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Making jokes at Portland State gets you reported to its bias response team

Members of the campus community at Portland State better think twice about making a joke on campus — it could very well lead to their names being reported to the university’s bias response team.

Two bias reports filed at the public institution last fall were against people making jokes or similar off-hand comments on campus, according to documents obtained by The College Fix through a public records act request.

In one case from last September, a student overheard someone in their classroom making a comment about sometimes feeling like they having schizophrenia.

“She then stated she was not trying to make fun of schizophrenia,” the student reported, “but that sometimes she can be ‘schizophrenic.’ … She stated this in a joking manner and even laughed about it.”

The student reported the incident to the PSU Bias Review Team, keeping his or her identity a secret. But the person who allegedly made the offending remark, however, was named in the complaint to the administration.

In the second instance, last October a student settled into a seat in the front row of a lecture when they heard the instructor telling another student he knew a lot of “insensitive jokes” he couldn’t tell in class.

“He proceeded to describe one he like [sic] about Native Americans where he called the characters racist names like chief running water and other names in that style,” the student complained. “He did not tell the whole joke, but he said it ended with one of the chief’s sons killing someone or being killed,” the student said, adding “I did not hear his exact words because he was trying to be quiet.” According to the student, the instructor said he knows many more jokes he could not tell in class.

“I am worried he may have impacted any Native students’ ability to learn safely in his class by taking advantage of stereotypes created by people to dehumanize Native people after taking their land and committing genocide and the generational trauma they face from that,” the student added.

Once again, the complaint was submitted anonymously, but the instructor’s name was reported to the university.

According to the PSU Global Diversity and Inclusion department’s website, making an online report “does NOT initiate an employee discrimination and harassment or a student conduct investigation.”

In the documents provided to The Fix, all personal identifying information was redacted.

According to the university’s website, “Any person who has experienced, witnessed, or heard of a bias incident” is encouraged to file a complaint electronically. Students and faculty members are allowed to file a complaint of discrimination against “any PSU student, staff, or faculty member who you believe is engaging in discrimination, discriminatory harassment, or retaliation.”

According to the university, “bias” is “a state of mind, tendency, or inclination that impacts our behaviors and perceptions of others (either positively or negatively) based upon preconceived notions.” Bias can be “directed toward an attitude, an individual, or group regarding their protected class, including (but not limited to) race, color, religious ideology, national origin, veteran status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, physical or mental ability, or political affiliation.”

During the fall of 2018, four total complaints were filed with the bias response team.

In addition to the ones involving jokes, on October 14 a university employee was pulling into the Shattuck Hall parking lot on campus when they saw a white male walking near the entrance to the lot. While the employee waited for the man to pass so they could pull in, the man allegedly looked into the windshield, made his hand into the shape of a pistol and “pulled the trigger.” The man then turned away and began to walk south along Broadway.

In the final complaint filed, the student simply reported the place of the incident as “poo” and described the incident with the words “pee pee.”

Portland State has long been a hotbed of progressive activism. In just the past few weeks, psychology student Lesley Guerra attempted to testify before the university Board of Trustees in favor of armed police officers on campus, but was repeatedly shouted down by protesters.

Earlier in March, pro-gun activist Michael Strickland came to speak on campus but was prevented from doing so by a bell-ringing activist who stood next to Strickland as he attempted to speak. Campus police later said they were unable to do anything to restrain the disruptive bell-ringer.

According to Portland State professor Peter Boghossian, Bias Response Teams create a “chilling” atmosphere on college campuses. Boghossian has been a staunch free speech advocate on the PSU campus following his publication of a nationally famous “Grievance Studies Hoax,” in which he and his coauthors successfully published a number of phony “studies” in prestigious academic journals.

“Students and faculty are afraid to have honest conversations—or even joke around with each other—out of fear of being reported for a faux pas,” said Boghossian in an email to The College Fix. “Bias Response Teams also prevent authentic relationships from emerging because you’re never sure if the people you’re speaking to believe what they’re saying.”

In an email to The Fix, Portland State’s communications office said the campus Bias Review Team “communicates and meets regularly to respond to a reported bias incident, and to support students, employees and community members who experience or witness an act of bias.”

“When we are informed of bias incidents, we will work hard to get to the root causes and to improve the culture and climate at PSU,” said the administration in the statement.

MORE: Joke Gets Female Student Dragged To Campus Tribunal For ‘Harassment,’ ‘Disorderly Conduct’

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About the Author
Senior Reporter
Christian focuses on investigative, enterprise and analysis reporting. He is the author of "1916: The Blog" and has spent time as a political columnist at USA Today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and National Review Online. His op-eds have been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, City Journal, Weekly Standard and National Review. He has also been a frequent guest on political television and radio shows. He holds a master’s degree in political science from Marquette University and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.