Storms Ahead

By Erika Nelson

I wouldn’t say I hate the rain … but it’s not my favorite natural phenomenon, either. The dismal grey skies and absence of natural light. Soaked clothes and muddy shoes. Umbrellas dripping all over the carpet. Humidity that turns an hour’s effort with the straightening iron into a frizzy, unkempt mess. The ever-present risk of hydroplaning — I totaled my Ford Focus by hydroplaning on Hwy 84 a couple years ago, and have had a personal vendetta against the rain ever since.

I concede that the rain has some positive qualities — it sustains all life on earth, after all. I guess that’s kind of a big deal, right? Not to mention that nice “before the rain” smell. And it’s not like there aren’t enjoyable moments sometimes: I possess the long legs necessary to leap across puddles, which ignites a flicker of childlike joy in my cold heart. Snuggling up inside with a good book and a warm blanket while it’s pouring outside is one of the best ways to spend a lazy weekend. Yet these “snuggle inside” days often backfire by making you not want to emerge from your blanket at all. Even though it sustains all of earth’s life, the rain has a tendency to suck the life out of me. 

Why did she move to a city FAMOUS for its rain?! you might ask. Well, I had two main requirements when I chose a transfer school: be in Oregon (so I could take advantage of that sweet, sweet in-state tuition), and in a metropolitan area. After graduation, I suppose I could move somewhere more mild and dry. But I don’t want to leave … and not just because I like not having to pay sales tax. I fell in love with an Oregon native; a man as comfortable driving in a deluge as he is on a dry summer’s day. He’s practically amphibious. 

Maybe I just need to let the rain win — “win” in the sense that I learn to love it. I could cultivate an interest in meteorology; monitor the weather app and make bar graphs comparing expected inches of rainfall to actual inches of rainfall!! On second thought, maybe that’s a bit much. Learning to tolerate the rain is a much more realistic goal; accepting Portland’s default climate as just part of life. I can adapt instead of complain. I could purchase an actual waterproof coat, so I don’t get soaked every time I step outside. Maybe pull my light therapy lamp out of storage and actually use it (maybe the thing works, maybe it doesn’t … but damn if it doesn’t cheer up the room.) Perhaps with time I, too, can become an amphibious Pacific Northwester … or at the very least, remember a plastic bag to hold my dripping umbrella when I go indoors.  

Portland State’s 20 bright spots in 2020

Esmerelda Valdez: “Perfect depiction of what it feels to be a part of the Graduating Class of 2020!”

By Portland State’s Social Media Team

Unprecedented. Surreal. Socially distanced. No matter how you choose to describe it, 2020 has been a year like no other. But it hasn’t been ALL bad. Though the threat of COVID-19, urgency around racial equity and a strife-filled political climate have dominated our thoughts and lives, we didn’t have far to look to find uplifting PSU stories that will give you all the feels.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. We just didn’t have time to include more before 2021 is upon us.


20. Those beautiful blooming blossoms

Every spring like clockwork, 100 Akabono cherry trees bloom along Portland’s southwest waterfront a few blocks from campus, transforming the esplanade into a pink wonderland (and popular selfie opp.) In spring 2020, they provided a moment of much-needed normalcy against a decidedly abnormal backdrop. Fun fact: The trees were given to Portland in 1990 by the Japanese Grain Importers Association.


19. Athletes transform obstacles into opportunities

Viking men’s basketball coach Jase Coburn and Lindsay Coburn Meiggs held an impromptu wedding at Boise’s CenturyLink Arena.

Remember the canceled tournament that turned into a wedding? Or the drive-by retirement sendoff for beloved trainer Jim Wallis? It would have been easy for Viking Athletics to throw in the towel (bad pun intended) after facing challenge upon challenge this year. But that’s not the Viking Way. So when our student-athletes were sidelined from the sports they love, they responded with an overall 3.34 GPA for the year, including a remote spring term GPA of 3.56 — including 78 who achieved a 4.0 and 155 who ranked at 3.5 or above. #goviks


18. Star-studded Zoom drop-ins

Most of us agree that virtual gatherings just aren’t as good as in-person — but there is one advantage: cameo appearances. Comedian alum Ian Karmel graciously dropped in on a spring scriptwriting class to talk comedy. And soccer legend Abby Wambach and her bestselling author wife Glennon Doyle surprised the women’s soccer team. We can’t wait to find out who will show up next!


