Student Groups Support Diversity

Patrice Fuller ’16 grew up in Oregon. Her school and community have always been mostly white, so Pacific University didn’t come as a huge surprise.

For Ashlee Rivers ’14, though, the Pacific Northwest was something of a shock.

She grew up in Los Angeles and chose Pacific on the strength of its pre-med reputation and the financial aid package she was offered. She came to Forest Grove as a freshman without visiting in advance.

“I got here and I was, like, ‘Whoa, what’s happening?’”

Pacific University is home to about 25 undergraduate students who identify as African-American, and that includes an influx of about 15 freshmen in 2013-2014.

Though the university has a history of a strong black population in the 1960s and an active Black Student Union into the 1970s, both Fuller and Rivers have struggled to re-start the club in the past several years.

This year, though, they have found success, supported by Yashica Island, director of the Pacific Leadership Academy and adviser for the club, as well as a core of about eight student members in the newly reinvigorated BSU.

This spring, the club hosted several activities for Black History Month in February, including movie screenings and an on-campus presentation of “Who Am I; Celebrating Me,” a play about black history.

Members also started a monthly discussion group called “Hoodie Happenings,” inspired by their first topic of discussion, the Treyvon Martin case.

"I feel like we needed a group. We have something in common. I know we have different cultures within black culture, but it's good to have a place to feel comfortable."

Fuller said her goal is to give herself and other black students a voice on campus and to raise awareness of Pacific University among prospective students of color.

“I want them to know this is a good school with a good education, a lot of one-on-one with teachers,” she said. “This is a great option.”

And, she said, she wants students to have a place where they can share culture and experiences.

“It feels like you’re kind of alone,” Fuller said. “Everyone expects you to be a spokesperson for all black people.

“I feel like we needed a group. We have something in common. I know we have different cultures within black culture, but it’s good to have a place to feel comfortable,” she said.

That sentiment also recently inspired other students on campus to start their own organization, the Hispanic Heritage Student Association. There are about 183 undergraduates on campus who identify as a Hispanic ethnicity — certainly a minority, but a population that’s growing quickly.

Bianca Maldonado Ramirez ‘16 is the president of the new campus group and said that her Hispanic heritage comes with some unique challenges.

“My parents are first-generation,” she said. “For a lot of Latinos, parents want you to go to school, but you shouldn’t go far because of family obligations. They expect a lot from you. … They don’t understand the college experience.”

At the same time, she said, a tradition of close family relationships and activities can make the transition to college lonely for some students. Though she chose Pacific because it was close to her home in Beaverton, she still found herself missing home a lot in her freshman year. She was used to spending weekends at large family gatherings, enjoying her grandma’s cooking.

“I felt so alone,” she said. 

The Hispanic Heritage Student Association gives students a family away from home and a place to share their culture, Ramirez said.

“Students needed a support system, a space that felt comfortable,” she said. 


This story first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Pacific magazine. For more stories, visit pacificu.edu/magazine.

Jun. 16, 2014