From Dr. Coyle | Reflections on Pacific Charter Day
Sept. 26 marks the 173rd anniversary of the original charter that established the foundation of Pacific University.
As members of a vibrant university with more than 5,000 current students and employees — and more than 32,000 alumni around the world — Charter Day is an opportunity to celebrate who we are.
Pacific has been a place where countless students have found a home and a transformative opportunity to build their futures.
We believe deeply in our mission to inspire students who think, care, create, and pursue justice in the world.
But we cannot stay true to that mission — to the notion of critical thought, care for others, and the pursuit of justice, without also acknowledging that our history is complex and that we must reckon with our failures even as we celebrate our successes.
In 1846, Tabitha Moffat Brown arrived in Oregon with hardly a penny to her name — but with a desire to take care of the many children who had been orphaned along the Oregon Trail. With local religious leaders, she opened a school, where she was housemother and caretaker.
On Sept. 26, 1849 — the anniversary we mark today — the Oregon Territorial Legislature granted a charter for the establishment of Tualatin Academy, rooted in Grandma Brown’s Orphan Asylum, and for that academy to grow into a college: Pacific University.
Even as Tualatin Academy was growing into Pacific University, the Tualatin, or Atfalati, Kalapuya — who had lived in this region long before Grandma Brown or others arrived — were being forced from this land. Today, they are part of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.
A generation later, Pacific leaders were complicit in their support for the Forest Grove Indian Training School, where children from tribes throughout the Northwest (though largely not from the Atfalati) were “civilized” through an education system that stripped them of their cultures. At least 12 students died in the six years the school operated in Forest Grove.
Today, we recognize that, like many universities, our history is inextricably tied to the colonization of the region, and that our early founders — and our institution — benefited from these acts of violence against Indigenous people of the region.
As we mark our Charter Day, we hold these realities side by side: That we strive to advance the best of our founders’ legacies — the commitment to care and education of students — and that we regret and take responsibility for the ways in which their actions left its own legacy of harm.
We give thanks to those who have stewarded the land where we now live, learn and teach. We commit to continuing our work of strengthening our relationship with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. And we challenge ourselves to always — always — do better tomorrow than yesterday.
Jenny Coyle ’90, OD ’93, MS ‘00