17. PSU steps up in early days of the pandemic

When COVID-19 first reached Portland, teaching and research labs around campus donated over 1,000 boxes of gloves as well as hundreds of masks and other personal protective equipment to local hospitals. The PSU Center of Entrepreneurship printed and distributed 1,000 face shields to Legacy Health. And they were just getting started!


16. Getting a second chance

Sentenced to 15 years at age 15, Josefina Ramirez this year was the first incarcerated youth in Oregon to become a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, part of the university’s effort to increase educational opportunities for people in detention facilities around Oregon. In the fall, Gov. Kate Brown granted Josefina executive clemency and she was hired by an outpatient treatment facility.


15. Alumni spring into action

  • Recent Portland School of Business grads Sharona Shnayder and Wanda McNealy were looking for ways to contribute to their communities last spring, and realized that picking up trash is a simple and safe way to practice environmental activism that anyone can do wherever they are. The Tuesdays for Trash grassroots movement was born! (Find them on instagram at @TuesdaysForTrash) 
  • School of Architecture alum Lisa Patterson designed a hub in Portland that provides bedding and clothing exchanges, medical aid, showers, bathrooms and an outdoor warming area for Portland’s houseless community.

14. Students go the extra distance

Morgan Godvin
  • Public health student Morgan Godvin moved to Tijuana last spring to serve the houseless community there while taking classes online between shifts. The experience made a deep impact, and Godvin now plans to pursue a career in public health and human rights law. 
  • In true Viking spirit, College of Urban and Public Affairs student Lauren Everett transformed an empty lot near her home into a temporary park last summer, a place for people to safely gather. “The amount of dedication and sweat equity that went into this project has been really inspiring” she said. “I hope this inspires similar efforts in other neighborhoods, to create spaces where people can gather safely during COVID and beyond.”

13. International students show resilience

Portland State’s international students had to contend with multiple stressors all at once this year. Thousands of miles from home, students worried about their families and friends abroad, had flights canceled and suffered financial hardship and homesickness — all while having to cope with changing immigration policies. Amazingly, they persevered. This fall, just over 1,000 international students enrolled at PSU. “There are some incredible stories out there of what students are doing to try to keep up,” said Christina Luther, director of International Student and Scholar Services. Read some of their stories here.


12. PSU names new chief of Campus Public Safety

Willie Halliburton

In July, Willie Halliburton was sworn in as PSU’s new Chief of Campus Public Safety. Halliburton has been at PSU since 2016, following a 32-year police career. He has since announced his commitment to unarmed campus patrols. “I believe deeply that safety comes from developing relationships in the community and treating people with respect,” Halliburton said. “My ultimate goal as chief is to build trust between CPSO and the PSU community — staff, faculty and particularly students. I recognize the need for change and to honestly address the concerns of the PSU community.”


11. Speech pathology clinic expands reach

While most speech-language pathology programs had to put clinical training on hold last spring, PSU quickly adapted its telepractice to actually expand its services. The clinic did not abandon a single client and, with the addition of four clinical supervisors, were able to increase their caseloads! “In the COVID-19 crisis, we have found an opportunity to innovate and deepen our commitment to serving the community and families in need,” said Claudia Meyer, director of clinical education at the Speech and Language Clinic at PSU.


10. PSU gave $8.3 million to students in need

The pandemic and corresponding shutdown was a financial disaster for many students. So when the federal government stepped up with $8.3 million earmarked for financial relief for students, it was gratifying to hear what a difference these payments made. “I can finally sleep at night,” was how one student expressed her profound relief after receiving the financial assist.


9. Researchers deployed smart trees in crusade to understand climate change

Hannah Prather, a certified arborist and postdoctoral researcher who is part of a team from Portland State, Reed College, Washington State University and The Nature Conservancy, spent the summer getting up at 4 a.m. to install sensors high up in Portland-area Douglas fir trees. These “smart trees” will become part of a study to better understand the impacts of climate change on urban trees. The Smart Trees team uses a range of technologies to monitor the health of the urban tree canopy, a key resource for reducing the social and environmental impacts of our warming climate.


8. Taking strides toward racial equity

Ame Lambert

As part of President Stephen Percy’s commitment to promoting equity and justice at PSU, the university will hire a cohort of 7 new scholars in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Gender, Race and Nations in fall 2021. The school — made up of Black Studies, Indigenous Nations Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies — seeks to better understand and advocate for historically underserved populations. PSU also welcomed the esteemed Dr. Ame Lambert as Vice President for Global Diversity and Inclusion. In October, she and President Percy convened five cross-campus task groups to organize a Virtual Equity Summit and developed a learning and action agenda to make our vision for a racially just and equitable future a reality at Portland State.


