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.

A purr-fect match: Tips for student pet-owners

Brooke's cat Ulysses

Brooke’s cat Ulysses

By: Brooke Horn

When I moved here, I couldn’t bring Bandit with me.

I knew that a 400sqft studio in the city is no place for an energetic Black Lab, and that I would be able to adopt after the move. Bandit was more than happy to stay home with family and escape the traumatic experience of flying. After settling into Portland, I did a lot of research into pet adoption. For my fellow students who own pets, or are interested in owning pets, here are some of the best tips I’ve come across:

 

  1. Know the pet rules for where you live. According to PSU’s Housing & Residence Life FAQs, “The only animals allowed in on-campus housing are fish in a small tank (up to 10 gallons), cats, and service animals that are pre-approved by the Disability Resource Center (DRC).” For those of you who live off-campus, it’s important to know that most management companies will require you to have renter’s insurance (I decided to go with State Farm for $10/month), and most have a policies regarding weight and breed restrictions.
  1. The Oregon Humane Society is wonderful. Not only do they have great pets that desperately need good homes, they have a phenomenal list of resources for pet-owners. This list covers everything from which apartments are pet-friendly to sample pet references/resumes.
  2. Buy all of your pet supplies in advance, and make sure you really have the room in your home AND your schedule to devote to a pet. Pinterest has some great student-friendly ideas for DIY pet furniture that saves space!
  3. Spend some time researching your local veterinarians. Although they’re a little far from campus, the folks at Powell Veterinary Center have been kind to me, my pet, AND my wallet.

I finally met my purr-fect match through The Delicious Mickey Grrrl Fund – a small group of dedicated, friendly locals who match neglected pets with forever homes. They went above and beyond to make my adoption experience wonderful, and now I’m the proud pet-mama of Ulysses (pictured above).

Have an inspiring adoption story, a cute pet photo, or know of a good pet resource? Share it with us!

You Don’t Know What You Got . . .

Student Insurance . . . plus SHAC is available, too.

Student Insurance . . . plus SHAC is available, too.

By: Theo Burke

As I graduate, besides memories and friends, I am leaving behind the awesome Portland State student health insurance. I’ve written about this before, now I’m experiencing the difference.

Since I don’t know what job is coming down the pike or what kind of health insurance it might carry, I’ve applied for individual insurance through Cover Oregon, the state exchange that sells private health plans (with federal subsidies to help pay the premiums) under the Affordable Care Act, or “ObamaCare.” The state exchange will alternatively sign you up automatically for the state’s Medicaid program (the Oregon Health Plan) if you qualify.

In the real world, I will have to think more about the deductible. A deductible is an amount you pay each year (usually $250 – $1000 or higher) before any benefits are paid by your health insurer.

At PSU, the deductible was $0.00.

My present doctors might not be covered by a new insurance company. At PSU, the Aetna provider network was vast.

I will have to worry more about whether alternative care is covered. At PSU, naturopathic doctors are treated the same as primary care doctors, and chiropractors are covered up to twelve visits per year.

Weirdly enough, when I heard from Cover Oregon recently, they put me in the Oregon Health Plan, even though I reported enough income to disqualify me from that program. Now I will have to figure out the Medicaid ”world,” which works much differently than the private insurers’ system, or else contest my placement in that program with Cover Oregon.

Students, the PSU plan won’t throw you such curve balls. You have an awesome, generous health plan, and you should take advantage of it before you graduate. As I’ve said before, you don’t know what you’ve got, until you lose it.

Call Campus Security? Maybe not.

HPIM2422

Another “phalanx response”, on Sunday, March 2, in Smith.

Over Christmas, as I returned to my car at 2 a.m., I was approached by four muscular campus security officers, in three patrol cars. It was a little scary.

Someone had called in a complaint about a man “trying to break into the library, wearing a hoody.”  I had returned some books to the Millar Library dropbox, and then carried the library’s delivered New York Times closer to the revolving doors as a courtesy, pausing to read some headlines first. I’m geeky like that.

