This is the sixth of a series of blog posts highlighting the ongoing work of the Documenting UO History Project within the University Archives. A major part of this project is researching and documenting the often untold and hidden histories of the university’s diverse and underrepresented communities. This year our focus will continue to highlight Black history on campus, specifically Black student activism from the 1960s to present. Prior posts can be seen here.
“It was the first time I noticed that being a black woman was going to be different here (Eugene).”
2015 Oregon graduate and Black Student Union member Anetra Brown has remained in Eugene since graduation and has stayed connected with the University of Oregon through organizations like the Black Alumni Network, a group that has helped Brown feel more at home in Eugene. Anetra came to Eugene in September of 2011 to run on the track and field team, but academics were always her primary focus. Brown was born in San Francisco and moved to Indianapolis when she was 10. Upon her arrival to Eugene, Oregon’s lack of racial diversity was glaring. Although she describes the community as friendly, Brown says the feeling of isolation was undeniable. Through a recent oral history interview with Anetra for this project, this post highlights her specific experience at the University of Oregon and explores her reasons for choosing to remain in Eugene after graduation.
Brown said, “Living in the dorms was not the best experience, because I had a hard time finding girls I could relate to. It was the first time I noticed that being a black woman was going to be different here. Even things like hair — when I straightened my hair or even not washing my hair every day – and having to explain to roommates why I did that. It was the first time in my life where I felt different. I felt like I had to explain each thing I did. Or even not trying to come off as too aggressive in fear of being portrayed as the ‘angry black girl.’”
Brown’s introduction to Eugene was unlike anything she had experienced before. Brown said, “I remember walking down 13th and just wondering, where are all the black people? And when I did see them, I would smile and wave — something I would have never done in Indianapolis or San Francisco — but here, it was acknowledgement of one another, and letting each other know we are happy to see each other, even relieved.”
Brown’s experience as a track athlete further complicated her sense of identity on campus. Brown said, “On the track at Hayward Field, I was surrounded by the sprint crew, which was predominantly black girls, and as soon as I walked across the street to my dorm room in Walton Hall, I’m the only black girl aside from my twin sister. I felt like I was in a constant balancing act between both worlds.”
The feeling of isolation Brown described is identical to the description given by black Oregon students from the 1960s. Herman Brame, a 1968 graduate, described his feelings of isolation eerily similarly, suggesting that Oregon’s longstanding issues with diversity remain alive and well.
For Brown, groups like the Black Alumni Network and the Black Student Union were not only pillars of her college experience, but they mean even more to her now.
According to Brown, “That’s the reason I’m still in Eugene now, getting connected with the Black Alumni Network. Now I feel like I have a platform to say the things that I felt like I couldn’t as a student.”
This experience inspired Brown to work with the Black Alumni Network after graduation and help black students who face the same challenges, while also working toward greater historical recognition of former black students and faculty at the University of Oregon.
To make the University of Oregon a more inclusive campus for people of color, Brown highlighted the difference between equality and equity.
Brown said, “Understanding the idea of equity and what that means, equity and equality aren’t the same thing. And really understanding that in order to be equitable, it means that you have to provide unique support so that people’s needs are met. I think so often we have this idea of equality means everyone gets the same thing and we treat everyone equally that everything will be okay. But no, because we don’t start at the same places… You have to consider what does this group, or even what does this person need?” Brown’s explanation perfectly highlights the longstanding obstacles that the University of Oregon has faced in the process of making the campus a welcome place for people of all backgrounds and origins. A challenge that has yet to be solved on campuses and community’s across the country.
Considering her future, Brown expressed reluctance to raise a family in Eugene due to the lack of racial diversity. Brown’s concern mirrors Brame’s, forty years later. Eugene might offer relative political diversity and open arms to some, but being a person of color in Eugene poses a variety of challenges. Brown said, “It has to be a more welcoming place, which will also require participation of the community. The campus is kind of like a bubble.”
Brown described our interview as a therapeutic process, realizing that this was the first time she had discussed her experience in Eugene at length. Women like Brown must have their stories told. Oral histories are incredibly beneficial for future students and faculty; vital for community members to digest.
Our next blog posts will include information on 1952 University of Oregon graduate and award winning Architect, DeNorval “De” Unthank Jr. In spring of 2017, we will share more information on Clark’s presidency, while also uncovering President’s Boyd and Olum’s tenures regarding black student activsim.
Each month new blog posts will include recent findings as part of the overall project and research. This is a very collaborative and open project so we welcome all participation and topic suggestions. This project will only be successful with a diverse community of scholars and students working together to find and document these testimonies. If you or anyone you know is interested in contributing to the process or participating in an oral history interview please contact us.
Student Research Assistant
Documenting UO History Project