7. An unprecedented milestone

In June, Rachel Esteve became the first student with Down syndrome to graduate from Portland State with a four-year certificate from the Career and Community Studies program. Part of the first cohort of graduates from the program designed for students with intellectual disabilities, Rachel was joined by Lucy Balthazaar, Wyatt Isaacs, William Larson and Sawyer Viola.


6. PSU faculty among the best researchers in the world

Thirty-three Portland State researchers are ranked among the world’s most-cited and the top researchers within their discipline areas, according to a recent study that looked at more than 6 million researchers in 22 disciplines and 176 subdisciplines. Of course, we already knew this but it’s nice to be recognized!


5. PSU choirs make beautiful music

When it became apparent that in-person concerts were not possible in 2020, Portland State choirs quickly adjusted, practicing outdoors in small, distanced and masked groups. The PSU Chamber Choir, recognized as one of the finest choirs in the world according to Classics Today, created several live concerts online, partnering with the Rose Choir and Thorn Choir. And the Portland State Community Choir chimed in with a beautiful rendition of “Tender Love.”


4. School of Public Health helps with contact tracing

Students Hunter Peterson, Joyleen Mabika, Taurica Salmon and Shabir Sawary

When COVID-19 hit Oregon, Portland State public health students sprang into action, partnering with OHSU and Oregon Health Authority to perform contact tracing, conduct case investigations and help manage the outbreak. The partnership provided not only real-world experience, but also opportunities for careers after graduation. These inspiring Viks did more than study the issues — they addressed real-world problems with hands-on solutions!


3. Spring Term pivot

Yes it’s the most overused word of 2020, but we don’t care. Portland State faculty and staff delivered a full-on, jaw-dropping pivot this spring when classes moved from in-person to remote in a matter of days, and our students found new ways to learn and connect.

A few highlights: The Offices of Academic Innovation and Information Technology sprang into action to provide guidance and technical help. Faculty members adjusted their teaching methods and curriculum on the fly (and still kept their good humor).

Students shared their study spaces, quarantine routines and survival tips — which even included dancing on the roof.


2. The unexpected duet

It became the national anthem heard around the world. School of Music & Theater graduate Madisen Hallberg was recording the national anthem for PSU’s virtual commencement ceremony last spring in the park blocks when local artist and singer Emmanuel Henreid, who goes by Onry, walked by and asked to join her. This simple moment between two strangers was a balm for our souls during a divisive moment in our country, reminding us of the uniting, healing power of music. Thanks to the College of the Arts, the duo reunited this holiday season to bring us a beautiful rendition of Dona Nobis Pacem, translation: Grant us peace.


1. Celebrating The Class of 2020

Yessica Villegas

The Class of 2020 will have a distinct place in Portland State history. Participating in the first-of-its-kind virtual commencement after enduring four (or more) years of hard work, thousands of grads took photos in their regalia, celebrated at home or in their backyards … and made the best of it. And our faculty, staff, alumni and community stepped up to help make the moment special. Grads, you did it. We could not be prouder of what you accomplished and can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.


Follow Portland State on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn

Dorm Pie

By Erika Nelson

As I’ve written before, I live in student housing. Dorms— a word that connotes many things related to “the college experience”— ridiculously tall beds, hallways decorated to reflect the RA’s floor theme, washing machines that only work half the time … and above all, socialization. From bonding over bowls of instant ramen to flashcard quizzes in the common area, you can’t picture dorm life without thinking of social interaction. 

I came to PSU in the fall of 2019 — ignorant of COVID and the pandemic on the horizon, I had one blissful term to experience the social aspect of college and dorm life. Sure, most of the other residents seem to fall into the 18-21 cohort, and at 27 I’m an old lady by comparison, but mixing colors at Paint Nite and making dorm decor at RHA-sponsored events was a great way to chill out and meet fellow Vikings. While waiting on my laundry one night last year, I ran into a couple girls reading Tarot cards. Naturally, I threw my accounting homework to the side so I could get a reading. The cards uncannily reflected a recent breakup and reminded me of my ex (although, to be fair, pretty much everything reminded me of my ex at the time.) I bawled like a baby and the three of us swapped stories about Men Who Did Us Dirty. I don’t remember those girls’ names, and I never ran into them again, but I’ll always appreciate that experience.  

