favor right-handed students; a map with disproportionate sized countries (the U.S., Europe and Australia all appear larger than their actual land mass); full-length mirror in the women's restroom and not the men's; and an insight from student leader Malia Forney on white walls.
Forney came across a blank wall painted white and wondered "Why white? Why not purple or pink?"
All color had meaning, she said, and "while purple denotes royalty and pink can represent femininity," it was interesting to her that white is used to represent blankness. However, thinking of color as a reflection of light, white is all colors combined and black is the absence of any color. So why is white is used to convey neutrality or blankness?
Packer Architect, along with PCC's planning and construction department, will be working to include critical race theory and the information from the community forums to remodel the Health Technology building at the Sylvania campus.
Rebecca Ocken, project manager at PCC, said, "it's a dialogue you need to engage in," about the Space Matters community forum.