What is the role of strength in grieving? Billboards and t-shirts exhort us to be “Umpqua Strong.” Many on campus embody this mantra and blaze onward…”We’re here, we’re alive, and we owe it to those who died to keep moving, to do great things.”

Yet others are still trembling, their steps not quite so sure.

I sat in on a group meeting the other day. It helped to find that I’m not the only one who feels flat, who has a dark place deep within that seems to suck all warmth from my surroundings. #UmpquaStrong? More like #UmpquaNumb.

I sense some impatience, and a lack of understanding and empathy towards those who are more tentative, who are less certain of being okay. I saw a friend today who said he was fine in the immediate aftermath, but this week cannot stop shaking. There may be more of us feeling less okay as time goes by. Grief is an odd thing, and the only certain thing is how unpredictable it is.

What message does #UmpquaStrong send to those who are feeling unsteady? For myself, rather than feeling pride and belonging, I feel shame. I feel worn out. I feel like going back home and crawling under blanket and not coming out until next June.

#UmpquaStrong is a worthwhile goal. But for some of us #UmpquaDoingTheBestWeCan is all we’ve got right now.


Playlist for Healing

Right now, I am sitting in my faculty office. The door is open to a studio, which contains a handful of students. Michael Franti’s voice is wafting through the space. It is a glorious day, of a type we are so often blessed with here in the Pacific Northwest. Deep cobalt blue sky, leaves beginning to turn. The beauty of the day seems to mock the horror of what has transpired.

The unimaginable has happened to my beautiful college campus. One colleague and eight students dead, several more students injured. An entire college and community shattered.

The angry voices spitting venom from the television–loud people, dealing with their grief as best they can. But they are speaking things that do not represent me, do not represent many of us who live here, who teach here, who still believe that a school MUST be a place where one should not have to carry a weapon in order to be safe.

There is no playbook for dealing with emotions, which swing wildly from numbness to rage to just quietly shivering because it seems that I can never get warm. A friend asked how I am doing. “I’m just holding tight and going along for the ride,” I told her.

I am not a first responder. I was not one pinned down in a building. I feel like a fraud because I am traumatized by this–how dare I feel that way? I wasn’t ever in danger, although several of my dearest friends were.

I went to my personal studio this morning and grabbed every bottle of paint I own, plus glue sticks and paper. Then I drove towards the campus. I took the old highway, and things seemed to feel almost normal, like a regular day in a second week of a term in which I am just barely beginning to learn my students’ names.

It seemed okay and it was okay until I turned onto the college property, and burst into tears at the checkpoint guarded by four sheriff’s deputies. They hovered in concern, and one said “you do not need to be here today.”

“Yes, I do,” I told him. Nothing else makes sense.

So I parked in my usual spot. Two deputies followed to check on me, and volunteered to help me lug art supplies upstairs.

I opened the studio and set up as if for a class. Piles of paper, rows of paint.

Soon a couple of students drifted in–students I don’t know. They apologized, they aren’t art students, but wondered if they could hang out. I set them to work painting–they stayed for four hours.

Others came, and as they did, I had them paint.

It was quiet, almost too quiet. I asked if they’d like some music, they nodded assent. I grabbed my phone and a speaker, and started scrolling through my music library. I flinched as one seemingly horrible musical choice after another presented itself. I could easily put together a playlist for an apocalypse…but how do you build a playlist for healing?

I selected what felt comforting to me, and hit shuffle.

So now we’re listening to the sound of sunshine. Thankfully, today, it is louder than the sound of gunshots.

–Susan Rochester, Associate Professor of Art, Umpqua Community College

Ghosts of Chernobyl, Daughters of Hanford

In 2013, I fulfilled aChernobylchair rather odd bucket-list wish: I went to Chernobyl. Ukraine had been in the grips of record-breaking snow in the days before I arrived. I and my six fellow adventurers slogged through snow that was often nearly thigh deep on my 5’2″ frame.

We carefully tested wooden floors as we moved through buildings, each room containing vignettes of life interrupted. It was in rooms like the one pictured here that I felt the presence of those who’d inhabited these spaces. I wondered about who sat in this chair and looked out that window. What hopes had sprouted here, before all of their lives changed forever?

Chernobyl is ranked in the top five of the earth’s most contaminated places. But did you realize that the most contaminated location in the Western Hemisphere is right in our own backyard? The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, located in Southeastern Washington, operated from 1943 until 1987. The plutonium produced there was used in the first nuclear bomb, detonated at the Trinity site, as well as in Fat Man, the bomb detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. Two-thirds of all of the United States’ weaponized plutonium was refined at Hanford, which is now a wasteland filled with the nastiest chemicals and radioactive waste ever invented.