The halls look very different now … no Tarot cards or half-finished puzzles to be seen. Occasionally I’ll bump into another student on the way to their room, or the elevator will stop on another floor and a resident and I will awkwardly stare at each other until the doors close and the elevator continues its trip up or down (one of the new Housing rules: only one person/household in the elevator at a time, to cut down on germ transmission. The elevators didn’t get the memo, so they continue to stop at floors where the button is pressed.) Once in a blue moon, there are freebies left by kind strangers — individually-wrapped hand sanitizing wipes; packets of tea; paper napkins with a note saying “emergency toilet paper :).” I don’t usually partake in these freebies (sanitizing wipes are an exception) because of, ya know, the virus … but it always warms my heart a little when I see them. 

Around Thanksgiving, I found a Dorm Pie. A solitary pumpkin confection left on a communal table, the pie was exposed to the elements without a cover, and there was no note explaining its presence. It was like an unaccompanied child at the airport, and I simultaneously felt mild amusement, pity for the lonely dessert (lockdown has caused me to anthropomorphize everything), and gratitude that someone thought, “I have an extra pie. Someone will want this.” We’re a building of college students, after all — we love free food even when COVID hasn’t made employment scarce — and it’s the season of giving. And I love pumpkin pie … sure, it may be uncovered and rife with viral particles, I thought, but it’s probably fine! I don’t want it to go to waste, or dry out before someone can find it …

I ended up leaving the pie. Whether someone ate it or threw it away, I’ll never know, but the Dorm Pie will forever live in my memory as a symbol of goodwill during hard times. 

Even though we dorm-dwellers can’t socialize in person, there’s still a sense of community — seeing free stuff someone’s left for their neighbors is a reminder that even in these socially-distant times of Zoom trivia nights and solo elevator rides, residents are still looking out for each other. 

Or maybe they just want to unload excess stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.  But if you’re reading this, kind Pie Donor — you should probably leave the cover on next time. 

Winter is Coming.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. We’re in this together.

By Erika Nelson

Governor Kate Brown recently announced new social-distancing requirements across Oregon. Most counties will have to follow the new guidelines for at least two weeks, but Multnomah County and other COVID hotspots will stay shut down even longer. Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee recently announced similar restrictions. I’m willing to bet that it’s only a matter of time before Governor Gavin Newsom follows suit in California, making shutdowns in the West Coast states three-for-three.

Needless to say, this is unwelcome news. Everyone is fatigued from the months of isolation, and it’s easy to fall into a false sense of security from the warmer months’ improvement. But the pandemic is nowhere near over, and as we move into the colder months, our collective situation is likely to become even more dire. It’s more important than ever to continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing, and taking the basic precautions to slow the virus’ spread.

Yes, these measures are inconvenient. Like everyone else, I’ve been irritated and upset by the shutdowns and restrictions. Earlier this year, I had to postpone medical procedures that weren’t deemed essential. A large part of why I chose PSU was Portland’s vibrant social and cultural scene, and I haven’t been able to experience most of the places and businesses that Portland is known for. In fact, I might very well finish out my time in college without seeing the inside of another classroom. The lower half of my face is constantly breaking out in “maskne.” None of these inconveniences are life-and-death situations, though.

What I’m saying shouldn’t be controversial: People need to face facts and follow the safety measures that save lives. I am sick of the head-in-the-sand science denial, the conspiracy theories, the people endlessly complaining on social media about the basic measures meant to keep themselves and others safe. It’s disheartening. It’s disheartening to know that millions upon millions of people complain about masks: Masks causing people to inhale carbon dioxide (they don’t), masks being uncomfortable (fair enough, but not important), masks somehow violate constitutional freedoms (not true), or any number of excuses. Some people flaunt going maskless and give performative, self-righteous rants in private businesses or record themselves marching through public in some kind of virtue-signaling display, extending America’s hyper-partisan us-vs-them narrative into public health.

Masks are not political. Public health is not political.

There are some things you just can’t argue about. There are facts, and then there are opinions. “That’s just my opinion, and you need to respect it!” Well, your opinion doesn’t mean much when America’s premier health advisor says the country “could not be positioned more poorly” with regards to the virus’ spread. Your opinion doesn’t mean much when cases are surging almost everywhere. Your opinion doesn’t mean much when hospitals are overwhelmed and record numbers of people are dying. Dr. Anthony Fauci and others have long warned that the cooler weather will bring more cases, and that if we don’t collectively change our habits, the pandemic will become even worse. 

