State Representative Courtney Neron

2001 UO Alum and Oregon State Representative - District 26 - Aloha, Beaverton, Hillsboro, King City, Sherwood, Tigard and Wilsonville

When did you attend the UO and what year did you graduate? What did you study?

I attended the UO from 1997 to 2001. In high school I considered architecture, but once in college I realized I wanted to work with people and not lines. I studied psychology and eventually completed my degree in French.

I met my husband Joe when I was a freshmen living in Bean and working in the mail room. That’s when Franz’s Bakery was right next to our hall. During my time in college I was an RA in Hamilton, worked in the Carson Hall mail room and campus coffee shops, rowed crew, played on an intramural soccer team, volunteered to get out the vote for the 2000 Presidential campaign, drove for Safe Ride, volunteered for OSPIRG and even studied abroad.

What class inspired you in a new way while at UO?

I enjoyed most all the classes I took. There are moments from each class that have stuck with me for a long time and opened my eyes.

I remember a professor ranting about Disney movies; how the parents always die and how many women in those movies are in captivity. In a Journalism class we discussed the Seattle World Trade Organization-related riots; it was the first time I analyzed the juxtaposition of media and politics. I remember that taking a child psychology class reinforced my desire to work with children. My African dance, ballroom, and trampoline classes inspired me to stay active and seek breaks for community and self-care. My language and culture classes taught me about other countries and cultures beyond my own upbringing.

Every step of the way I felt like I was trying really difficult things and learning how to surmount, dive in, and succeed.

What experience offered by UO opened your eyes to something new?

I studied abroad for a year in France, and that was an incredible opportunity. I lived in a town that attracted international students, so I gained not only a French world view but an international world view.

While there, my friends and I got to know a guy from Iraq who was very shy, and one of the Americans was able to “crack the shell” and become friends with him. He just had this block because of his view of Americans in his home country. It opened my eyes to the impact of world politics on interpersonal communication. I also met a women from Colombia who was studying to be a lawyer. We didn’t speak fluently in each other’s languages, but we both spoke French. So I taught her English and she taught me Spanish. She was my first true Spanish teacher.

What was the number one skill you believe you acquired while at UO?

There are so many skills that you are building when you are leaving home for the first time. I learned how to take care of myself and stand up for myself. I did a lot of exploring, which I think is a really a lifelong skill. I learned how to find a support network. I had the opportunity to learn Spanish from my friend, Maria Luisa, while I taught her English with French as our bridge. I learned to acknowledge that life isn’t always linear.

What was something that challenged your way of thinking while at UO?

My women’s studies class really opened my eyes to so many issues impacting women in our society. I hadn’t challenged status quo much before that, but after that, I felt really empowered, got involved with Take Back the Night, and played a part in the campus production of the Vagina Monologues.

Share three words that describe what you like most about the UO today.

My three words are education, evolution, and roots.

Education because education builds power and opportunity. Exploring new ideas and information creates new pathways and connections.  

Evolution because the campus has changed so much physically since I was there, and the conversations have changed,. The concept of “equity” was not a common point of discussion. Being on such a large campus with so many course options and experiences at every turn allowed me to pursue the topics I am most interested in and try new things that I might not have considered.  

Roots because I spent four-plus years making deep connections with people and great friendships; I feel really connected to that place and really thankful for that opportunity. I am proud to be a Duck and let people know I did my undergraduate studies at the UO.

Describe briefly what you do presently for work and for fun.

I am an Oregon State Representative representing Wilsonville, Sherwood, King City, Tigard, Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Scholls. Before that I was a high school French and Spanish teacher. I am a mom to two amazing kids.  For fun I like to hike, do photography, visit with friends, and read.

In the context of the UO Advocates program and your role as a policy maker, what does the word “advocacy” mean to you?

To me, advocacy means supporting a cause, not giving up, and organizing effectively. Advocacy is a noun, but advocacy is also an action verb; advocacy doesn’t just “happen”; advocacy is just the opposite of complacency. It reminds me of the Maya Angelou quote “Nothing will work unless you do.”

As a state representative, my role is to listen to people to learn about their issues and the facts surrounding what they want to talk about. I want to take the time to listen to people talk about something they are passionate about. It’s important to hear about people’s unique life experiences.

I have been trying to advance the conversation surrounding stabilizing the funding for our higher ed institutions, as we just did for our pre-K to 12 education. We need to look at long term stability and dive deep into the conversation about higher ed affordability in Oregon. Partners are ready to engage.

What advice would you give people advocating for the UO about how to be an effective advocate?

Obviously, advocates should vote, stay engaged, show up, make calls, and write letters.

Less obviously, it’s easy to underestimate the power of a small group, but repeatedly being that “squeaky wheel” can be effective with the Oregon Legislature.

It’s important for advocates to find out who is directly involved in making the decision on each particular topic. 

Be well-researched; you want to be heard as a voice of expertise. If your facts are inaccurate, you will lose political capital right off the bat. Speak from facts about topics you care deeply about.

Students need to feel empowered to ask for accountability from your institutional and elected leaders. I have heard from so many university students who care deeply about financial insecurity for students that leads to food insecurity and can increase the likelihood of not being able to continue on their career path.  Your stories are all important parts of the narrative we need in order to change the structure of education funding in our state and nation. Keep being vocal about how your efforts to get an education are going. And bring your board members and administrators with you; don’t abdicate to those with more authority than you!

Advocacy is an essential part of transformation. Bring your education and your lived experience to the conversation so that you can help support our communities and help our policies work for everyone. Advocacy helps us all thrive.

What is something you wish people knew about the advocacy process?

It’s important to know that kids are welcome in the advocacy process and it is essential that parents know that they can advocate and bring their children. When people are advocating for something that will impact future generations, bringing someone that is part of that future generation can be very impactful. Some of my favorite meetings this year were with kids. They know how to advocate and their voices are worth amplifying when they ask for climate action, school funding, foster care investments, and reduced single use plastics.

Bring them to the Capitol, to the rally, to the town hall. Make sure they see you getting involved and active so that they see the power of their individual voice and collective voices. So many legislators care deeply for our kids and future generations. That is also why I hope to see more cities and organizations offering childcare at their events.

Share an example or two of a time you felt successful advocating for something important to you.

When I ran for office, I did it because I was committed to advocating for education funding. I wanted to make sure that my house district had someone who would vote to support students when the vote happened. The day I voted for student success and pushed the green button was the day I felt success advocating for something important to me.