January 28, 2012 - 5:03 PM
Wednesday night this week I attended a training to become a volunteer with Oregon Assistance Dogs. Eventually I will become a service dog puppy sitter and activity volunteer!
My motivations are twofold: first, I support service dogs and my friends and peers with disabilities and want to volunteer with an organization run by people with disabilities, for people with disabilities. My second motivation is not as noble. I LOVE dogs and have been dying for a chance to have more dog time. So here it is.
Obviously my life is too chaotic to take on puppy raising or to learn to be a real trainer. But I can puppy sit (and my two friends who are currently foster caring for two puppies in addition to their own service dogs truly need a sitter) and I can help with activities. My hope is to spend at least one long afternoon each month helping out, one way or another. Puppy sitting and puppy outings are a commitment I could undertake.
Every month the group of puppies goes on a field trip to learn how to deal with some new challenge or environment. Last month they went to Market of Choice to learn how to deal with overstimulation and not chewing through ground-level food packaging. The month before they went to the firehouse to learn that scary-looking suits and loud noises might be a good thing, not a threat.
I so want to be part of this.
My friends Melissa and Leslie conducted the training. These two powerful women have been friends of mine for more than three years now, since Leslie first walked into a Comparative Literature class with her gorgeous guide dog, Cammy (who has since retired). I fell in love with Cammy in that instant, and rapidly came to hold enormous respect for their work together. Once I met Melissa and started hanging out with "The Pack" (since two people and two dogs can be quite a crowd), I came to appreciate leadership skills, humor, and keen intelligence Leslie and Melissa bring to any activity.
So now I'm on the training end of their work. Knowing Melissa and Leslie as well as I do, I know their primary goals are a quality partnership between dogs and their owners, and to serve the needs of the individual clients well. I have loved watching the bond between them and their own service dogs, and can't wait to see them in action and to learn to do some of the work myself.
Here's the description of the organization:
"What sets us apart from most other programs is not only do we raise and train carefully selected dogs placing them as fully trained service dogs with people with disabilities; we also offer a comprehensive two-year training program for clients who wish to be directly involved in the raising and training process of their future service dog."
So there it is: a good cause, and puppies. Sign me up. A little puppy therapy might be just what I need for these next few months.
(PS if you want to get involved or make a donation, you can find their website here: http://www.oregonassistancedogs.org/ There are puppy pictures!)
January 24, 2012 - 9:05 PM
I've just gotten home from the Lane County Leaders Assembly, and I feel so inspired and enthusiastic about this work! Four hundred and fifty members of churches, schools, the UO, LCC, community organizations, Labor, and public servants showed up to support the rights of Latino immigrants in our community. We heard the stories of people's struggles, and collectively called for specific changes in funding and legal code which would better support these vulnerable members of our community.
It was a beautiful event.
Two stories were of particular note. The first, Teresa, has lived in Eugene for more than fifteen years, and has worked for all those years as a nanny and a housecleaner, and now employs five other women in cleaning houses. She lost her driver's license three years ago when the law changed and there is now no option for licenses if you do not have a social security number. She spoke to this as an emotional trauma as she has had to abandon the causes she used to support (delivering food boxes to the hungry, driving River Road Elementary school children to dental appointments, and serving as a committee member in her church) as well as the logistical and legal problems this has caused her.
Then Carmen spoke in support of Centro Latino Americano, which is the largest service center for Latinos in Lane County. Centro was largely de-funded this year, which will mean cutting the number of Latinos served from 2,000 per year to only 600. Most of these families will not have a viable alternative source for services, English classes, and other linguistically and culturally appropriate resources in our county. Carmen spoke about losing her children to the Department of Human Services, including losing her infant daughter to DHS three days after giving birth, when they were both still in the hospital. Centro helped her stabilize her living situation and then address her legal rights to parenting, and now her family is together again.
I spoke at the end of the event, together with Pastor Melanie Oommen from First Congregational United Church of Christ. We offered next steps, and asked the audience to take action, offer educated opinions, and to vote with a mind to the stories they had heard this evening.
My part was simple: I told everyone that I didn't know how to "fix immigration," but only how to recognize small pieces of injustice. I told them "the small fixes we can offer with our votes or our lobbying calls seem insignificant in the face of the complexity of immigration, but they would mean the world to the speakers we have heard tonight."
