Latest news from the UO

  • COVID-19 has hit farmworkers especially hard, UO studies show

    This article was first published in Around the O on August 30, 2021.   A new UO study, which was recently shared with the U.S. secretary of labor, shows that COVID-19 has caused long-term economic, social, physical and mental health challenges for farmworkers in Oregon. Professor Lynn Stephen, a Philip H. Knight Chair in anthropology and Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences, helped lead the study and, specifically, the examination of farmworkers' mental health. She brought it to the attention of Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh when he visited with UO faculty experts and university leaders about farmworkers and their employment conditions. "The opportunity to meet with U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh was an amazing opportunity,” Stephen said. “Our study has focused not only on research findings, but also on concrete recommendations and strategies to alleviate the problems we documented.” The Oregon COVID-19 Farmworker Study highlighted the final findings from a survey of 300 Oregon farmworkers and offered policy recommendations to help address the harm the virus has caused farmworkers and their families. The effort was the first statewide assessment of how COVID-19 has affected Oregon farmworkers. The study was conducted by the UO and other institutions and organizations across the region. “The state’s farmworker population, a majority of whom are Latino or Indigenous peoples from Mexico and Guatemala, experienced disproportionately higher rates of COVID-19 infections than people from other ethnic and racial backgrounds and labor sectors,” the group wrote in a press release. “Many face economic, social, physical and mental health challenges without adequate safety nets and protections. Recovering from the pandemic requires immediate and deliberate attention to farmworkers’ safety and well-being at work and home.” The survey showed that farmworkers struggled with mental health challenges triggered by things like the loss of income, inability to pay bills, disruption of the financial help they send to relatives in their home communities, and difficulties providing education to children at home during the pandemic. Many farmworkers reported symptoms related to anxiety, stress and depression, but the majority of respondents also reported that they have no access to mental health treatment. “Sadly, 91 percent have no access to mental health services,” Stephen said. “All of this is borne on the backs of people who are putting food on our tables.” UO linguist Gabriela Perez Baez and graduate student Tim Herrara also contributed to the study. The large community of Indigenous farmworkers reported that they had to deal with language barriers in accessing things like COVID-19 safety information and schooling materials for their families as most things were only available in English and Spanish. Farmworkers in Oregon speak more than 20 Indigenous languages. The survey also highlighted the lack of adequate safety measures or conditions to control farmworkers’ risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, especially in the workplace. Despite being well-informed about COVID-19 and doing their best to control conditions at home, workers reported that employer demands made it difficult to practice social distancing and other safety measures while at work. Farmworkers also faced many barriers to testing and quarantining due to crowded living quarters and fear of losing income and work. The estimated 174,000 farmworkers in Oregon have seen disproportionate infection rates, the report says. Latinx farmworkers have accounted for approximately 24.2 percent of COVID-19 cases in Oregon, despite representing only 13 percent of the population. And the Oregon Health Authority has regularly reported agricultural worksites and food packing facilities with higher rates of infection and places more vulnerable to spread of the virus. The group of 11 organizations offered 14 policy recommendations to help farmworkers and their families.The list also aims to address the longstanding disparities that existed long before the pandemic and were exacerbated as it progressed. The recommendations include initiatives like culturally informed mental health support, financial help for child care, income support available to workers in the country legally or illegally, stronger safety regulations in workplaces and more communication about vaccines and testing in Indigenous languages. “We exchanged ideas with Secretary Walsh on reforming immigration policy to bring relief to the undocumented farmworker population and others, improving working conditions, extending COVID-19 worker safety rules and establishing permanent smoke and heat regulations for farmworkers, expanding overtime pay for farmworkers, providing information and access to services for farmworkers in the 26 Indigenous Mesoamerican languages they speak in Oregon, and working to build stronger protections for workers,” Stephen said. “The ability to share our study results at such a high level was inspiring, and I look forward to continued exchanges with Secretary Walsh.” In another related study, a UO sociology doctoral candidate conducted similar research in rural Washington, looking into the experience of immigrant and refugee food processing workers during the pandemic. Lola Loustaunau conducted 40 in-depth interviews with workers in Eastern Washington, which has many food processing facilities and cases of COVID-19, and analyzed news from agencies and the media to examine the issue. Loustaunau found that the workers also faced myriad challenges introduced or exacerbated by the pandemic. Their working conditions made it difficult to practice physical distancing and they had limited access to personal protective equipment and other safety measures. They also faced language barriers to information about benefits and assistance and felt pressured to continue working, even if they had symptoms or had a sick family member at home. And, like farmworkers in Oregon, they have not had access to affordable mental health care to help them cope with the added stress and mental toll of the pandemic.

