Lab Girl

hope jahren in lab

Hope Jahren in her research lab.

Science has never been my forte. High school chemistry and biology were challenging enough, so I never went near physics. In college, I took a single general science course and was thankful I wasn’t required to do more.

So why would I put “Lab Girl” on my list of hoped-for Christmas or birthday gifts?

Two reasons: 1) I spotted the title late last year on a New York Times list of notable books and the thumbnail review sounded interesting; 2) I thought it might give me better understanding of the kind of work our youngest son wants to do.

I recently finished the book and I’m happy to say it’s a gem. It’s beautifully written and it’s illuminated the path that lies ahead for Jordan, who’s graduating next month with a bachelors degree in biology and hopes to become a research scientist.

One critic says of the author: “Hope Jahren is the voice that science has been waiting for.”


Jahren is one of those people who is multiply talented, almost astonishingly so.

lab girl coverHer academic credentials? She’s received three Fulbright Awards in geobiology, has a Ph.D in soil science from UC Berkeley, has taught at Johns Hopkins and Georgia Tech, and has been named by Time magazine as one of the world’s “100 Most Influential People.” Still in her 40s, she is a tenured professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and currently is a fellow at the University of Oslo, where she studies fossil forests. She’s fluent in Norwegian, by the way.

Her writing chops? Impressive. It’s hard to believe this collection of essays is her first book. Part memoir, part introduction to the science of trees and plants, she has the ability to explain concepts and procedures in lay terms that even I can grasp. And her prose at times is downright dazzling. (You’ll see for yourself in the excerpts the follow.)

She writes with authority born of expertise, with wisdom born of experience, and with self-deprecating humor born of perspective. Binding it all together are the passion that she brings to her work, and the determination and discipline that have fueled her success in a male-dominated profession.

As a female scientist, she has been the only woman in a college class, the only woman at a professional conference, one of few women among a university’s science faculty, and certainly one of few among her colleagues who’s had to take a career break to give birth.

“My desire to become a scientist was founded upon a deep instinct and nothing more; I never heard of a single story about a living female scientist, never met one or even saw one on television.

“As a female scientist I am still unusual, but in my heart I was never anything else. Over the years I have built three laboratories from scratch, given warmth and life to three empty rooms, each one bigger and better than the last. My current laboratory is almost perfect — located in balmy Honolulu and housed within a magnificent building that is frequently crowned by rainbows and surrounded by hibiscus flowers in constant bloom — but somehow I know that I will never stop building and wanting more. My laboratory is not “room T309” as stated on my university’s blueprints; it is “the Jahren Laboratory,” and it always will be, no matter where it is located. It bears my name because it is my home.”

How did she become a scientist? Raised in a small Midwest town with three older brothers, she essentially grew up in the lab where her father taught at the local community college. As a young girl, she became acquainted with the workbenches, the equipment, and the drawers full of magnets, wire, glass, metal and other stuff that all proved useful for something.

Culturally, she was born into a Scandinavian home where silence and emotional distance between family members were the norm, something that, for better or worse, contributed to her self-reliance.

That’s a trait that she had to rely on early in her career as she sought to establish her credentials and find stable employment in her chosen career. She describes several instances of sexism (no surprise) and early on introduces us to a quirky fellow named Bill, who she met as a grad student at Berkeley. The two formed an exceptional bond as fellow scientists and later as friends, and he continues to serve as Jahren’s senior research lab manager in Oslo. He’s instrumental to her telling of the larger story of “Lab Girl.”

Jahren describes the life of the research scientist as one that is both esoteric and often lonely. People don’t know what you do or why, and they don’t have the foggiest idea of how precarious the funding is for such work.


Hope Jahren, scientist and author.


As I write this on Earth Day, thousands of scientists are marching in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of other cities on six continents to draw attention to the value of science and to their worries that “evidence has been crowded out by ideology and opinion in public debate and policymaking.”

Read The Washington Post’s story: “Why scientists are marching on Washington and more than 600 cities”

In one essay, Jahren explains that there is just one significant source of support for the kind of research she does — the National Science Foundation, which is funded by our federal tax dollars.

In 2013, the NSF’s budget was $7.3 billion, a sum that sounds large until you learn that the Department of Agriculture’s budget is about three times that amount, the Department of Homeland Security’s budget is five times as large, and the Department of Defense’s “discretionary” budget alone is more than 60 times that sum.

Jahren points out that the U.S. government spends twice as much on its space program as it does on all of its other scientists put together. Little wonder that those specializing in other fields are left scrambling to apply for three-year grants and additional university funding to pay for salaries and benefits, student help, chemicals, equipment, travel and administrative overhead charges.

“Ask a science professor what she worries about,” Jahren writes. “It won’t take long. She’ll look you in the eye and say one word: ‘Money.’ ”


As informative as the book is, the writing itself is superb. The author has a website called, where she maintains a lively blog. She also credits her mother with instilling in her an appreciation for reading and writing.

As a high school senior in the 1950s, Hope’s mom was awarded an honorable mention in a prestigious national science competition and hoped to study chemistry at the state university. But lack of money forced her to drop out and she moved back to her hometown, where she married, became a mother and homemaker, and some 20 years later took correspondence courses in English literature to get her college degree.

The daughter learned her lessons well. Consider this excerpt, where Jahren recalls her days as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota (the same place her mom, dad and brothers attended) working in the university hospital during the 3-to-11 p.m. shift as a “runner” hand-delivering IV pain medications to the nursing stations where they were needed.

“That night in the hospital I walked in and out of the hospice ward ten or twenty times, and my eyes and hands moved through the necessary tasks. Well into the night and deeper into my brain, it came to me that as hospital workers, we were being paid to trail along behind Death as he escorted frail, wasted bodies over difficult miles, dragging their loved ones along with him. My job was to meet the traveling party at its designated way station and faithfully provide fresh supplies for the journey. When the weary group disappeared over the horizon, we turned back, knowing that another agonized family would be arriving soon.

“The doctors, nurses, and I didn’t cry because the bewildered husbands and stricken daughters were carrying enough for all of us. Helpless and impotent against the awesome power of Death, we nonetheless bowed out heads in the pharmacy, injected twenty milliliters of salvation int a bag of tears, blessed it again and again, and then carried it like a baby to the hospice and offered it up. The drug would flow into a passive vein, the family wold draw close, and a cup of fluid might be temporarily removed from their ocean of pain.” 

Wow. Gives me chills.

“Lab Girl” is a great book for the young scientist in your life, and even better if that person is a girl. It’s also a great book for yourself, especially if you’re one, like me, who would have benefited from Science  for Dummies. At 282 pages, it’s a fairly fast read and one that will leave you with admiration for the work and life of a remarkable research scientist named Hope Jahren.

