'I love the community I have found at Oregon'

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of profiles of Oregon students who will be graduating in June. 

NAME: Elise Fogarty Downing 

HOMETOWN: Portland 

MAJOR: Environmental Studies

CAREER INTERESTS: I plan, and have planned, to work for my community since I was very young. Mostly, I see myself working in government — I'd love to work for a senator that I believe in or help to craft meaningful policy on education, children's issues, or housing. But I could also see myself working for my community outside government structures, through community organizing and activism.

THE FACULTY/STAFF MEMBER WHO MADE THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE IN MY TIME AT THE UO IS: Katie Lynch, who has been my thesis adviser and teacher for the past two years. Through her classes and the Environmental Leadership Program, which she co-directs, I learned to translate my thoughts on oppression and systemic social change into tangible ways to relate to other people and teach children.

Katie was never Professor Lynch but was always a partner in learning, and her classes were not groups of faceless students, but communities of friends. Her teaching was never about downloading information but about questioning, critical thinking, and taking a position you believed in on a particular topic. Katie's classes taught me how to see the world clearly, critically, and with my own eyes. 

WHAT I DO FOR FUN: I spend most of my non-school time doing activism related to stopping fossil fuel extraction. Meetings, strategizing, action planning, art making, reading, cooking, and dancing are all a part of building community power to end practices like tar sands extraction and coal export through the Columbia River Basin. But aside from that work, I love to have fires in the backyard with friends, cook delicious food over the fire, dance for no reason, and look at the stars.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED: At the University of Oregon, I've learned to recognize and challenge the systemic problems I see in the world. First, my classes helped me to recognize and strip away the oppressive cultural and societal blinders I've grown up with that restrict valuing all people and their abilities. Then, my extracurricular activities with activism organizations and campus programs helped me to think about how these oppressive systems are put in place, and how we can take them down. At Oregon I've learned to think critically about myself, my role in the world, and the world itself.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT OREGON: I love the community I have found at Oregon. I go to football games and feel camaraderie with everyone else around me. I sit in Chapman Hall and see friend after friend walk by. I visit the Survival Center and know that I am always welcome. The magic of Oregon for me has been that in around every corner there are little communities of people, and that at any moment I could find another place on this campus to feel at home. 

And the other thing I love? That I can walk for 15 minutes, cross the river, and feel like I'm alone among the trees.

Tim Christie