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  • See a legislator, say thank you

    This letter to the editor was first published in The Register Guard on August 18, 2021.  I was glad to see The R-G’s coverage of the town hall with state legislators at Alton Baker Park. I attended the event to hear from lawmakers about the recent legislative session and thank them for their work to support our community, including the University of Oregon.  What I witnessed was a disheartening display of how frayed our democracy is. As a retired teacher and someone who believes in our civic institutions, I fully support debate and civic dialogue. What I saw was a sad testament of how disjointed our politics are. People may disagree with legislators’ decisions but should do so in a civic way. Sadly, as a result of this discourse I wasn’t able to thank Eugene area lawmakers for supporting the UO this session.  As a retired music teacher and graduate of the UO’s School of Music and Dance, I often attend student performances and enjoy the rich cultural experiences that the UO affords our community. It’s hard to imagine what Eugene and Springfield would be like without it.  Like all educational institutions, the pandemic hit UO hard, but legislators stepped up to provide funding and support students. If you see your legislator, tell them thank you.  David Hattenhauer, Eugene

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  • Labor Secretary Walsh holds farmworkers roundtable in Oregon

    This article was first published in KOIN 6 on August 10th. Video from the visit is available here.  EUGENE, Ore. (KOIN) — For the third time in less than a month, a member of President Biden’s cabinet is in Oregon to promote the administration’s infrastructure and jobs plan. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh joined Rep. Peter DeFazio, the head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, at various stops through the day. His day began with DeFazio at 9:45 a.m. when they toured the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290 in Springfield. Then at 11:30 a.m., they took part in a farmworkers roundtable at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene. Walsh, alongside University of Oregon President Michael Schill, listened to concerns about the thousands of farmworkers who are in the field during the recent heat wave and wildfires. They want protections in place to protect the people who put food on our table from pathways to citizenship to better pay, especially when working in hazardous conditions. Walsh said he hears similar concerns from farmworkers around the country. He also told KOIN 6 News the Biden Administration is working on heat safety rules for farmworkers. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown put new rules in place after an immigrant farmworker died in the record heat wave in late June. Among the new rules is a requirement employers provide cool water, shade and regular breaks. Walsh was scheduled to take part in a care economy roundtable at the State Library of Oregon in Salem with Gov. Brown at 2 p.m. However, that meeting was canceled by 11 a.m.

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  • Southern Oregon's first ALERTWildfire camera will allow public to access live feed