(Click on images to view captions.)

Eight years and still laying bricks

Vertie Hodge, 74, weeps during an Inauguration Day party near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Houston on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 after President Barack Obama delivered his speech after taking the oath of office, becoming the first black president in the United States.

Vertie Hodge, 74, weeps during an Inauguration Day party near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Houston on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 after President Barack Obama delivered his speech after taking the oath of office, becoming the first black president in the United States.

In January 2009, Barack Obama took office as 44th President of the United States.

A month later, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23, in the 43rd Super Bowl and Bruce Springsteen performed during the halftime show.

Back then, our oldest son, Nathan, was a few months away from getting his bachelors degrees in business and marketing at Portland State. Our daughter, Simone, was working with low-income students at alternative high schools in Portland and applying to graduate schools on the East Coast. Our youngest son, Jordan, was a newlywed and and stationed with the U.S. Army in El Paso, Texas.

Lori and I were empty nesters, still in the Grant Park neighborhood where we raised our kids and living with our dogs, Otto and Max, and our cats, Rudy and Mabel.

And so it was that on March 1, yours truly launched the Rough and Rede blog. I’d been hired to teach a weekend seminar at a local college called “Opinion and the Blogosphere.” (How quaint that word “blogosphere” seems now.)

My first blog post, written in the wee hours of March 1, 2009, was comprised of a single paragraph:

It’s about time…I’m going to teach a weekend seminar on “Opinion and the Blogosphere.” Shouldn’t I have a blog of my own? Even one that has more bones than skin? It’s about time…It’s after 1 in the morning, that transition time between Saturday night and Sunday morning. I find I do some of my clearest thinking and clearest writing in the wee hours. Fewer distractions that way. It’s about time…How will I sustain this? I’m already on Facebook; don’t wanna do MySpace. I’m online every day, much of the day, owing to my job as editor of the Sunday Opinion section at The Oregonian. It’s about time…It’s about getting started, as the title of this post says. Choose an image: dive in, dip your toes in the water, take the first step, just do it. So I’m doing it. I have no illusions about this, by the way. Just one guy on the Left Coast laying the first brick of what I hope will be good for the soul, good for the mind. Welcome, friends and new readers.

Well, here we are, eight years later. President Obama is president no longer and our nation threatens to pull itself apart under the policies of the Cheeto-in-Chief.

The New England Patriots just won the Super Bowl (again).

Nathan is following his passions of music and food, working as a DJ and a cook at a Thai restaurant. Simone is married and working for Metro as a senior auditor. Jordan is a young father, living near Tacoma, Washington, and closing in on a biology degree at nearby St. Martin’s University.

Lori and I are in a condo, sharing our living space with our slinky feline, Mabel, and our rascally little mutt, Charlotte.

And I’m celebrating the eight-year anniversary of the original Rough and Rede blog.


How appropriate that this milestone would fall on the same date that I just gave my Media Literacy students their midterm exam in COM 312 at Portland State University.

Eight years ago, I was still employed at The Oregonian and just dipping my toes into the waters of higher education.

Now here I am, 14 months removed from taking a buyout at The Oregonian/OregonLive, and teaching not one college course but three.

In addition to my class at Portland State, I’m also teaching two communications courses across the river at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’ve written about the transition from newsroom to classroom before, so I won’t go into yet again, although I fully expect to reflect on my teaching experiences when the quarter (PSU) and semester (WSU) are done at each campus.


I’ve got some more thoughts on this personal milestone and I’ll share them before the week is through. In the meantime, thanks to one and all for following the original R&R blog or this newer version, Rough and Rede II.

Photograph: AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Mayra Beltran


From the newsroom to the classroom



The classroom where I teach two courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m five weeks deep into the 2017 winter quarter at Portland State University, already halfway done with the 10-week term. Across the river, five weeks in means I’m a third of the way though the 16-week spring semester at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m teaching one course at PSU on Monday-Wednesday and two at WSUV on Tuesday-Thursday and, yes, that’s keeping me plenty busy. (I also work four afternoons a week at a local nonprofit, but let’s not go there right now.)

As I write this on a Saturday morning, I’m struck by how fast the time goes, particularly when snow days force cancellation of classes — two at each campus — during the first two weeks. Throw in the King Day holiday and that’s another day we didn’t hold class at PSU.

But who’s complaining?

Fourteen months after leaving The Oregonian/OregonLive, I’ve got plenty on my plate.


Here I am this weekend with nearly 70 essays to grade, three chapters to read in three textbooks, two guest speakers to prepare for next week, and dates and times to confirm with a half-dozen more guests I’ve lined up in next couple of months.

Surely, this is nothing out of the ordinary for anyone who teaches full-time or even as an adjunct. Classroom time is just part of the deal. Planning and prep time take up a lot of intellectual energy, too, but the many administrative tasks involved — grading papers, maintaining a grade book, posting weekly schedules and lecture notes online, emailing students — account for far more time.

But, again, who’s complaining?

When I agreed to teach three classes at once, I knew I was in for a challenge. But the rewards are definitely worth it.

There is no better time to be teaching Media Literacy than now. When you’ve got a new administration declaring war on the press, throwing out phony accusations of fake news, and offering “alternative facts” as a diversion from verifiable facts that show Trump and his minions in an unflattering light, well, it’s the perfect time for a course like this.

My students at PSU have eagerly engaged on the subject, admitting their own shortcomings when it comes to digital literacy but also getting quickly up to speed in understanding who is providing what content (news, opinion, advertising) on the internet and for what purpose.

In Vancouver, I’m having a great time teaching Sports and the Media, holding up organized sports as a mirror of society. Coverage of sports has gone so far beyond just games, scores and hero worship to an era of athlete activism and self-marketing and wart-and-all coverage of coaches, players and programs. I present sports as a mirror of society, touching on racism, sexism, politics, entertainment, marketing and campus sexual abuse, among other topics. (Great timing to have Super Bowl 51 come along to illustrate the intersection of so many of these themes.)

I’m also teaching Reporting Across Platforms, traditionally a writing-intensive course designed to prepare students for producing words and images for print, broadcast and digital. I’m going at it somewhat differently, in light of the fact that many students are non-communications majors (let alone non-journalism majors) and have never done journalism in their life.

Accordingly, I’m trying to provide more context about the challenges facing today’s multimedia journalists in an era of 24/7 news and social media rather than emphasize basic skills of reporting, interviewing, writing and tweeting. The students are taking baby steps, but they’re also getting introduced to media ethics and the realities of a profession under siege.

I’ll check in again when the quarter and semester are done.


