Ashlee Rivers ’14 didn’t know much about Pacific University when she was in high school.
Growing up in Los Angeles, her first exposure to Pacific came in the form of flyers in the mail.
“My grandma was on top of everything, and she said, ‘Check it out,’” Rivers recalled. “They waived my application fee, so it didn’t hurt to apply as a backup school.”
Then, she started researching. Interested in becoming a pediatrician, Rivers was impressed by Pacific’s high medical school acceptance rate, and by the small environment.
“I knew with me, it was better to choose a smaller school,” she said. “And they gave me the most financial aid. That’s kinda what got me here.”
Rivers arrived on campus her freshman year sight unseen, though, and was a bit surprised by what she found.
Her mother had told her that Oregon was, historically, a predominantly white state, but she didn’t realize how few other black students she would find on campus,
“I got here and was, like, ‘Whoa, what’s happening,’” she said. “For me, it’s kinda hard. In LA, I was around a lot of people of color, and it’s very diverse.”
Here, she said, she often feels like she’s expected to be a spokesperson for all black people.
“People are constantly asking different questions,” she said. “But we’re different, from different places. We’re similar in some ways, but different in other ways.”
In her sophomore year, she tried to re-launch Pacific’s historic Black Student Union — vibrant on campus in the 1960s and early 1970s — but didn’t find enough participants.
This year, though, she’s had better luck. Working with Patrice Fuller ’14, another student leader, and Yashica Island, director of the Pacific Leadership Academy, Rivers has helped re-start the club on campus. It’s in it’s early phases, but the club is off to a strong start this month in honor of Black History Month.
Last week, they hosted a screening of the movie Fruitvale Station, about a black man shot by police in San Francisco, and a soul food tasting.
The BSU also will help bring a free sneak preview of the black history play, Who I Am: Celebrating Me, to campus on Thursday. The show, which is performed annually at Jefferson High School by a group of local actors, is free, but requires tickets, available here. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, in the Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center.
Later this month, the Black Student Union will host the first of its monthly discussion groups, Hoodie Happenings, this time talking about the Treyvon Martin case. The club also joins Roots, another student organization, in hosting a poetry slam at the end of the month.
Providing conversation and support on campus is key to the club’s mission, said Fuller — but it’s also about raising awareness of Pacific University as a viable option for minority students in Oregon.
“I want them to know this is a good school and a good education. You get one-on-one with teachers, you get attention,” Fuller said. “This is a great option.”
Rivers echoed that thought: “If we get the word out, more people will come.”