The only way to prevent future lockdowns and stricter requirements is to follow the rules now. Everyone needs to take this pandemic seriously. Please. If you go out, wear a mask. Wash your hands. Sanitize. This isn’t hard. This isn’t forever. The more we adopt these lifestyle changes, the closer we are to going back to normal.

My Journey So Far: Reflecting on My First Year at PSU

By Erika Nelson

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at PSU for a year now! The last 12 months have brought more changes and challenges than I could have possibly imagined, both in my personal life and the world at large. Since I first became a Viking in September 2019, I’ve switched jobs, broken up with a long-term partner, changed my major, found a new partner, had a major medical emergency, spent almost four months out of town because of the pandemic, and moved apartments … wow. That’s a lot of drama to squeeze into one year. 

If I could go back in time, I’d change a lot of things (first off: warn people about COVID-19, obviously). However, I’ve learned so many lessons and found a new strength and sense of accomplishment from everything I went through. When I feel down on myself, I try to remember how much I’ve grown in a mere 12 months …

My newfound sense of direction

Last autumn, downtown PDX’s urban sprawl seemed like a labyrinth. I was constantly getting lost, relying on Google Maps to get to classes or do errands. Today, I move through the neighborhood on instinct and have all the street names memorized. (“Are you looking for Starbucks? Do you want the one on 6th in the Urban Center, the one on Jefferson inside of Safeway, or the one on Broadway and Clay? Don’t bother trying the ones on Jackson or Montgomery; they’re temporarily closed.”) I’m starting to feel like a local!

A new passion for wellness

A year ago, I was a brand-new suburban transplant who rarely walked anywhere for necessity, much less for fun. A lack of endurance made simple trips to the store a sweaty ordeal. Now, I’m so accustomed to walking every day, I get cabin fever when I have nowhere to go. In addition, I started running regularly and attending workout classes (before social distancing, that is), and started paying closer attention to what I ate. I did end up losing weight, which I’m proud of, but I feel better, which is so much more important than a number on a scale. 

Having faith in my journey

My first term at PSU, I was a Business major — while aspects of the field interested me (and still do), I was only on that track out of fear — what if I couldn’t find a career to make money majoring in the humanities? However, I soon realized that I needed to take a chance and major in what I loved; what felt right. Now, I’m a happy English major and I’m exploring the idea of law school. I love literature and challenging myself to find connections and interpretations in various media, and applying those ideas to real life. I had to take a few steps back in my graduation timeline (changing my major as a junior means I’ll be at PSU a couple extra terms), but I’m happy where I am. It’s better to take a leap of faith than always wonder “what if?”

It’s easy to focus on all the ways life sucks … and let’s be honest, life sucks for pretty much everyone right now. Life is complicated even in the best of times, and we’ve all had our lives disrupted by this virus — it’s ok to be angry, sad, scared, or anywhere else on the spectrum of emotions. Yet it’s also important to pause and reflect on the good. I’m not someone who subscribes to the tenet of destiny, or says “everything happens for a reason,” but I do believe there’s lessons to be learned in every situation: good, bad, and in-between.

A Capstone About Cats: Reflections on Our Senior Capstone

By Claire Golden and Erika Nelson

It was complete coincidence that two PSU Chronicles bloggers — Erika and Claire — ended up in the same Senior Capstone, but we wanted to reflect on our experience. This was far and away the most involved class we’d ever taken, but it was also one of the most rewarding…in large part because our work impacted the real world.

Our class was called “Grant Writing for Shelter Pets.” In a Capstone, you work directly with a community partner — in our case, a non-profit cat shelter in Vancouver, Washington called Furry Friends. We worked in groups writing grant proposals for Furry Friends (Claire worked in the group seeking medical funding for seriously ill cats, and Erika was in the group focused on building a new “kitty condo” structure.) This wasn’t just another course–it had real-world ramifications. The fate of hundreds of cats were directly influenced by our commitment to the grantwriting process–for example, these grant proposals could be the difference between Furry Friends getting funding for life-threatening medical conditions, influencing whether cats live or die. 