I met for coffee recently with Gosia Wozniacka, a former reporter at The Oregonian and the Associated Press, who is now teaching a journalism class at Clark College in Vancouver. We compared notes on teaching.

For now, I take comfort in knowing I’m making a difference in how these young people are seeing things more clearly now — and even putting actions behind their words.

At least three students have let me know they have begun subscribing to The Oregonian/OregonLive or least committed to buying the newspaper two days a week as a sign of their support for local journalism. Several more made it clear to me, in emails or in class discussions, that they now understand the importance of a free press in a democratic society and are changing their media consumption habits accordingly.

What more could a teacher ask for?


2016: What a year


Dawn on Orcas Island brings a magnificent view of Mount Baker.

Three weeks from today, the nation will inaugurate a new president — not the one I wanted, not the one everyone expected, but the bloviating mess known as Donald J. Trump.

I shudder to think what the next four years will be like under this man who continues to defy every social and political convention while trampling on the bounds of common decency. Especially so after the model of dignity, grace and intelligence that we’ve seen exhibited by Barack Obama and his equally impressive wife, Michelle, a power in her own right.

It’s still beyond belief that a man so ignorant (and proud of it), so misogynistic (and proud of it), so narcissistic (and proud of it) has been elected to the nation’s highest office. Yet there’s no disputing that Trump’s election was the story of the year in 2016.

But I’m not going to dwell on him. I’ve got my own agenda today — and that’s taking a look back at the year that was. For all the sadness we felt seeing so many entertainers and other public figures pass from the scene — David Bowie, Prince, Maurice White, Elie Wiesel, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, et al — there was a lot of other stuff going on in the Rede household.

After all, this is the year I traveled a new path, away from the newsroom where I had worked for the past 30 years. This was the year I caught a glimpse of what retirement might be like, only to settle into a new work routine in the fall.

Here’s a quick take:


First grandchild: We welcomed a charming little girl into our lives in late July. Little Emalyn May Rede, the daughter of our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife, Jamie, has been nothing but a source of pride and joy.

Lori and I were privileged to be the first ones to see and hold Emalyn, other than her parents, when she was just hours old. In the months since, she’s already transformed from helpless infant to smiling, healthy baby, seemingly delighted to be part of the action.

A new job (actually, two): Just as my severance from The Oregonian/OregonLive was running out in mid-September, along came two opportunities to return to the workforce.

Portland State University hired me to teach in the Department of Communications. I got started with a Media Ethics class that set me on a course I’ve always wanted to explore — that of a classroom teacher.

At the same time, I landed a part-time job as communications coordinator with the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance, an organization that partners with local employers and schools to expand career and technical education opportunities for metro-area high school students.

In January, I will add a third leg to this stool as an adjunct instructor at Washington State University Vancouver. I loved being a journalist, but I also feel fortunate to have these new employment opportunities.

The big noventa: My dad turned 90 years old in March, so all three of us kids and our extended families gathered in a San Diego suburb to celebrate nine decades of good living.

My dad and stepmom drove in from New Mexico. Lori and I flew in from Portland. My younger sister Cathy flew down from Alaska. My older sister Rosemary, with help from her daughter and son-in-law, hosted the party near Oceanside.

whole damn family

Thanks to a selfie stick, four generations of Redes gather around Dad (in black hat) in honor of his 90th birthday.

Catarino Allala Rede is the only sibling left from a family of seven brothers and two sisters. It was great to see my dad basking in the love and admiration of his children, grandchildren and great-children. For a man who did manual labor all his life and whose formal education stopped at the eighth grade before he went back later in life to get a G.E.D., he’s done pretty damn well.

A baseball road trip: In May, I made a whirlwind trip that allowed me to see four Major League Baseball games in three cities in five days. I flew into Pittsburgh, then drove to Cleveland and on to Cincinnati.

In all, I covered about 400 miles from western Pennsylvania to Ohio, traveling the length of the Buckeye State through gently rolling landscapes. With Lori’s blessing, I stayed in three airbnb rentals and took the opportunity to see new sights, experience unfamiliar places, and visit with new and old friends in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Cool concerts: There were only three this year involving pop artists, but each was satisfying in its own right.

Got to see Jackson Browne at Edgefield in August and he was outstanding. A month earlier, I saw the Dixie Chicks at a Clark County amphitheater just north of Portland and they were exceptional. Their July concert came at a time when I was feeling down, given a spasm of fatal shootings of both civilians and cops in three states.

In November, I saw Liz Longley, a favorite singer-songwriter, for the second time in 18 months, this time in the intimate space of the Alberta Rose Theater.

Excellent books: All that free time I had in the first few months of the year enabled me to dive into the world of literature. Although I slowed down considerably after going back to work, I still managed to plow through 15 books.

They ran the gamut — everything from a young reader books about a transgender youth (“George” by Alex Gino) and a deaf baseball player (“The William Hoy Story” by Nancy Churnin) to a gritty collection of stories about the Motor City (“Detroit” by Charlie LeDuff) to a rape survivor’s memoir (“Lucky” by Alice Sebold) to a sweeping novel about race, culture and class in Nigeria and the United States (“Americanah” by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.

There was lots more by the likes of John Updike, Steig Larsson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lauren Groff, Celeste Ng, Anne Hillerman and Robert Goodlick. You’ll find a synopsis of each one here: Books & Literature.

PIFF: Early in the year, I joined the ranks of volunteers at the 39th annual Portland International Film Festival. In exchange for helping to greet patrons, take tickets, etc., I got to see six movies for free at three theaters during the month of February.

It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do it again, but not this year. Too much going on with my three part-time jobs to even consider it.

Urban hikes: Another luxury during the first half of the year was exploring my own city with the help of a great guidebook, “Portland Hill Walks” by Laura O. Foster.

I made a routine of selecting a route that took me into mostly unfamiliar neighborhoods, where I learned a lot about the city’s history, geography and demographics. Hard to say which were my favorites, but I do recall the pleasant surprise of discovering Marshall Park in Southwest Portland and getting thoroughly soaked when I hiked through the jewel that is Washington Park.

Island getaways: We made it up to our cabin on Orcas Island three times. Each time is like opening a valve and releasing the stress that comes with living in a city of 632,000 people and an urban area of 2.4 million. Compare that to maybe 2,000 folks total on Orcas.

We’re blessed to have a place where we can hike and kayak, read, play board games, feed the birds and watch old movies — all in a beautiful place that offers Solitude with a capital S.

This year, we enjoyed a parade and community potluck on the Fourth of July weekend and hosted our longtime friends, Bob and Deborah Ehlers. We did our best to make their three-night stay a memorable one, with excursions to Doe Bay, Eagle Lake and Mount Constitution.