    This article was first published on KTVL-TV on August 10th. Cave Junction, ORE. — After more than two years of planning, Southern Oregon’s first ALERTWildfire camera has been installed in Cave Junction. The camera will allow the public direct access to its live feed to help monitor fire activity in the Illinois Valley. The fire detection camera was installed Tuesday. The Rogue Valley Council of Governments purchased the camera to increase the communities emergency preparedness. “We have a serious fire risk in heavily populated areas, the more information we can give the public, the better off we all are,” Michael Cavallaro, the former director for the Rogue Valley Council of Governments said. The technology allows the public to view any fire activity in their area and can be used during the day and night. The camera is the first to be installed in the region but there are more than 800 throughout the nation, with most of them being in California. Cavallaro, who began the process of bringing the cameras to the region more than two years ago, said the project hit home for home and it was vital for him to make it a reality. “I have had to evacuate my home in Central Point, twice in the last three years because of fires, and I know how frustrating it is for a member of the public to not have access to current information about what size of the fire, where is it, how it's moving, should I evacuate or not,” Cavallaro explained. He said the camera was installed after the agency partnered with the Oregon Hazards Lab at the University of Oregon. Professor Douglas Toomey, the director of the lab explained how vital the tool is for residents in the area after the 2020 Fall wildfires devastated the region. “As your communities know all too well, alerts to the public are very difficult, and one of the aspects to this public-facing camera system is that if you have an internet connection, or a cell phone, a smartphone, you can see what on the cameras you can see in real-time what’s happening in your region," Toomey said. The camera’s live feed is free of charge to residents, but Ann Marie Alfrey, the current executive director of Rogue Valley Council of Governments explained that the cost of the system is far from it. “There is an ongoing cost of $13,500 per year to keep the cameras running," Alfrey said. “We are going to try and partner with some private entities out there to keep these cameras up and going.” She said the first camera was able to be installed after Jean Ann Miles, the city council president for the City of Cave Junction, reached out to a local resident for help. Miles said she spoke with Cameron Camp, the owner of Illinois Valley Data Center who owns a cell tower in the city. “Public-private partnerships make all the difference in the world for our citizens to be better prepared,” Miles said. Camp said it is his honor to help his community by providing another vital emergency resource. “We are starting something here today, that you’re going to be able to look at in the coming weeks, it’s going to really help provide a sense of security that people are doing something and we're not just going to let it burn," Camp said. “You’d be surprised what you could do if work together with the right people and you don’t have to have a lot of money to get it done.” The live feed from the Cave Junction ALERTWildfire camera is expected to begin broadcasting by the end of the week. Alfrey said that the Rogue Valley Council of Governments also purchased another two cameras which she hopes to have installed in the coming months. She added that they are hoping to place one of the cameras on Roxy Ann Peak and another in the White City region. She said anyone interested in partnering with the agency to help place the future cameras should contact her directly.

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  • UO joins White House COVID Campus Vaccine Challenge

    First published in Around the O on August 3, 2021. In a continued effort to combat the pandemic and maintain safety protocols for the campus community, the University of Oregon has joined the White House COVID-19 Campus Vaccine Challenge. The UO joins more than 800 universities across the nation striving to vaccinate all students, faculty members and staff by the beginning of fall term. As of July 28, nearly 68 percent of Lane County residents have received the vaccination. The university’s participation in the White House COVID-19 Campus Vaccine Challenge is a continuation of collaborative efforts to reduce the virus and protect the campus community. Last spring, the campus launched the #CrushCovidChallenge, encouraging students to compete for prizes by completing online challenges that focused on COVID-19 related information and safe practices, and informing others of specific ways they were adhering to COVID-19 guidelines. The UO is one of 13 Oregon universities that have committed to take the White House COVID-19 Campus Vaccine Challenge by engaging every student and faculty and staff member; organizing efforts to vaccinate the campus community; and delivering vaccine access to all. With the announcement by UO President Michael H. Schill that all in-person classes and activities will resume for fall, the university continues to implement public health guidelines to make sure that the campus community is safe and prepared for fall term. As announced in May, all faculty members, staff and students are required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or request an exemption before fall term. The deadline to receive a final vaccination shot before fall term is Monday, Sept. 13. “Requiring vaccinations is critical for public health,” Schill said in announcing the vaccination requirement. “It will help us to reach the highest level of protection possible, reduce infections, limit many of the disruptions of COVID-19, and safeguard the community we live in. It will also allow our campus community to return to the in-person and on-campus experience that is the cornerstone of academic success, student experience, and research innovation.” Free COVID-19 testing continues to be available for all asymptomatic UO employees and students, as well as the Lane County community, and vaccinations are now widely available. The state provides information about how to find a vaccine. Walk-ins are now welcome at Lane County Public Health clinics, but appointments are still encouraged. “Faculty and staff are required to complete the employee COVID-19 vaccine requirement process and upload their information,” said Deb Beck, executive director of University Health Services. “Students seeking an exemption or wanting to upload vaccination records should visit the University Health Services website and log into the myUOHealth portal to be included in state and university reporting, by no later than Sept. 13.” The UO campus community can join the White House Covid Campus Vaccine Challenge in two ways: by uploading their vaccination status on the University Health Services site, or by encouraging others to do the same through sharing on social media and using the hashtags #WeCanDoThis and #COVIDCollegeChallenge. Each week, those uploading their vaccination status or sharing the hashtags will be entered into drawings to win $50 in Duck Bucks. The sooner students upload their vaccine status, the more chances to win. To be eligible, students must upload their vaccination records or exemption to the myUOHealth portal by Sept. 12. The last drawing for Duck Bucks will take place Sept.13. “The safety and well-being of the UO community is our No. 1 priority,” said Kris Winter, associate vice president for student life. “We must all come together in an effort to end this pandemic and allow students to return to a healthy and vibrant environment that fosters student success. Getting vaccinated will ensure that happens as soon as possible.” To learn more, visit the White House COVID Campus Vaccine Challenge website.