After a check with dispatch that I was a bona fide student, the four officers let me on my way. I’ve since noticed this “phalanx of four” routine is common with Campus Public Safety Office (CPSO) responses:

  • HPIM2423Last week, I saw a solo CPSO officer patrolling the Broadway. Around the corner, I spotted three more campus security responding to an incident.
  • Later in the week, a young man was panhandling all of us in line for coffee in Smith. Someone apparently reported him, as later I spied one officer stationed by the coffee joint, two more interviewing him by the Information Desk, and a fourth officer by the front door on Broadway.

Clearly, CPSO is prepared for any escape in any direction! Their “I-formation” is as impressive as any our football Vikings might run.

I refrained from calling CPSO on the panhandler, as I also did last week when I saw an unstable young man kicking all of the gravel out of the tree beds in front of the Broadway. I imagined an overreaction from CPSO similar to my experience.

Is all this manpower necessary to keep us safe? A greater risk is created, I suggest, if some students avoid calling security in the first place, concerned about overkill. Money would also be saved if CPSO responded with two-man teams.

What do you think?  In April, the university will have a security discussion that will include the question of arming these officers with guns. Tell the university what you think here, or add a comment to this blogpost. You can bone up on the recent task force report on campus safety here.

A live phone call — someone loves me

By: Theo Burke

"Hey, I didn't know it could TALK!"

“Hey, I didn’t know it could TALK!”

Not long ago, while working on a PSU Vanguard story, I received a return phone call, within 24 hours, from Scott Gallagher of the University Communications office. I nearly fell down from shock.

I had not received a live phone call in months from anyone other than my mother. And it seemed as though an ever-increasing amount of important people in my life had barricaded themselves behind “email walls.”

When I recently asked to meet with an editor at one of the three student media outlets I worked for, she simply refused to do it. Her supervisor had established a policy, she said, that editors could limit communications with writers to email. No meetings, live conversations, or body language required.

A professor supervising me on a huge term paper could only be reached by email and was only on campus two days per week. She had not even set up the voice mail on her office phone. But this makes her no different from most PSU profs —not a single professor in my three years here has used the office phone.

Mr. Gallagher reminded me what humans are capable of. Follow up.  Consideration. Professionalism. Simple human respect and kindness. And he understands that the old standards of professionalism still matter to do your job.

I submit to you all that we will not be able to live without live voice communication and nonverbal body language over the long run. We will not be able to abandon those and hold onto the jobs that we like, as well.

No amount of quiet, feverish tapping on our devices will replace our voices and ourselves.

Rain, rain, go away and come back another day

outdoor_raining-1280x800I was dreaming that I was sailing a small ship through a tremendous storm. The rain was heavy and dense, battering the ship and causing metallic thumps that scathed my ears. Then I awoke from my sleep and the sounds had not ceased. I cleared my eyes and sat up in my seat and saw a heavy downpour battering my car, where I was sleeping.

The rain had always made me feel blue. It’s common among people deprived of sunshine to feel blue and even develop a condition known as SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. It comes to no surprise to any of us that it rains for most of the year in Portland. Still, why do so many people feel blue because of the rain?

Indigenous people tend to see the rain as sacred and as a sign of life. For some reason, it seems that modern society and individuals do not see it in the same light. Perhaps our need for comfort through materialistic and superficial things have deprived us of the opportunity to reflect on ourselves in solitude.

When you become the interviewer

psu blog post

Last week, I had the experience of being on the other end of the table for several interviews. As part of my job as a resident assistant, I am required to interview people for the positions that will be open for next year.

I found it interesting to see the process through the eyes of the person conducting the interview. There were so many things that I had in my head as a personal checklist: dress, eye contact, sincerity, understanding of the job, and a drive and willingness to be there. I was thoroughly surprised with how little confidence I saw in several of the candidates. I’ve been involved with Residence Life for two years, so many of the things that I took for granted, things that I naturally expected from those I was interviewing, apparently did not seem to be so obvious to the candidates. I guess it goes to show you what experience can do to change your attitude, view, and expectations.

Overall, what I took away from this process is that presentation is everything. That doesn’t mean you have to be obnoxious and speak over others at every given point, or digress onto points that are unnecessary. Rather, be clear and concise with your ideas and don’t be afraid to speak up when prompted. Also, there’s a lot to be said with the phrase “dress for success”: your clothes reflect that you’re collected, professional, and ready for business. Even if you aren’t the most confident person in the world, just fake it ‘til you make it.

Portland State is More Than a School.