Pets: We lost our beloved Otto in July, shortly after our final trip to the island and just a week before Emalyn was born. He was a Jack Russell Terrier, 11 years old, blessed with a sweet disposition, and loved by all who knew him. Otto was especially close to Lori and had earned the status of “The Fourth Child.” Fittingly, he died of an an enlarged heart.

Before Otto died, he schooled little Charlotte, our Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua mix, in the ways of the world. She misses him, for sure, but she has blossomed as the sole focus of our canine attention. Charlotte and I survived a run-in with two pit bulls at a dog park, but she’s healed completely and is becoming more social with other dogs and humans.

Mabel, now the senior pet, continues to rule the roost in her own bedroom, a sweet brown tabby who refuses to come downstairs and interact with Charlotte.

Voices of August: No recap would be complete without mention of my annual guest blog project and post-publication meetup. For six years now, I’ve opened up the blog to a different writer each day during the month of August. It’s a wonderful thing to see — a diverse group of friends, relatives and co-workers from all over the country (and even abroad) each taking a turn writing about an issue or an experience that never fails to entertain, inform or resonate with an online audience.

This year’s VOA gathering was held at a Northeast Portland brewpub not far from our home and drew folks from three states, including my compadre, Al Rodriguez, and his lovely wife (and first-time VOA contributor), Elizabeth Lee.


hillary-buttonLike the other 65 million-plus Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, I wish we were inaugurating the nation’s first female president. Instead, I’m left to hope that in 2017 we can endure the worst of what a Trump presidency can bring and begin building a coalition that returns the White House to someone we can put our trust in.

Happy New Year, everyone.

The amazing Brenda Tracy


Brenda Tracy, the last and most riveting of our guest speakers in Media Ethics, an undergraduate course at Portland State University.

If you don’t know Brenda Tracy’s story, you should.

Few, if any, of my Media Ethics students had even heard of her until Brenda spoke to them in class two weeks ago. After listening to Brenda describe her journey from gang-rape survivor with no self-esteem to self-confident public speaker on sexual abuse and rape culture, I doubt they will ever forget her.

I already knew Brenda’s compelling story, having read it two years ago when it landed on the front page of The Sunday Oregonian. But as I listened to her retell it that Thursday morning, I knew I had made the right choice inviting her to be our final guest speaker for the fall term.

My students had already learned a lot from previous speakers — a variety of journalists and public relations professionals — about how to do journalism ethically and responsibly. How to report accurately while also practicing discretion about unnecessary details. How to show empathy without losing one’s objectivity. How to interview a vulnerable subject about sensitive issues and help that person brace for the resulting public exposure and reader reaction.

But the students hadn’t heard directly from anyone who could tell them what it’s like to entrust the telling of your story — including invasive, humiliating facts — to a reporter. For an hour, they listened and learned as this remarkable woman reflected on her experiences and credited a principled and highly skilled journalist for restoring her dignity and bringing her out of the shadows. .


In 1998, Brenda Tracy was a waitress, a 24-year-old single mother of two boys, when she was gang-raped by four men, two college football players and two recruits, in an off-campus apartment near Oregon State University.

She’d been sexually abused as a child and had been in abusive relationships as a young woman. After the attack, Brenda said, she felt suicidal, her self-esteem in shreds.

The four men were charged but never brought to trial. The local district attorney needed Brenda’s cooperation to get convictions but she wavered, feeling lack of support from people closest to her and believing herself not strong enough to go through the process.

She didn’t know the prosecutor had taped confessions from the suspects. She didn’t know the police had tossed out her rape kit without even testing it.

She only knew that two Oregon State players were suspended for one game and ordered to give 25 hours of community service for what their coach, Mike Riley, called “a bad choice.” The other two suspects went unpunished.

Brenda said she hated Riley for years, hated him even more than her rapists. But she finally met with him this year, after he said he regretted making the “bad choice” remark, and changed her opinion of the man.

After Riley left Oregon last year to become head coach at the University of Nebraska, he invited Brenda to speak to all 144 members of his football team this summer and formally apologized to her.

“We talked about consent and we brainstormed ideas about how they could get involved individually and as a team to change the culture that valued winning over human lives,” Brenda wrote following her June 22 visit with the team. “We covered a lot of ground in that one hour and when it was over many of them came up to me and shook my hand or gave me a hug and thanked me for being there.”


Brenda Tracy with Coach Mike Riley following their meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska on June 22, 2016. (Photograph by Brenda Tracy)


Today, at 43, Brenda Tracy is more than a rape survivor. Brenda is a registered nurse and a paid consultant working with Oregon State officials to prevent sexual violence, especially involving college athletes. She’s also a citizen activist who’s lobbied for changes in Oregon’s rape laws, providing more time to bring charges in the most serious cases.

She worked with a Portland attorney on 2015 legislation that extended Oregon’s statute of limitations for first-degree sex crimes from six to 12 years, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. A law passed the following year provides that if new evidence emerges — such as a previously untested rape kit, or new testimony from witnesses or other victims — a case can be reconsidered at any time.


Brenda Tracy is the featured speaker at a conference planned in Vancouver, Washington, early next year.

Since sports columnist John Canzano told her story in November 2014, Brenda has been interviewed by local and national media, appeared on television, spoken at college campuses, and testified before Oregon lawmakers.

None of these efforts to help other rape survivors would have been possible without the publication of a story that allowed her to heal emotionally. To see herself once again as a person worthy of respect. And to challenge the notion that victims are responsible for what happened to them.

“John absolutely changed my life,” Brenda said. “He transformed my entire life.”


Until she spoke to my class, I hadn’t met Brenda Tracy. We’d exchanged emails and spoken by phone this summer when I was setting up a Skype interview with her for two high school students I mentored during a journalism camp at Oregon State.

I was impressed that she made time to speak to the two teenagers, considering it was the day before she was scheduled to fly to Lincoln, Nebraska, to speak to Riley’s football team. A real sign of her character, I thought.

In person, Brenda was warm and gracious.She spoke without notes and patiently answered students’ questions. It was clear that her tale of personal redemption and her testament to the power of ethical journalism resonated with both men and women in my class. .

“If you write these stories, you have to understand this is a life,” she told them. “It’s not about you — it’s about the victim, it’s about the survivor.”

When the hour was up, she gave me a hug in front of the class and offered to come speak again.

We often toss around the words “hero” and “amazing” to describe people who’ve displayed uncommon courage or done extraordinary things. In my mind, there is no doubt both words apply to Brenda Tracy.


Read John Canzano’s 2014 story here.