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  • UO prof testifies before subcommittee on environmental justice

    First published in Around the O on July 26. UO geography and ethnic studies professor Laura Pulido, who holds the Collins Chair, testified before a congressional subcommittee July 22, offering members an overview of issues exacerbating environmental justice issues in the United States. Pulido, who has studied environmental justice for more than 30 years, provided members of the Subcommittee of Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversite, chaired by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, with an update of some of the key issues. Those include the cumulative effect of pollutants on particular neighborhoods, climate change and rising heat, and access to clean water. This was subcommittee’s first hearing since environmental justice was officially added to its name. “Environmental justice refers to the fact that people of color and low-income populations in both urban and rural areas are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards,” Pulido testified. “Environmental justice is also the name of the movement that has arisen to challenge such injustices.” According to a statement from Merkley’s office, the hearing topics emphasized the need to address discriminatory processes that make it especially difficult for communities of color to access federal resources needed to recover from catastrophic storms and fires. It also addressed the importance of responding to needs voiced by environmental justice communities; the need to enforce existing laws and regulations pertaining to clean air, water and soil; and how to best ensure that cleanup funding and resources reach tribal communities, among others. “As climate chaos continues to ravage our country and our planet—from the 80 fires burning across 13 states, including the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, to more frequent, powerful, and destructive storms and flooding—we must recognize and address the fact that the worst consequences of this crisis disproportionately fall on communities of color and others with the fewest resources for adapting or recovering,” Merkley said in the statement. “I’m grateful that we are finally engaging in a long-overdue national conversation about environmental justice and the well-being of all of our communities, and am fully committed to doing everything I can as the Chair of this Subcommittee to ensure that action follows."

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  • Oregon colleges, universities to get basic needs coordinators under new law