I also told the audience that I felt called. I meant this sincerely, and in the religious sense which was present in many of the speakers' stories and the context of that church as the event space. I feel a calling to this issue. I asked that we work as neighbors in answer to tonight's call.
I feel an enormous sense of hope, sitting back at home and reading the emails from folks who attended. We were present, we were powerful. We shared the stories so often unheard. I don't know what will happen this upcoming electoral session. I don't know if we've succeeded with a grand vision of change. But I feel different. I have that sense that I am part of a community which cares for its neighbors.
And that is the best possible outcome: that we care for the suffering of the Other in our midst. That we come together to take action against injustice. That is what we did tonight.
Y ahora seguimos adelante: now we most continue on.
January 21, 2012 - 8:12 PM
Usually I know exactly how I'll write my blogs. This time I'm a little nervous about telling this story without sounding conceited or too self-congratulatory. So let me just preface this by saying I want to write this blog, but I'm not sure how it'll turn out. I'm feeling a bit shy.
The Honors College, Law School, and Office of the President held a reception in honor of my Mitchell Scholarship success on Thursday evening. There was a celebration of a UO student succeeding in an honored scholarship like this, and various people spoke to my career as a student here. David Frank, Honors College Dean, spoke of my commitment to social justice and my work with Inside-Out, the Serbu Book Club, and my work with Sister Helen. My undergraduate thesis advisors, Louise Bishop and Steve Shankman, spoke of my academic work, my curiosity, and my dedication to scholarship. And then UO President Bob Berdahl spoke about the importance of these distinguished scholarships, and how excited the campus was to be sending me off to Ireland next year.
Then I had a chance to speak just a few of my thank-yous and express my gratitude to those people who have helped me most in my time at the University of Oregon. I could have spoken for hours, but I did mention the key folks in those few minutes: David Frank, Shaul Cohen, Louise Bishop, Steve Shankman, and Warren Light.
As embarrassing as it was to have the spotlight that way, it was also enormously flattering and humbling to be celebrated and honored by all these amazing people who have made my success possible.
There was almost an hour of mingling and chatting as well. The CRES program was present in force, and I appreciate their support and their pride in me. I was particularly honored that the administrative folks from CRES came, as did the office staff in the Honors College. Some of my favorite people on campus are the administrative staff people, who deserve the real credit for making the university run. In any event, I was honored to have both Michael Moffitt, Dean of the Law School, and Kata Bahnsen-Reinhardt, the person who has been responsible for CRES logistics for my time in the Master's program.
In addition to mingling, there was a cake. With my name on it. Sheesh.
I'm having a hard time expressing the mix of emotions I've felt through this. I am thrilled that the University feels so proud of my scholarship, and that I am launching into next year in the name of the UO, as well as in my own right. I suppose the disconnect arrives since I hadn't really expected the attention, and it makes me feel a bit embarrassed. Especially the cake, for some reason.
But here is a point of pride, and an enormous gift I was given on Thursday. There is a new "Honor Wall" which has been installed in Johnson Hall, celebrating the distinguished scholars who have received Rhodes, Marshall, and now Mitchell Scholarships. So there is now a permanent plaque in the entryway of the President's Office with my name and picture on it.
Now in fact as well as feeling, I've become a permanent part of this place.
January 19, 2012 - 4:41 PM
Each year, the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity select members of the University of Oregon community to honor with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award. The stated qualifications for this award are:
• Demonstrating moral courage, adherence to principles of non-violence, and dedication to the ideal of social harmony in our society;
• Promoting diversity, social justice and equity on the University of Oregon campus;
• Welcoming all people into the university community by embodying the humanitarian spirit exemplified in Dr. King's life and work, and setting a caring example by building morale and showing compassion towards others amidst the realities of our complicated bureaucracy.
• Working diligently through a commitment to cultural diversity and the promotion of cultural awareness to reduce the broad spectrum of social tensions on campus;
• Engaging in diversity, social justice and service work above and beyond normal job expectations thus impacting the university community and beyond.
This year, Professor Shaul Cohen, my thesis advisor and one of the professors I work with in Inside-Out, was honored with this award.