Read continuing coverage of Brenda Tracy here.

Follow Brenda Tracy on Facebook here.

A round of thank-yous


High-fives to all those who helped or inspired me before and during the fall quarter.

If it takes a village to raise a child, the same applies to a newbie educator teaching his first full-time class.

I just finished teaching Media Ethics, an undergraduate course in the Department of Communications at Portland State University. The class began in late September and wrapped up last week with a final exam and posting of grades. But the preparation began months before and I got help along the way from an assorted cast of people.

It’s time to thank each and every one.


Cynthia-Lou Coleman

Cynthia-Lee Coleman. My biggest advocate. As chair of the Communications Department, Cindy hired me several years ago to teach two weekend “mini-courses” when I was still working at The Oregonian. No longer leading the department but still teaching as a full professor, Cindy urged me to consider adjunct teaching after I left the newsroom. She went to bat for me with her successor and I was offered a contract in June. She’s been a terrific sounding board and a constant source of reassurance during the term.

Jeffrey Robinson. The one who hired me. Jeff succeeded Cindy as Communications Department chair. He initially asked me to teach this fall and next winter. Recently, he asked me to teach in the spring quarter, too. Delighted to have his vote of confidence.

David Kennamer. An assistant professor. David has previously taught Media Ethics and has been generous sharing class materials and insights. He loaned me his textbook to read in advance of teaching the class; he welcomed me to sit in on a summer class he was teaching; and he shared his observations about today’s college students. I’ve run into him several times this term and we’ve commiserated about our classes.

Lee Shaker. Also an assistant professor. Lee also has been generous with his time. I watched him teach a Media Literacy class this spring and paid him a visit this fall to pick his brain as I’ll be teaching the course during winter quarter. During our conversation, Lee reminded me to keep the big picture in mind — doing whatever we can to help students be successful. (As a sign of how we are all connected, Lee is a cousin of Anne Saker, a talented reporter I worked with at The Oregonian and visited last spring in Cincinnati, where she now lives.)


Bailey, one of a handful of work-study students who provided clerical help.

The work-study students in the Comm Department. I relied on a handful of students for help making photocopies of graded papers and exams before many a class. I got to know one of them, Bailey, a pre-law major from Forest Grove, better than the others because she regularly worked Tuesday and Thursday mornings when I taught. All were a huge help in saving me time and effort.


My students loved each and every one. I’m thankful to have this network of professional colleagues who so generously gave their time and shared their experiences.

Mark Katches, editor and vice president/content at The Oregonian/OregonLive. Mark provided an overview of the news industry’s transition from print to digital. While acknowledging the challenges, he also was upbeat about journalism’s continuing role as a government watchdog.

Nigel Jaquiss, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at Willamette Week. A Wall Street bond trader who became a journalist, Nigel left an indelible impression by explaining the difference between the public’s “right to know” and readers’ “need to know.” That’s a subtle but important distinction in providing or withholding information about public figures and captures well the concept of “discretion.”

Kyle Iboshi, investigative reporter at KGW. When Kyle talked about the challenges of doing a live TV broadcast during a street protest — think audible profanities, obscene gestures, F-bombs on handmade placards — students understood what he meant about making on-the-spot ethical decisions that strike a balance between offensive content and accuracy.


Investigative reporters Kyle Ibohsi of KGW, left, and Nigel Jaquiss of Willamette Week discuss their craft with Media Ethics students at Portland State.

Jean Kempe-Ware, public relations consultant and former spokeswoman at Lewis & Clark College. Many of students were in kindergarten when the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke in the mid-90s. Jean had their full attention when she described the unethical behavior of mainstream journalists trying to get confidential information about Monica Lewinsky, a former student at the private liberal arts college in Portland where Jean worked at the time.

Chris Broderick, associate vice president for communications and marketing at Portland State. A former colleague at The Oregonian, Chris transitioned to public relations a few years ago and now oversees a staff of 18 at PSU. He spoke candidly about missteps the university made when it lined up a press conference to announce a major gift from an anonymous donor — only to have the gift fall through when officials learned the donor didn’t have the financial resources he claimed.

Dianne Danowski Smith, vice president at Publix Northwest. This public relations pro uttered a phrase that stuck with the class and wound up as a question on the final term. In today’s digital media environment we  have “too many publishers, not enough editors.”

John Schrag, executive editor at the Pamplin Media Group, the chain of suburban newspapers ringing the metro area. John previously was editor and publisher of the News-Times in Forest Grove and still resides there. When you’re a well-known journalist living in a small town, conflicts of interest involving your employer and family members are par for the course, he told students.

Samantha Swindler, Metro columnist at The Oregonian/OregonLive and Oregon Territory chapter president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Samantha, who also has endured life in a fishbowl in Forest Grove, urged students to be more savvy about their media consumption — a challenge that prompted some pushback.

Jeff Mapes, senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. One week after America elected a new president, the pre-eminent political reporter in Oregon paid us a visit to share his deep knowledge of Northwest politics and campaign coverage. Jeff admitted he and just about everyone else underestimated Donald Trump.

Beth Nakamura, photojournalist extraordinaire at The Oregonian/OregonLive. Beth made a profound impression in discussing the ethical aspects of photojournalism — a concept that had never occurred to most in the class. She talked about the taboo of staging a news photo and of her commitment to increasing the visibility of ordinary people. This, she said, can be done through visual storytelling suffused with honesty and dignity.


Raised in a working class town in western Massachusetts, photojournalist Beth Nakamura says she seeks to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” — a saying that originated with Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne in 1902.

Brenda Tracy, sexual assault survivor and citizen lobbyist. For our final class, I asked the victim of a heinous crime — a gang-rape that went un-prosecuted in the late 1990s — to talk about what it’s like to entrust your story to a journalist and find yourself thrust into the media spotlight. Brenda said she regained her self-esteem and later joined in efforts to reform Oregon’s rape laws — and declared none of it would have been possible without accurate, meticulous, ethical reporting by John Canzano of The Oregonian/OregonLive.


Finally, a tip of the hat to a trio of professors across the country who offered tips and inspiration, directly and indirectly: Dean Miller, Jacqui Banaszynski, Angie Chuang.

And last, but certainly not least…

Lori Rauh Rede. My wife, my rock. Only Lori knows how many hours I devoted to preparing for and slogging through this term. She listened to my stories — of success and disappointment, of surprise and inspiration — and she tolerated the many nights and weekends I spent preparing lectures and slideshows, grading essays and exams, and doing outside reading.


My beautiful wife, Lori.

We went to dinner last week at a favorite Lebanese restaurant to celebrate the end of the term. It was hardly enough. I know I am truly fortunate to have the love and support of this woman I first locked eyes with on the student newspaper staff at San Jose State.