    This article first appeared in The Register Guard on July 16, 2021.  When a college student is trying to study for a test, or working toward groundbreaking research, the last thing that should be on their mind is whether they have enough money to eat that day or if they will have somewhere safe to sleep.  Many students struggle with access to housing, food and other basic needs, things that can make or break someone's ability to attend and finish college.  "When your basic needs are unmet, it really takes a lot of energy and it has physiological and psychological impacts that make being a successful student extremely difficult," said Miguel Arellano, the basic needs navigator at Oregon State University. "I see students who after they meet with me, say ‘I don't know if I would be in college without this meeting.’" Arellano's position, created three years ago, is the first and only one of its kind in the state. Now, every college and university in Oregon will be required to have someone like Arellano on its staff. Lawmakers devoted nearly $5 million to hiring "benefits navigators" to help students get connected with public assistance programs, find housing or access technology for schoolwork with House Bill 2835, which was passed this session. "I see students setting up meetings with me because they're in financial crisis, or they're food-insecure or they’re homeless," Arellano said. "So being able to walk them through the steps of how to meet their basic needs … really alleviates a lot of the stress, and it’s just a big relief for students.  "That relief allows them to focus their energy on being a successful student." Oregon does not have a coordinated way to track the number of college students who are experiencing homelessness, KLCC reported in May. Higher Education Coordinating Commission spokesperson Endi Hartigan confirmed this remains the case. However, the need is still noticeable. A 2019 survey of 14 of Oregon's 17 community colleges found students are affected by these problems, though. The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justicefound that out of 8,100 community college students 52% were housing insecure in the previous year, 20% were homeless in the previous year, and 41% were food insecure in the prior 30 days. This doesn't include those enrolled at the state's seven public universities. Also, according to federal point-in-time data, just more than 14,600 people were homeless in January 2020 and the issue has likely been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In his first two years, Arellano helped 568 students, holding just more than 800 meetings. "It really translates to helping students navigate red tape policies, eligibility criteria for community, state and federal resources," he said, "In my time here, I've helped students access over $1 million in state and federal resources such as SNAP." The position also helps with college-specific needs such as financial aid and grants and access to course materials.  The newly passed bill appropriated $4,999,150 out of the state's General Fund to HECC for more benefits coordinators. HECC then will distribute this money to the state's community colleges and public universities. "… There was a process by proponents of the bill with institutions to determine college and university specific amounts, which the HECC will use," Hartigan said. "The institution funding is intended to pay the salary and benefits of a staff person at each institution. There is also some funding included to support the coordination of an inter-institutional consortia." The bill requires institutions to employ and train a navigator and participate in a consortia with other higher education institutions to develop best practices, she said. The schools also have to provide "culturally specific resources" and make a way for students to give feedback on the process so it can improve. The University of Oregon advocated strongly for the bill, said UO spokesperson Kay Jarvis, and is already in the process of hiring. "The Office of the Dean of Students is in the process of hiring a food-security coordinator and a basic needs coordinator, both of whom should be in place by fall term," she asid. "Staff are currently looking at the details of the new legislation to understand requirements, potential funding from the state, and how that may support these new positions."

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  • Guest Column: Support investments to fight wildfire and understand climate change

