Advocate for Social Justice

Story by Grace Pettygrove

Photos by Aaron Marineau

As one of the University of Oregon’s most industrious student activists, Rose has a unique perspective on over four years of campus and state politics. He is an advocate for diversity on a campus where the issue is often neglected, if only for lack of vocal representatives.

Within three years of moving to Eugene from Sammamish, Washington, Rose became the finance coordinator for the Associated Students of the University of Oregon.

He also became an executive producer for DuckU, a student-produced television program, joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and gave summer presentations to incoming freshman about sexual assault and dating violence through the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team.

Now in his fifth year at the university, Rose expects to graduate this June with a double major in political science and ethnic studies, with a minor in communication studies.

He has continued involvement in an overwhelming variety of extracurricular activities, including the Black Student Union, the Forensics Team (speech and debate), and the Oregon Students of Color Coalition, “a coalition of students from across the state who lobby on behalf of students of color on issues of access accessibility, recruitment and retention for higher education.”

Though Rose occasionally has time to hang out and talk politics with friends or catch a late-night indie film at the Bijou, he also holds down a job at EMU event services and has recently finished an internship with Dr. Robin Holmes, the Vice President of Student Affairs.

What issues are close to your heart right now?

I’ve been really following what Obama has been doing and engaging in this discussion… A lot of people think, “Look, we have a black president, so racism is over,” or “We have overcome,” and I’m like, “No we haven’t overcome. We’ve just made another step forward on the long road.” So I’m reminding people of all the other issues.

I’m super excited that the global gag rule got repealed today. On the local, state level, we’re coming into a new legislative session and I’m really looking at the issue of tuition equity, which would allow students whose parents are undocumented to pay in-state tuition. It’s been an important issue to me for the last three years, since I became a board member for the Oregon Students of Color Coalition.

On a campus level, making sure the new academic plan has information and resources allocated for diversity, and teaching people that diversity goes beyond just the construction of race and ethnicity. There is diversity of thought, opinions, sexual orientation, and sexuality… It’s so much more encompassing than people realize.

Have you been involved with lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) activism as well?

I have had a lot of conversations with good friends on campus about the cross section of race and sexual orientation and sexuality, especially in the black community. A couple of organizations I’m looking to work for are people like the National Black Justice Coalition, which works specifically on mapping LGBT issues into the black community and some of the barriers that happen there, as well as the Black Aids Project, which looks at homosexuality in the black community and how the stigmatization of AIDs in the black community has led to exponential numbers of black homosexuals with HIV.

What changes have you witnessed since you first came to U of O?

Certain levels of the administration are more open to talking with students then they have been in the past. We might not have a voice at the table, but at least we get to come. We’ve seen, in the last legislative cycle, a historic reinvestment in higher education—the highest we’ve seen in the last ten years. We’ve seen the departmentalization of Ethnic Studies and the student campaigns around that. When I first came here we had the famous Martin Summers Rallies, to keep professor Summers on our campus.

There were more demands that came out of that. The university listened to the student body and gave into student pressure. They’re gonna get mad at me for saying they gave in—but whatever, they caved.

We’ve seen the inception of the Queer Studies minor. We’ve seen the creation of the diversity plan. Even though they aren’t really allocating resources for diversity, at least they’re talking about it.

A lot of the legwork has already been done by past generations. Since I’ve come to campus we’ve been able to capitalize on that and raise the level of accountability surrounding issues of race, ethnicity, and diversity on campus.

What would you like to see change?

I would love to see the diversity plan have more teeth, so to speak, and have more resources allocated to it, and for the concept of diversity to be expanded beyond the colloquial thoughts of race and ethnicity. Diversity is so much more than that. There is a student union for differently-abled students. There are a couple buildings on this campus that are completely inaccessible to differently-abled students, and I would like to see the university take proactive steps to change that.

I would love to see the legacy of student activism that U of O is known for. We are a model for student activism and student government, and that needs to continue into the future.

Could you tell me more about the diversity plan?

Every academic program on campus has a different plan on how they are going to increase the level of diversity in ideas, thoughts, and individuals throughout their unit, whether it be through recruitment and retention, course offerings, or different programming.

Housing, for example, has the “Count Me In” program. It’s basically a model for how the university should become more diverse in the way we educate students, and retain a variety and critical mass of students.

Currently there are not enough resources allocated to the plan. So even though they are saying “new programming is good,” if there aren’t enough allocated resources, it is hard to make sure that these programs get institutionalized.

A lot of the plan is really vague. What does diversity mean? How do we create benchmarks for diversity? There are no repercussions for not meeting the current benchmarks.

We have this cool thing, but it’s like, are [university officials] just paying lip service, or is this tangible change?

I’d say that we are on the steps to tangible change.

But are we where we need to be? No. The biggest indication of that is where we allocate development dollars. They’re building a new basketball arena when clearly we need more academic units, or, you know, housing.

When people donate money sometimes they donate to really specific things—like a new basketball arena—that they can get their name on.

But it’s all about how they market. If you always say, “Look at our athletics,” people will give money to athletics. When we say, “Look at what our students are doing; look at the cool things you are enabling them to do,” it attracts a different market.

We got 17 million dollars for the sciences from [Lorry] Lokey last year. It’s the largest academic donation we’ve ever gotten. The Holden Leadership Center was able to get funding for leadership programming because of the work that students do. You can get those donations, but you have to approach donors a different way.

What is the most challenging aspect of activism on this campus?

Rallying the base. A lot of students on this campus are, I wouldn’t say apathetic, but uninformed on some of the issues. It’s hard for them to see how things directly affect them. We’ll tell students, “You need to come to the capital with us, and they’ll say, “Well, I’m just missing time from school.” They don’t see the direct translation of the work that gets done on their behalf or the work that they can be a part of.

You have to rally the base to get anyone out there besides the usual suspects. But when it does happen, it is truly a special moment—like when we had the big voter registration campaign, or when we have students come to rallies for higher education.

Say you’re giving advice to a student who has never been involved in anything. What is the first step they should take to get more involved?

The first step is: Find what you are passionate about; it’s all about what resonates with you, and what is important to you. And then find who on campus is also looking at that. I promise you that in a campus of 20,000 individuals, there is someone out there who is doing similar work, if not the same. Be proactive: seek out the resources you need to go farther.

There is a lot of untapped potential on this campus, and you just have to dive right in. But I would also say: know your own limitations. It doesn’t help for you to go all in and then get burnt out.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

I’d like to go into some sort of social justice work. I’m also looking at taking a job with the state department as a foreign services officer.

But ideally I would like to get into social justice—high-profile lobbying and maybe even political consulting.