Previously: 9 takeaways from Media Ethics

Next: The amazing Brenda Tracy

9 takeaways from Media Ethics


The transition from journalist to educator began this fall with my teaching of an undergraduate communications class at Portland State. (Photograph: The Oregonian)

In late September, I stood in front of a group of 33 young adults in a university classroom. They had registered for Comm 410, an undergraduate Media Ethics course at Portland State University, and I’d been hired as their adjunct instructor.

Like a new kid on the first day of school, I felt a jumble of emotions — nervousness, excitement and confidence, for sure, but mostly curiosity about how this venture would go and what we would learn together along the way.

Just 11 weeks later, I’m astonished at how quickly the academic quarter came and went. I’m also very satisfied — and very proud — at how everything came together for the students and me.

Related reading: My second act

Numerical scores and letter grades provide ways of measuring student achievement. But they don’t fully capture the individual progress one sees in a student who makes a commitment to embrace an unfamiliar subject. These were communications majors, not journalism students, and they knew far less than I imagined about the broad challenges facing contemporary mass media, let alone the differences among various local and national news outlets.

Much to my delight, several students emerged with newfound knowledge about the subject and, equally important, with insights into their own character.

As for me, I had multiple “ah-ha” moments along the way. Not the least of which was recognizing I needed to dial back my expectations if the students and I were going to be successful.

I came in thinking I’d be strict about insisting each and every writing assignment was turned in on time. After all, I reasoned, meeting deadlines is essential not just in journalism but in life in general. I also came in thinking I would turn a deaf ear to what I imagined would be a litany of excuses of why things couldn’t get done on time.

I was wrong. So wrong.

Simply put, I led with my head and learned with my heart.


There was no better time to teach Media Ethics than the fall of 2016. We were in the throes of a presidential campaign that never failed to surprise how low we could go as a nation in choosing the next occupant of the White House. Everyone had their take on the news media as a lap dog, watch dog or scapegoat.

This maelstrom of tweets, investigative reports, pussygate videos, rally coverage and “fake news” blazing across social media — all of it cried out for context and understanding. Meeting twice a week for two hours at a time, we sought to familiarize ourselves with philosophical concepts and ethical news values (such as accuracy, tenacity, transparency and equity) that could be applied to contemporary digital and print journalism.


Happy to be hired as an adjunct instructor.

With a roster of guest speakers whose real-world experiences made our textbook lessons come alive, we connected the dots in ways that left indelible impressions on the students. Hearing how these highly principled editors, reporters, photographers and public relations professionals were drawn to their work in the first place — and how they have dealt with so many tough ethical decisions in their careers — was eye-opening for the class.

These discussions were invariably livelier than anything I might present in a lecture, but that was my purpose. I wanted to lay the groundwork and then have each guest discuss a specific issue and/or recall a particular story that imparted a lesson. It worked.


So now, with the final exam in the rearview mirror and final grades posted, it’s time for my 9 takeaways. Some of these I already knew. Others I learned with my head, others with my heart.

1. Embrace diversity. In a class of 33 students, I had 18 men, 15 women. Of these, 15 were racial or ethnic minorities and 7 were athletes — 3 football players, 3 softball players and 1 sprinter on the track team. All were juniors and seniors, except for one sophomore. At least two were young moms. Another was the parent of two college-age daughters.

2. Make connections. On the first day, I told my students I grew up in a working-class, ethnic household and was the first in my family to attend college. I worked part-time and commuted 20 miles to school my first two years. I know the same was true for many of my students. Some were holding down two jobs and at least one was working full-time. Some were young parents as well. On a campus where the average age is 26, I could relate to these young adults as if they were my own children.

3. Be flexible. I came in thinking I’d be unyielding about deadlines. I didn’t anticipate the extent to which life intervenes. Students fell ill or had parents who did, necessitating visits to the emergency room. Others had employers who changed their work hours or scheduled mandatory training that conflicted with class hours. I saw no reason to penalize students who were trying their best to juggle school, work and family. In the end, what mattered to me was that the work got done.

media-ethics-cover-copy4. Be patient. Two weeks into the term, I realized I had expected too much too soon. I’d assigned the first paper, asking students to connect their media consumption to one of a handful of ethical principles we’d discussed during our first classes. Reading their essays, it became obvious that they didn’t possess the same vocabulary I’d developed as a journalist nor had they been exposed to basic concepts I took for granted. I decided to return their papers with constructive feedback but no grades. More important, I announced we were hitting the reset button and starting fresh with Week Three. In retrospect, a good decision.

5. Bring in the experts. If there is anything that set my class apart, it was the ability to bring in local journalists and public relations professionals as guest speakers. Students heard from 11 individuals representing The Oregonian/OregonLive, Willamette Week, KGW, Pamplin Media Group, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Portland State University and more. It was a delight to see the interaction. Students’ questions elicited thoughtful responses from the pros that made it clear doing journalism or PR means constantly dealing with ethical dilemmas. How do you obtain and present the news? How do you deal with vulnerable sources and conflicts of interest? How do you frame stories and own up to errors? How you conduct yourself reflects on your personal integrity and your employer’s credibility.

6. Ask for help. I sought out plenty of assistance long before the first class from senior and junior faculty members in the Communications Department — and continued doing so as the term went on. I adapted some of what I’d seen online to my syllabus. More than once, I consulted with technical support staff so I’d know how to deal with classroom technology. And, not least, I relied on work-study students in the Comm Department for help photocopying essays and exams.

7. Be real. As the term went on, I became increasingly mindful of the big picture. Portland State is an urban campus with a high percentage of first-generation, part-time and transfer students where only 41 percent of full-time freshmen graduate within six years. (Compare that to just over 60 percent at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.) You’ll never confuse this place with an elite liberal arts campus situated in some small town far away from urban areas. In such places, students straight out of high school typically have the luxury of going to school full-time, often with minimal financial worries or family obligations. At Portland State, not so much.


8. Be encouraging. Understanding that everyone starts in a different place gave me the perspective to calibrate my criticism. With some students who struggled to express themselves clearly, it was a matter of editing their papers in a way that reinforced the basics of grammar, punctuation and word choice. With more advanced students, it was a matter of challenging them to consider this idea or that concept. In either case, it had to be done with respect, not condescension, and I took care to praise visible progress. As I graded the final exam, I got a lump in my throat seeing that one student who had struggled early on had scored 90, the fourth-highest score in the class. Late in the term, about one-third of the class opted to do an extra-credit assignment to boost their chances of a better grade. For many, it was their best paper of the term.