Bosc-Pear-Harvest-BinThe first university I visited during my middle school years was Portland State. I vaguely remember seeing the Smith cafeteria and the Broadway computer lab. At the time, I was curious about attending college, but by my freshman year in high school, I knew I was going to college. I had no school in mind, but I was determined to enroll with or without financial aid.

During my senior year in high school, I made a trip to Phoenix, Arizona. All of my mother’s side of the family moved there a decade ago. A cousin of mine was attending Arizona State, and she suggested that I should enroll there. I visited the enormous campus and was excited at the idea of leaving Oregon for something different. Ultimately, I chose to stay and enroll into Portland State for financial and family reasons.

I had come to the conclusion that I simply could not afford to attend Arizona State. My lack of knowledge about financial aid blurred an opportunity for me to go out of state. I had worked hard in my rigorous classes in high school and had harvested pears and cherries during the same time. However, many low-income people of color do not have access to a solid education let alone higher education.

I have been fortunate and privileged to have both. Portland State and all the institutions of higher learning are more than just a mascot, brand or colors. They are the places where we should gain knowledge, develop our skills, and empower ourselves. It has been a journey for me to mold a better life and to give back to my family and community.

Guns on Campus

We’ve all seen on TV the horrific scenes from Newton Connecticut, the shopping mall in nearby Clackamas, a Regal movie theatre in Colorado…and sadly so many more incidents of guns taking lives in senseless murders. I am a student just like you. I know when I walk the dark walkways of PSU I now think of this deadly scenario. I worry that this might occur here too. I cringe at the thought and hurry along my way.

I know that I could probably obtain a concealed weapons permit from the county where I reside that is good for all of the state. I know then I might “legally” carry this gun, this piece of hardware that is created with one real purpose, to kill. But then I also ask myself, “Is this what I really want to do or do I feel threatened and worried, that my own life may be in danger and that is what is prompting me to think about actually carrying a gun?” And when I get past this question I also ask myself, “Is this who I am? Do I let fear run my life? Do I really want to kill someone?”

"Is this you?"

“Is this you?”

For me, I am not that kind of person. I have always believed in “live and let live”. I don’t want to be the kind of person that would kill another human being because I believe my own life is in danger. I believe we are an intelligent and resourceful people. I believe there are other alternatives for me, such as fleeing, calling 911 for help, not placing myself in vulnerable situations if I can, and believing that the school I attend, PSU, has taken all the precautions it can to protect me and my fellow students in our goal of receiving an education and becoming a valuable and contributing members of society.

I realize my choice is not for everyone. But having served in the military, having been in real life and death situations, I know sometime in your life you must find out who you really are? Do we give in to the TV and media hysteria? Do we allow ourselves to be manipulated into doing something we do not believe in? Do we really have to kill to live? Is that what our society, our culture, is really about?

I do not think it is.

Image

“Or…is this you?”
You really are the one to decide.

Note: The following is the current PSU policy on carrying a gun at our school and was adopted by the Oregon Board of Higher Education on March 2, 2012.

“…forbids students, employees, individuals with a business interest with the campus (such as vendors and contractors), event attendees, those who rent or lease University property, and campus visitors from carrying a firearm on University owned or controlled property…The prohibition is effective whether or not an individual holds a concealed handgun license.”

When MAX introduced the neighbors

The MAX train.

About a week ago, my best friend and I were on the MAX riding back to Portland State. We had been in Milwaukie, and were coming back to get dinner at my place and then head to a concert that night at the Crystal Ballroom. We were excited to see Brandi Carlile live.

Sitting across from us on the MAX was a mother and two daughters. The youngest was fast asleep in her mom’s arms, but the other was busy asking questions and acting, shy as most little kids do. Eventually, she got up the courage to ask both us if we were Portland State students, since we were studying and talking about classes. We answered, and a conversation was born. The mother, my best friend and I all began talking and soon discovered that she too was a student. But more than that, she even lived in the same building as I do.

It struck me that night that we are all strangers passing each other by, and the community of Portland State is indeed wide stretching and very diverse. I think we take for granted doe faced youths as college students, and forget that we students come in all shapes and sizes and ages. So next time you are sitting on the MAX, keep in mind that maybe you are looking at your neighbor two floors down, or a future classmate. We don’t always have to be strangers on a train.