The award ceremony was held on Thursday afternoon, and involved not only excerpts from the nomination letters, but also a time for the awardees to speak to their sources of inspiration and their motivation in social justice work in our community. The event felt like the celebration it was: that there are members of our UO student body, faculty, and staff who go far above and beyond the expectations of their job descriptions in order to work for justice and equality on our campus.
Here is the list of awardees:
• Donella-Elizabeth Alston, Administrative Program Assistant, Department of Ethnic Studies
• Tayah Lin Butler, Academic Advisor, Building Business Leaders Project, Lundquist College of Business
• Shaul Cohen, Associate Professor, Department of Geography
• Reagan Le, Academic Advisor, Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence, formerly, Office of Multicultural Academic Success
• Dominick Vetri, Professor, Law School
Professor Cohen is the only one of the nominees I have been lucky enough to encounter during my years on campus. But I have witnessed his moral courage and dedication to social justice through his work with Inside-Out, his leadership in the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs, and his dedication to helping his students achieve to their highest potential. As became clear on Thursday, it is possible to work for justice in both large ways and in simple but effective advocacy and encouragement of students. He has offered an enormous degree of compassion, enthusiasm, and wisdom in encouraging my academic and activist career. I also can say with absolute certainty that I would not have received the Mitchell Scholarship without his guidance and encouragement.
The final qualification for the scholarship is "Engaging in diversity, social justice and service work above and beyond normal job expectations thus impacting the university community and beyond." I think this is particularly important on our campus. Academia at its best is constantly engaging with the ‘real world' and seeking to use the wisdom and opportunities of a university setting to somehow address the problems and pains of our true global community. But so often we forget, and live within our own little community on campus, focusing inward rather than outward.
Shaul Cohen has modeled an outward-focused academic career, and a dedication to live what he studies. I am honored to know him, and thrilled to celebrate him as an Martin Luther King, Jr. Awardee.
January 15, 2012 - 1:42 PM
On Tuesday, January 24th a diverse group of community members will come together for a gathering in support of the immigrants living in Lane County, at the second annual Lane County Leader's Assembly. The event is led by Causa, the leading organization supporting immigrants' rights in Oregon. The January 24th event will feature speakers and information about two critical issues in our community today: access to driver's licenses and the need for social services in this community.
Information can be found here: http://causaoregon.blogspot.com/2012/01/leaders-assembly-in-eugene-on-january.html
I attended the first Assembly last year (blog entry found here: http://isupportuoregon.org/my_duckstory/blog/katie_d/latino_rights_lane_county_leaders_assembly) This was one of the best Eugene events I have attended in my five years here, whether on campus or in the city at large. Over 800 people crowded into the church: folks from a wide variety of backgrounds, faiths, ideology, and life experiences. We included high school students and retired clergy members. The crowd was bilingual, so the speeches were translated in both English and Spanish. And several elected officials from Eugene, Springfield, and Lane County were present to add their support and to hear the community speak out in support of the immigrant members of our churches, work places, campuses, and friendships.
It was beautiful: it made the sometimes-overlooked and invisible members of our community the center of our collective attention. It made visible the artificial barriers and challenges faced by the Latino community, and the small-scale changes that might be confronted by a legislative session in Salem which could make sweeping differences in the lives of these neighbors.
Since last year's event was so inspiring, I volunteered to work on this year's Assembly.
We will have several speakers from the Latino immigrant community, as well as hearing from clergy people, elected officials, and activists. There will be music and celebrating: last year's event was both intense and joyful. I will be speaking at the event, and adding to the closing time with a "Next Steps" recommendation for those interested in providing further support.
This work has been part of my internship for CRES this year. It has been difficult at times, and has been a complicated and inspiring task to shoulder. But I feel so inspired by the energy present with various local churches, NGOs, and the response we've had from elected officials. What we hear from them is that they want to be pushed. They want to take a moral stand and support the lives and livelihoods for our neighbors who are recent transplants to Lane County (or those who have been here for fifteen or twenty years, but are undocumented) and they need our collective support to do so. They need to be pushed. And so do we: we need to stand up for laws made in our names.
So please join me on January 24th at 6:00 pm at First United Methodist Church on 13th and Olive Street. Come be a member of this movement. Hear people's stories, and add your voice. Or come to witness. Sometimes our presence is an enormous gift we can lend to a cause.
I hope to see you there!