A conversation on the confluence of Reed’s institutional memory, Oregon history, and direct action
On Oct. 27, 2020 as a part of the CRES Colloquium series, Reed College’s Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) department and Students for Education, Equity, and Direct Service (SEEDS) held the “Reedies in Practice Panel” to reflect on the Portland protests, mutual aid at Reed, and to bring a call to action. The panelists were Loose Change editor Betsy Wight, Senator and mutual aid organizer Alondra Loza, and protestor Isaac Ball; the panel was moderated by Senator Priya Narain. The “Reedies in Practice” panel is only one of a series of events in the CRES 2020-21 Colloquium (a list of future events can be found at the CRES website).
Narain opened the panel with a discussion of Oregon’s racist history, in particular Oregon’s Black exclusion laws. The first of these racist laws was enacted by Oregon’s Provisional Government in 1843 (Oregon did not become a U.S. territory until 1848 and became a state in 1859). Although the law prohibited slavery within the area — slavery still continued, as the law was not strictly enforced — white Oregonians did not want to live in proximity to Black people, and they forced formerly enslaved Black Oregonians to leave the state. The law prohibited Black men from residing in the state two years after their emancipation, and Black women after three. According to Oregon’s Secretary of State (SOS) website, Black Oregonians who did not leave the state after this limit would be “publicly whipped – thirty-nine lashes, repeated every six months – until they left Oregon.”
According to the Oregon Encyclopedia website, such treatment was legal due to a provision known as “Peter Burnett’s lash law.” This law was amended five months later, changing the punishment to forced public labor, according to Oregon’s SOS website.
In 1845 the law was rescinded, but a second exclusion law was enacted in 1849, which prevented Black people from residing in or even entering Oregon unless they already lived in the territory. The law was rescinded in 1854, but in 1857, yet another exclusion clause was written into the Oregon constitution that once again prohibited Black people from residing in Oregon, while also barring them from owning real estate, making contracts, voting, and using the legal system, according to the Oregon SOS website. This clause would not be removed until 1926.
While these laws were not generally enforced — there is only one recorded instance of a Black man, Jacob Vanderpool, being expelled under one of Oregon’s exclusion laws — they had the intended effect of discouraging Black settlers, and Oregon long held a special status as the only “free state” in the Union that banned Black settlement.
Afterwards the panel moved into a discussion of the panelists’ work. Wight spoke on the origins of Loose Change, Reed College’s new student of color magazine. Wight stated that the magazine was created out of a desire to have more Reed student publications by and for students of color, to generate a safe space for students of color to talk with one another outside of the white gaze, and to act as a spiritual successor to Reed’s previous student of color magazine, Receipts. Wight said that she wanted to create Loose Change following student controversy concerning an article published in the Quest over the summer. Wight also spoke on how the editing team has worked to establish continuity for Loose Change, particularly by avoiding burnout, a problem she said seriously affected Reciept’s editors. Finally, Wight also responded to student questions about Loose Change’s work to center Black students, and she emphasized that this is an issue that Loose Change is actively working on.
Loza discussed mutual aid’s origins at Reed and the organization’s long term goals. Mutual aid is a community minded form of anti-capitalist action; its goal is to provide a reciprocal exchange of resources and services, while also working to deconstruct the systems that generate shortages of goods and services. Loza stated that Reed’s mutual aid organization, the Reed Community Mutual Aid Fund (RCMAF), initially started as a grocery program during the spring 2020 semester and then evolved to redistribute wealth to assist the Reed community. The organization is run by Reed students, staff, and alumni. In a follow-up email, Loza wrote, “[The RCMAF] is a student-alumni run program that gives 100% of its funds to people in the community who are in need. We also give 30% of our monthly funds to the Black Sustainability Fund as reparations (this is also run by members of the broader Reed community, Ruby Joy White and Jamila Dozier).” Loza stressed the importance of wealth redistribution for the continued success of mutual aid. “Reed is a really rich place, with most of its students paying full tuition at an already expensive school,” Loza said. “‘Reedies Helping Reedies’ shouldn’t just be a phrase we say, but instead something we stand behind collectively.”
According to the financial aid section of Reed’s website, 55% of the Class of 2023 received need-based grants, implying that roughly half of Reedies do not receive financial aid from Reed. During the panel, Loza encouraged wealthier students to donate their money to the RCMAF, and in the Oct. 31 SB Info email, President and RCMAF co-founder Al Chen wrote that the RCMAF is running low on funds. Donations can be made through PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Patreon (@reedmutualaid).
Following Loza’s presentation, junior Isaac Ball spoke on his protest work. Outside of school, Ball is an EMT, and started participating in the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer as a medic. When asked how students can best get involved, Ball mentioned the formation of a group chat on campus to help people find protest groups and gear. For more information, the group can be contacted at email@example.com.
After the panel, the Quest reached out to conference attendees to get their opinions. Vice President Apoorva Mangipudi thought the panel did a great job addressing the different ways Reed students are involved in equity and diversity work both on and off-campus. Mangipudi also hopes to learn more about how Reed students center Black voices in their work.
“As addressed by a couple of the panelists, I think the term ‘person of color’ can be used broadly and at times can falsely equate the experiences of Black folks and non-Black POC,” Mangipudi said. “I appreciated the honesty from a panelist about how their organization could be doing even more to support not only Black Reedies but also our surrounding Black community as they move forward with their work.”
Reed alum and Administrative Coordinator, Sabrina Smith, was pleased with the content of the panel. “I’m very happy and proud to see Reedies showing up for their BIPOC community members this way,” Smith said. “Mutual aid is an amazing way to provide community care without relying on or recreating the insidious systems of capitalism and charity. Donate to the [RCMAF] on Patreon!”
Narain also commented on the panel stating, “This discussion was important because we go to a predominantly white institution, and it’s important for students to be engaged with resources provided on campus. SEEDS and [the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC)] do so much good work, and I highly recommend if any students have free time that they come to events hosted by SEEDS and [the] MRC. Also, support Loose Change magazine and donate to Reed Mutual Aid. Help out fellow Reedies; don’t be performative.”