This course was intense! Capstones always take up a lot of time and energy. We found it’s best to plan for contingencies that could affect your stamina and focus–life happens sometimes (sometimes in ways we can never anticipate), but you can try to be prepared for things likely to happen. Remember that this class is six credits, which is basically a class-and-a-half. So it’s going to take longer than you’re used to…and it’s a 400-level course. To be safe, treat this class as two regular classes and then you’ll know how to budget enough time.

A huge part of the class involved communication, and while we’d done group work in previous classes, it was nothing to this extent. It was tricky doing distance communication; although this was an online class even before most other classes were remote, not being able to meet with the whole group in person proved challenging. We found group emails, group texts, and Google Docs to be invaluable (pro tip: make sure everyone is looking at the same Google Doc to avoid confusion). It’s essential to communicate with your groupmates, your instructor, and the community partner. It’s way better to double-check something than to miss something.

It’s important to keep in mind that since Capstones involve community service, you might be emotionally affected by the project and the community partner’s stories. Be sure to practice self-care and make use of your support network if necessary. We read stories about animal abuse that made us feel sick, but that was just more motivation to work hard.

In the end, we’re both proud of our work and happy that we made the decision to take this Capstone. We both learned so much–not only about the grantwriting process, but about collaboration, research, and harnessing empathy to do good.

Nailing Stress

By Erika Nelson

“I actually used to be a nail tech … not that you can tell.” I force a laugh and brandish my bitten stubs. I admit it — I’m a nail biter. Gross and unattractive in the best of times, it’s a literal life-and-death habit in Corona times — a danger to not only myself by introducing new microbes to my system, but to other people as well. Each bite transfers germs from my mouth to what I touch. I don’t bite in public, sanitize regularly and thoroughly scrub my fingers with soap and water before leaving and after returning to my apartment. But when I’m at home, in front of my laptop … I find my fingers floating to my lips.  

I’ve mostly been able to kick this habit. I say “mostly,” because no matter what methods I use to quit, I always come back to the form of tension-relief that borders on self-cannibalistic. If there’s a pervading collective emotion in the world today — it’s stress. Stress from isolation. Stress from economic turmoil and job insecurity. Stress from systemic injustice. Stress from having to “keep calm and carry on” with our regular lives, as if all of this is normal, when things are as abnormal as they’ve ever been. When I spoke with a PSU employee earlier this week, he summed up what I, and a lot of other people, are feeling: “a kind of stress I’ve never known.” We’re all bobbing along with the bumps and dips of the new-case graphs; paddling however we know how while the water continues to rise. 

Stress. So much stress. Meditation apps abound. #selfcare tips feature prominently across social media. The CDC even has a page on ways to deal with stress during the pandemic. I’ve tried pretty much everything I can to translate an unsanitary, destructive coping mechanism to something constructive that involves minimal microbe transfer … but gratitude journals and deep breathing never seem to be as instantly satisfying as shredding the tips of my fingernails with my teeth. 

The only thing that seems to work to curb the compulsive nibbling is engaging in what I used to do for a living — doing nails — but on myself. The process of meticulously applying polish is soothing, and forces me to slow down and exercise hand-eye coordination. Carefully placing polka dots and painting tiny flowers on my nails is just what I need to distract my thoughts — even for a few minutes — from everything else. When I’m done, I can’t bear to chip my painstaking work by biting!

Decorating (and maintaining) my nails has been helpful at chipping (haha) away at stress. Stress always comes back … but in the moments that I’m picking a color, filing, putting brush to nail … stress is on vacation. There are myriad reasons why I decided to ditch being a nail technician to go back to school — that’s a post for another day — but I still adore everything to do with it. There are many ways to de-escalate stress: for some people it’s yoga, video games or screaming into pillows. Some people are taking this time in quarantine to experiment with new hobbies or re-discover old ones. Thank goodness for my stockpile of polishes to get me through another day without mangling my own fingers.

Feeling Helpless in a Time of Great Need

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

One of the cornerstones of my job as a Resident Academic Mentor —programming—came to a complete standstill with COVID-19. Throughout the term, I normally put on programs that promote holistic wellness in order to achieve academic success. With its absence, I honestly feel like the rewarding aspect of my job has been ripped away. All of us in Housing have lost the in-person connection to residents and we miss providing them the support of programming. I continue to live on campus, and my residents know I’m still here because I send out weekly emails, but I feel more like a ghost in their inbox than anything else.

