My adventures in Portland usually include wandering around downtown, mostly lost, hoping my phone doesn’t die before I can GPS my way back to Reed. The walk I took three weekends ago was no different. Myself and two friends decided, at around ten at night, to take a stroll down to Portland State University, PSU. This happened to be the same night as the vigil for the students who passed away from the Umpqua shooting earlier that week. Thirty or so Reedies had gathered in front of Commons with a wide assortment of candles, from tea lights in plastic cups to the heavy candles in glass holders. A Reed alumnus spoke, and then the floor was left open for anyone to speak. After that, we sang together. Understandably, it was a decidedly somber night. I guess we didn’t really know where to go from there, so we decided to walk.
The thing about going to PSU on foot is that it is an hour and a half walk into the heart of downtown Portland. You pass a lot of people, mostly drunk or in the process of getting drunk, and I gotta say, you don’t learn a lot of life lessons. But it’s a nice walk; especially if you’re with people you like. The weather was nice, balmy in the mid 60s and that night was particularly clear. It’s a great tour of Portland, and if you ignore the ache the develops in your feet after three or so miles, it’s really not so bad.
Leaving Reed always produces this strange feeling of venturing into the wild. As a freshman, I’ve lived on campus for a solid two months and have limited experience with the “Reed Bubble,” but there’s definitely something to it. Walking away from the group of Reedies on the quad, making our way down 28th, I really did feel like an adventurer.
We arrived at PSU around 11:30. Physically, Reed and PSU look different. The PSU campus is mostly beautiful glass buildings and an expansive concrete courtyard cut down the middle by the MAX Yellow Line Rail Service. Lower levels of the apartment-style dorm buildings have a restaurants. All around us students buzzed in and out of the buildings, dressed for a night out.
Reed at 11:30 on the weekend is pretty quiet. There are pockets of noise scattered across campus, places like outside of Winch in the SU. Occasionally there might be a major party going — or something like West Ball or Beer Garden — but otherwise, it’s obvious where the parties are on campus because the spaces in between are silent. Reedies who are looking for a party on the weekend tend to gravitate towards common spaces on campus. At PSU it’s different. There’s not necessarily a “center” to the campus. Students have such easy access to downtown Portland, that they tend to spread out, and find their own scene. The whole campus is buzzing with the energy of downtown Portland, as students seek out weekend activities.
The geography of the two campuses seems to play a large role in determining the community. Students at PSU live in the heart of downtown Portland. Reedies live in our “Reed Bubble.” Our campus is smaller. No railways or bus stops cut through the middle. We don’t have to fight through the everyday downtown Portland traffic of people, cars, bikes, and buses just to make it to class on time.
That night, we met up with a friend who goes to PSU. I was amazed when we took an elevator to his eleventh floor dorm room considering the tallest building on Reed only consists of four stories. He complained about having to wait ten minutes or more just to catch an elevator back down before his morning classes, due to the multitude of students inhabiting the building. I live in ODB. I share a stairwell in Kerr with nineteen other Reedies. One floor above me is our student body president. Across the hall from her is our peer career advisor. Campus involvement is just so easily accessible. There were more than twenty PSU students on his eleventh floor alone. Comparatively, our environment is much more insular.
My friend at PSU loves its location because, as he says, “Even on the way to any class you're bound to pass dozens of businesses and restaurants. Plus, there is a constant flow of cars and people that have nothing to do with PSU so, as a student, you're always aware that you're in the middle of the largest city in Oregon.”
As a freshman, living on campus without a car, my experience with Reed is that it can be an isolated community. Reedies are used to an intense workload making it easier to befriend other Reedies instead of striking out to make friends in the greater Portland area. Even trying to find work off campus is a challenge. Many of Reed students with jobs tend to get jobs on campus, furthering a network of Reed student, faculty and staff relationships.
This is not necessarily a problem, though. Students at Reed aren’t big fans of the “Reed Bubble” — which can be stifling — but ultimately, students chose Reed partly because it’s a secluded, community-based campus. Our world revolves around the space between Woodstock and Steele. Not to say that either campus is objectively better, but individuals get to choose which campus is best for themselves. Reedies chose the “Reed Bubble,” and despite the trouble it brings, there was something beautiful and powerful about the thirty or so Reedies gathered outside of Commons that night, holding candles, sharing the grief we felt for those wounded or dead in the Umpqua Shooting.
For those living off campus, those with cars, and those with jobs or volunteer work that takes them to other parts of Portland, leaving the “Reed Bubble” maybe isn’t that hard. For others, maybe those who feel a little stifled by Reed sometimes, I’d always recommend a walk across the footbridge into Sellwood.