9. Be grateful. In their last writing assignment and in emails, several students said they had learned a lot from the course and now viewed the mass media in an entirely different, more positive way. Some said Media Ethics was their favorite class. A few even said they were applying ethical principles to their behavior in everyday life. And then there was this from one of my quieter students: “This class truly changed my life and allowed me to learn so much…It changed my life in guiding me in a different career direction, and validating my thoughts of being a journalist. I know now that I am capable of being a journalist, and by taking this class I found that I possess a lot of the characteristics that it takes to be a good journalist. Thank you!!!!”

Seeing I had that kind of impact is pretty humbling and makes me excited for next term. I’ll be teaching Media Literacy during the winter quarter. Six of my students have signed up for the class. I take that as a good sign.

Next: A round of thank-yous

Lessons from a mother


Since I began teaching in late September, I’ve had no time for a book and very little time for  magazine articles.

So when classes ended last week, I treated myself to a simple pleasure: a morning cup of joe, my recliner and The New Yorker. Flipping through the latest copy of the magazine, I was drawn to an article headlined “The Teacher.”

How could I resist?

Although I still have a final exam to give this week, I was feeling pretty good about how things went during my first stab at teaching an 11-week course in communications.

What insights might I gain from a first-person essay written by the son of a teacher?

At least three, it turns out.

The author, James Wood, opens with a scene from his mother’s funeral (she was 87), then segues to a discussion of how teaching ran in his family (his father also was a teacher and his mother’s grandfather was in charge of a small school in the Scottish countryside) and of what he learned about his mother after her death.

It’s clear-eyed prose, written with the precision of a New Yorker staff writer and book critic who also teaches literary criticism at Harvard. Drawing on childhood memories, Wood recalls the selfless sacrifice his “perpetually impoverished parents” made, each working multiple jobs, so that their three children could attend expensive boarding schools. An unnecessary sacrifice, he says, because a grammar school not far from town sent kids every year to Oxford and Cambridge.

But his mother was determined that her two boys and one daughter would have nothing but the finest private education, even if it meant she worked a Saturday job at a bookstore cash register in addition to teaching English at a girls’ high school.

My three takeaways?

1. A glimpse of a Northern European culture I know little of. Wood describes his mother as a hard worker from the lower middle class with a demeanor reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher.

In many ways, she was an almost stereotypically Scottish mother (the goyish version of the Jewish caricature)—passionate, narrow, judgmental, always aspiring. Her children were her artifacts, through which she created the drama of her own restless ambitions. These ambitions were moral and social. She wanted us to be morally successful, to get the best possible grades from the Great Examiner.

It’s uncanny that the description popped up at the same time Lori and I were laboring through a Netflix film about a young Scottish girl in the early 20th century, overcoming hardships in a household headed by a father whose disciplinarian ways spilled over into physical and emotional abuse. Not that I’m saying all Scots are this way…

2. A reminder of my own mother. Wood describes receiving an email from one of his mother’s former students, an accomplished poet who was one of her great success stories. He writes:

All sons adore their complicated mothers, in one way or another. But how powerful to encounter, from someone else, the beautifully uncomplicated statement “I adored her.”

As a young boy and continuing into my mid-20s, I thought the world of my mother. In my mind, she was the standout among six sisters in a family of migrant farmworkers — smart, funny, feisty, pretty, a hard worker, and utterly devoted to my two sisters and me. Deprived of the opportunity to attend even high school, she encouraged me at a young age to do well in school and go to college.

After Lori and I became parents, complications ensued and things were never the same. Differing views over religion and child-rearing were exacerbated by distance. Toward the end of life, she became more reclusive, less physically active, and focused on a variety of ailments, both real and imagined.

I loved her, of course, and I knew she adored me. But “complicated” hardly begins to explain our relationship.

3. An even greater appreciation of the teaching profession. Having just concluded a course that demanded of me far more time than I imagined, I am fully aware that one goes into this line of work not for the money, but to have an impact on others’ lives. Wood writes:

I had a sense that my mother was a good teacher, but I had no idea that she had been such an influential one, and in the very area I had chosen, and struggled to succeed in, often in the face of parental doubts. She had been not just a good teacher but a crucial literary encourager, and I had not been able to see this well enough…

Through the eyes of others and only after her death is Wood able to see the gift his mother gave — not to just her students but to him as well. I can only hope to have the same positive influence on the young men and women who come through my classroom.

Read Wood’s essay: “The Teacher”

Illustration: Gerard Dubois

The Midwest awaits you: One perspective from a Millennial in Dayton, Ohio


Editor’s note: Unless I’m overlooking someone, I know all of five people who live in Ohio. Recently, I became acquainted with a sixth: a talented writer who came to my attention when I bought her book (“Becoming Mother”) as a gift for a daughter-in-law. I complimented her writing and soon enough Sharon Tjaden-Glass and I became friends on Facebook.

I thought of Sharon when I read a terrific piece in The New York Times that pointed to Dayton, Ohio — where she lives — as a place that typifies the trend of college-educated millennials moving away from red states to blue ones, leaving less educated, less mobile residents with diminished employment prospects and few cultural offerings.

Would she consider writing a guest blog from the perspective of a Dayton resident in her 30s? To my delight, she said yes.

By Sharon Tjaden-Glass

I don’t live in a glamorous city.

The only time you’ll see tourists around here is during the annual Dayton Air Show or some anniversary related to the Wright Brothers. We are very proud of the fact that Orville and Wilbur lived and worked here in Dayton, Ohio. And we loathe that North Carolina proclaims that they are “First in Flight” on their license plates.


Dayton, Ohio isn’t a city where people try to live. We were born here or we end up here through circumstance.

My husband was born here. He is a third-generation Polish boy, on both sides. His grandparents settled in the Dayton area in the early 1900s.

I ended up here through circumstance. My Minnesotan parents moved here because my father got a job as a bakery supervisor with a chain of grocery stores called Supervalu.

This isn’t to say that Dayton is a bad place to live.


Sharon Tjaden-Glass

House prices are very reasonable. Our $200,000 four-bedroom house would go for $1 million in the posh suburbs of Washington, D.C. If you work and live in Dayton, the commute is pretty much always twenty to thirty minutes. We have plenty of places to shop and dine. Plenty of movie theaters and a few performing arts centers. If you want a good public education, I could recommend at least five different school districts. We have at least six institutions of higher learning, including private and public four-year colleges and two-year community colleges.

I get why people move away, though.

The largest employers in this area are Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Reynolds & Reynolds, Lexis Nexis, two local hospitals, our public school systems, and a few universities. Read: jobs for engineers, business, health care, and education. Certainly, those are robust fields. But there’s not much diversity of jobs.