It  is hard to know how to support my residents and other students during these times. This has been echoed by my teammates and other student leaders. PSU students are experiencing financial, mental health, academic, and other hardships that are all unique. I’m not qualified to provide specialized help in those areas.  I have to refer students out to online counseling services with SHAC and virtual appointments with the Financial Wellness Center. I hold zero sway with unaccommodating and unsupportive professors. All I can do is listen and offer resources, and it makes me feel useless.

My position as a Resident Academic Mentor gave me a sense of purpose in the past. I built a community at PSU through this role and really found my place on campus. I enjoyed helping people and feel privileged to have heard so many life stories. Now, with the pandemic, I feel like I’m just going through the motions of my work. In the halls I strove to build connection, I have never felt so disconnected. Throughout this term, I’ve struggled to find meaning in my work when I am so utterly powerless to change my residents’ situations.

Out of Oven, Out of Mind

by Beth Royston

A lot of us have a lot more time on our hands recently, and I’ve been getting back to my baking wishlist. I’ve always loved baking and have watched The Great British Baking Show on Netflix more times than I can count, but took a bit of an unenthusiastic break while I was in a series of apartments (with the exception of a frantic stint of weekly sourdough) so small the fridge couldn’t fully open without hitting the oven. Thankfully, my partner and I moved to a bigger living space with an actual kitchen, and I had no excuses anymore, right? Apparently not. I’d forgotten that baking can take a lot of time, and I didn’t exactly want to be in the kitchen for an extra couple hours after coming home from a six-hour day at PSU and having to make dinner and do homework. It became an occasional, wistful thing. 

However, the opportunities have come up a lot more and I worked with my partner to make a list of all the things I wanted to make. Nothing too crazy, like the recipe for the galaxy mirror glaze cake I saw once (I would feel a little guilty for presenting my stuck-at-home roommates with a huge cake) but small, enjoyable things, like scones and tarts and light pies. It’s been a small part of my week that I can savor in the following days, and adds a sense of formal normalcy to meals. There’s a slice of apple tart to have afterwards, just like there was before all of this happened. I remembered how much I love baking, especially when I get to be creative with pie crust decorations or figuring out how to make something there’s no recipe for. I once developed a recipe for savory, cheese-and-herb creme puffs, and I remember it fondly. It’s a nice distraction, too. I also realized that I’ve never had a key lime pie, so that’s on the list. Hopefully my household forgives me for continually churning out desserts.

Making Do

By Erika Nelson

Recently, I wrote about my experiences under lockdown in student housing. Although being alone in quarantine was weighing on my mental health, I said that crashing with family or friends in Southern Oregon was not an ideal option for me. Since that post, I tried really hard to make the best of my situation —  I went through every coping skill I could think of: working out, journaling, playing computer games, texting friends and family, virtual therapy, throwing myself into homework — but I cracked. Living alone became too much to bear—so when the opportunity to fly down to Medford arose about a week ago, I took advantage of it, and set out for the Rogue Valley by way of a very, very lonely PDX.

I thought a lot about whether I would divulge that I fled Portland — I’d made such a big deal about staying put and weathering the lockdown on my own. Surely I can just pretend to still be in the dorms? Who would know the difference? Do I want people to think I’m weak? Besides being embarrassing to admit I broke down, I had traveled when not absolutely necessary, and still feel rather of ashamed about that. But I ultimately decided to be vulnerable in these vulnerable times, and share my experience.

The truth is, it’s ok to be overwhelmed, and it’s ok to make do with the resources you have. Like making do with frozen vegetables instead of fresh ones to avoid a trip to the grocery store, we are all making do in other ways with the resources available to us — mentally, physically, socially. It’s ok to break. It’s ok to be strong one week and a sobbing mess the next — because these are uncertain, scary times. 

I’m making do with what I have, and I am filled with so much gratitude that I have support available to me. I was lucky to get that flight to Medford. I’m lucky to have a family to take me in. I’m lucky that I went through the gauntlet of air travel without bringing disease into my home (well, as far as I know. I really hope that my next post isn’t written from a family member’s hospital bedside.) 

Many students are still alone on campus, and don’t have any other option but to stay. I feel guilty leaving them behind. Part of me feels like I should be there in solidarity. Another part feels justified that I did what I had to do to take care of myself. Maybe those opposing feelings aren’t mutually exclusive. 

To those who are struggling under the weight of lockdown, whether in isolation or not, here are some resources that might help:

PSU Student Resources: https://www.pdx.edu/unst/student-resources

Multnomah County Crisis Hotline: 503-988-4888.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233