    This article first appeared in The Bend Bulletin on July 14, 2021. Written by Hank Skade. With wildfires in Central Oregon already prompting evacuations, I’m glad Oregon policymakers have made critical investments in funding for science and our public institutions of higher education. Oregon’s public universities do more than just prepare the next generation of Oregon’s leaders — they are researching human-caused climate change and what we should do about it. I am a proud graduate of the University of Oregon, where I received a Bachelor of Science and did graduate work in environmental studies. At the UO, researchers in the social, natural, and physical sciences study many aspects of climate change, including how it increases the number of wildfires, affects indigenous and rural communities, and changes the ecology of grasslands. In addition, UO’s Oregon Hazard Lab operates Oregon’s portion of the Alert Wildfire system, which provides state-of-the art pan-tilt-zoom fire cameras to help firefighters and first responders discover and locate fires quickly and help evacuations through enhanced situational awareness via a publicly accessible website. That’s why it’s more important than ever that our state and federal government make significant investments in our public universities. As a former board member of environmental organizations in San Francisco and Alaska, and a member of the American Sustainable Business Council, Sustainable Land Development International, and the California Association of Winegrape Growers, I am acutely aware of the impacts of the climate crisis on businesses and entire industries, including the wine industry. It is critical that universities have the funding they need to continue research to address the crisis and mitigate connected hazards, such as raised temperatures and longer, more dangerous wildfire seasons. During the past legislative session, Oregon legislators, including our own Sen. Tim Knopp and Rep. Jason Kropf (a fellow Oregon Duck), funded the Public University Support Fund at the higher education community’s request of $900 million. This funding will allow universities like my alma mater and our local Oregon State University to continue doing groundbreaking research to keep our communities safe and our industries thriving. I hope we will see state lawmakers continue to prioritize these investments. Our future depends on it. Additionally, I was pleased to see the entire Oregon House congressional delegation, including our congressman, Cliff Bentz, vote to pass the National Science Foundation for the Future Act. The National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent federal agency dedicated to promoting the progress of science, has an important partnership with Oregon’s three largest universities — UO, OSU, and Portland State University — and provided a total of $118.8 million in awards in Oregon last year. The NSF’s partnership with universities has led to incredible discoveries, like the internet and mRNA vaccines. This same partnership is fueling much of the research around climate change and wildfire science. Additionally, the NSF invested $7.4 million in Oregon startups through the agency’s small business program. As an entrepreneur, I know how important these investments can be to Oregon’s small tech companies. The National Science Foundation for the Future Act will allow Oregon’s research universities and small businesses to continue creating knowledge to address climate change and help our state and industries become more resilient. This summer, if you see our congressman or local legislators, make sure to thank them for supporting investments in science and higher education. Our ability to understand and mitigate the effects of climate change is key to the success of our state’s industries and the health and well-being of Oregonians. And as our neighbors leave their belongings behind, evacuating from yet another wildfire, this research is more pressing than ever.  

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  • #DoublePell campaign launched by APLU

    On June 13 higher education organizations launched #DoublePell, a new national campaign to double the maximum Pell Grant award. The campaign is aimed at encouraging current and future Pell Grant recipients and others to speak out and contact members of Congress to encourage their support of doubling the maximum Pell Grant to $13,000. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is coordinating the effort, which includes many higher education association partners, including the American Council on Education (ACE), the Association of American Universities (AAU), NASPA (an association of student affairs administrators in higher education), and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The coalition, known as the Double Pell Alliance, is advocating for doubling the maximum Pell Grant by the 50th anniversary of the creation of the program in June 2022. The campaign features a new website, doublepell.org, that provides students and families with tools to communicate with Congress in support of doubling Pell, engage on social media, and share personal stories about how the Pell Grant has helped them. The  #DoublePell Background and Fast Facts About Doubling the Maximum Pell Grant handout provides talking points and statistics about the Pell Grant. Pell Grants help nearly 7 million low-and moderate-income students attend and complete college annually. That is 40 percent of undergraduates at U.S. colleges and universities.  Students from all 50 states and all corners of the country rely on the Pell Grant program to pursue their college aspirations and achieve a brighter future. Nearly 70 percent of Pell Grant dollars go to students with a family income below $30,000 and nearly 90 percent to students with a family income below $50,000.  Pell Grants are especially critical for students of color, with nearly 60 percent of Black students, and roughly half of American Indian or Alaska Native students and Hispanic students receiving a Pell Grant each year.  The share of college costs covered by the Pell Grant is at an all-time low. Nearly 50 years ago, the maximum grant covered more than three-quarters of the cost of attending a four-year public college. After decades of state budget cuts that drove up tuition, combined with flat household incomes over the same period, Pell Grants now cover less than one-third of those costs. The #DoublePell website includes a Take Action page, which includes a customizable letter that students, families, alumni, and other stakeholders can send to their members of Congress, and shareable social media graphics to amplify the #DoublePell campaign messages. In March, the UO signed on to a letter with 1,200 other organizations addressed to all members of Congress, asking them to double the amount of the maximum Pell Grant to approximately $13,000. Currently Congress is considering proposals to increase the Pell maximum by as much as $1,875. In addition, in late June, a group of senators reintroduced the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act.

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