Student leaders have reinstated the historic Black Student Union and founded the Hispanic Heritage Student Association, creating a rising awareness of diversity at Pacific University.
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.
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.