So what does nuclear waste have to do with equity? Glad you asked.

The decisions to build facilities such as those at Chernobyl and Hanford often impact marginalized groups of people, whose homes are destroyed and polluted in the name of progress. Before it became Hanford, this wind-swept region was an important place for native women, who harvested roots and gathered sacred plants here.
Later, tribal members were forced to vacate their riverside villages, while families in the small towns of White Bluffs and Hanford were given 30 days to leave their homes and abandon their farms, all to preserve the mysteries of the Manhattan Project. The Ghosts of Chernobyl are quiet…but the Daughters of Hanford refuse to be silenced.

The Daughters of Hanford is a project to tell the stories of underrepresented women whose lives were changed forever by Hanford. A project of public radio correspondent Anna King, photographer Kai-Huei Yau and artist Doug Gast, Daughters will highlight underrepresented women’s perspectives of the nuclear site in twelve radio pieces and complementary portraits. Daughters includes a radio series, a multi-platform website and a geo-mapping application. The project culminates in an interactive art exhibition at The REACH in Richland, Wash., in July 2015.

You can listen in at DaughtersofHanford.

I hope their courage in speaking out can be an inspiration to all who have felt marginalized and silenced. You can make a bigger impact than you might imagine.

[author: Susan Rochester]

“That’s so ghetto!”

The roots of the word “ghetto” may reach back as far as 16th century Italy. Some scholars speculate it is a contraction from a shortened variant of the Italian words borgo and getto–Italian for, respectively, borough and foundry. Combined into borgetto, the new meaning became Italian for “little town.” There are other possible etymological sources for ghetto in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Old French, as well.

Regardless of its origin, the word ghetto survives in our present-day English, referring to inner city neighborhoods. Nearly always monocultural and ethnic, ghettos are notoriously difficult to break away from in a quest for socioeconomic improvement.

The definition for ghetto continues to evolve. The other day one of my students referred to a duct tape repair job as being “ghetto,” reflecting how the word has inched its way into our slang. Often used to describe something that has been jury-rigged or improvised, it can also mean cheap or low-class. Sadly, this specific meaning is often ascribed to those who live in the areas from which this word has been appropriated.

Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, has spent years studying the history of residential segregation in America. He spoke today on NPR’s Fresh Air, where he dispels the myth that ghettos are poor because of the people living in them. They are poor, he says, because of deliberate, racist government policies. He raises some enlightening points, and the interview is well worth your time. Click on the link below, then come back and tell us what you think.


#HowToSpotAFeminist: She’s Writing This Post.

Maybe you’ve been busy with life and have missed this week’s twitter storm. A conservative radio talk show host attempted to start a social media campaign mocking feminism…but it backfired. Here’s a brief recap, and one of the kindest, most intelligent responses. Kudos to Katherine, the author. Read her post at the link below–and follow her blog. It’s clever, witty, and thought-provoking.

#HowToSpotAFeminist: She’s Writing This Post..

Tips for talking about race

When living in a predominantly white community as we do, it can be difficult to know how to broach the subject of race. If you’re part of the dominant culture, that discussion can quickly turn to White People Awkwardly Tap Dancing Around the Subject. If you’re part of an under-represented group, it can seem like your personal experience will be viewed as being representative for all in your particular group. That’s a heavy load for everyone, and so it may seem easier to not address these issues at all.

As evidenced by news coverage of police shootings over the past few months, it’s clear we have a lot of talking to do about race in the United States. Are you uncertain of how to broach the subject? Here’s a helpful guide from the University of Missouri. Take a look at it, and let’s start the conversation. Comment here, or send us your story.


Hello There!

Welcome to the blog for Umpqua Unites, a committee dedicated to issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion at Umpqua Community College. We’ll be posting here regularly, sharing research and information about these topics. There will likely be book and film reviews, too. We want to facilitate conversations about how we can ensure there is a place and a sense of belonging for everyone here at UCC.

We need your help. Do you have a story to tell? Is there content you’d like to see? Questions you have? Let us hear from you. To share a personal story, click on Tell us your story. To ask questions or suggest content, click on Contact Us.

You can subscribe to blog updates via email–click on the link in the right hand menu. And check back often–we’ll be sure to publicize activities and events as they are scheduled.

Thank you for being here. We are all UCC!