And here’s where we struggle.

American millennials—especially college-educated ones—are looking for more out of their jobs than just a steady paycheck. Maybe it’s because we know that the likelihood that we’ll be able to stay in a job for longer than ten years is pretty slim. We know that we need to be thinking about the next job as soon as we take the one in front of us. And no, it’s not because we have trouble with loyalty. It’s because we’re generally distrustful of corporations. (We know that they too often undercut their own employees in order to post profits for their investors.) So we’re looking for places to live where we can imagine Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D.

Having only a Plan A can be a bit risky.

When it comes to providing opportunities where people in their 20s and 30s can imagine mapping out some kind of career, however meandering it might be, it’s hard for cities like Dayton to compete with larger metropolitan areas.


dayton-mapIn his recent opinion piece for the New York Times (“Go Midwest, Young Hipster,”), Alex MacGillis reflects on how this phenomenon of millennials clustering in larger cities is affecting our political landscape. When all the college-educated voters, many of whom are Democrats, move to a blue state like New York or California, the power of their votes takes a dive.

MacGillis points out that their votes would be more powerful if they stayed in their home state. He even goes so far as to name some of these millennial voters and their circumstances around moving away. Several of them were from—where else?—Dayton, Ohio.

Okay, I admit. That makes me feel good about staying in Ohio. Every time an election comes around, I know that it matters that I show up to vote.

Looking around my neighborhood provides all the evidence that I need.

On the street next to ours, one house sports a Clinton-Kaine sign. The next one advertises Gary Johnson. And then comes the Trumped Up house. I kid you not, two ladies, one in her 60s and one in her 80s, have set up shop in their driveway. Selling Trump-Pence merchandise. Nearly every day. Their lawn screams Lock Her Up! and Make America Great Again with no fewer than seven signs.


Political lawn signs sprout from the “Trumped Up” house in the author’s neighborhood.

Dayton, Ohio, has an interesting mix.

Former blue-collar workers who long for manufacturing jobs to return. The good ol’ days.
Highly paid white-collar government employees who insist that they are self-made champions of their own universes. Did this all myself! Why should anyone else have more help?

Military personnel who wonder if most Americans have even the faintest idea of what it means to serve their country.

College students who are working part-time jobs to defray some of the costs.

Public school teachers who wonder if they can survive another year of state-mandated testing while fighting to convince their local communities to pass school levies just so they can do their jobs.

That’s life in a swing state.


But sometimes I wonder, how much longer will Ohio be a swing state?

What will happen when millennials turn 50 and the baby boomers are nearly gone?
Are we looking ahead to a country where white Christians are no longer a majority demographic in this country?

Or perhaps that is the exact scenario that strikes fear into the hearts of those who want to Make America Great Again.

But I am hopeful.

Because, as a millennial, I look forward to a more diverse America. I’m okay if Christianity doesn’t stay the most followed religion in this country. (And I am Christian). I like the idea of my daughter being a part of a classroom where more than just one or two kids are not white. I hope that she speaks out against bullies who insist that someone isn’t worthy of respect because of who they are.

I’m okay with white Christian Americans becoming a minority in this country—because that demographic doesn’t define what America is.

Thank God, America is much bigger than White, Christian, English-speaking, Straight.
America isn’t a face.

America is a set of values.

America is Equality. Hard work. Innovation. Honesty. Freedom. Respect. Self-reliance.

But America is also Empathy and Compassion.

Values don’t have a face. But they have a heart. And from the bottom of mine, I welcome a United States where we see diversity as an asset rather than a liability.


So to all those Midwestern millennials who have moved to Chicago and New York and Miami and San Francisco: When you’re ready, you’re welcome to come home.

We need your vote. We need your voice.

It might not happen this year.

But when you get tired of the high rent, the long commutes, the small spaces, and the razor-thin margins of disposable income, we’ll be here waiting.

With plenty of parking.

Sharon Tjaden-Glass is the author of “Becoming Mother: A Journey of Identity” available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon. She is also teaches English as a Second Language in the Intensive English Program at the University of Dayton. You can read more of her writing at
Photograph: Sharon Tjaden-Glass

The American Dream reconsidered


The American Dream has different meanings to different people. What’s your definition?

On a recent Saturday night, eight thoughtful adults from different walks of life gathered around a dining table to discuss what the American Dream means to us.

Sounds simple enough, right? But maybe not, with rising housing prices, uncertain job prospects and structural economic changes causing ripples of concern from millennials to boomers.

Countless movies have been made, books written and speeches given about the American Dream. But how often do we stop to think about, much less articulate, what the term means to us individually as well as to society as a whole?

epic-of-americaJames Truslow Adams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and historian, coined the term in his 1931 book “The Epic of America.” Adams wrote that his  American Dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

Politicians are fond of conjuring gauzy notions of upward mobility that revolve around home ownership, typically a suburban ranch home with a lawn and a white picket fence, occupied by a married couple with two kids, and a car or two.

Those with a more critical view take issue with this image of conformity and complacency, often pointing to socioeconomic and cultural divides that keep many Americans from achieving their own version of the idyllic life. offers a contemporary definition of the phrase:

1. the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American.
2. a life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the U.S.

As the eight of us went around the table, I looked forward to hearing how each person framed his or her understanding of the American Dream. Call me a nerd, but I thoroughly enjoy discussions like these that shed light on our personal histories, illuminating our  differences and commonalities, and offering new perspectives to consider.


Even before we began, I could see we were hardly a representative group: Three professors with PhDs, two medical doctors, an advertising professional, a small businesswoman/personal trainer (that would be Lori) and myself, a lifelong journalist now doing adjunct teaching and part-time work in communications for an education nonprofit.

All (or nearly all) of us live in Portland’s eastside neighborhoods, eight college graduates nestled in the city’s liberal cocoon, ranging in age from the mid-30s to the early 60s, and not a single one of us born in Oregon. All of us were raised in cities, or at least near them. One of our hosts lived abroad for several years but moved back to the United States to attend college.

I’d be hard pressed to fairly summarize each person’s take, but I’d venture to say there was general agreement with the idea that the American Dream is malleable, capable of being pressed into different interpretations without losing its original meaning.

Predictably, many of us first viewed the American Dream through the eyes of our parents, some growing up in the middle class with college-educated moms and dads and others aspiring to get there from the working class.

Lori spoke of her dad, the son of Slovenian immigrants and the only one of his siblings to attend college, and her mom, the quintessential ’50s housewife of mostly Italian heritage who also worked outside the home in various retail jobs.

I shared my perspective as the son of Mexican-American migrant farmworkers who didn’t have an opportunity to attend high school. My father became a factory worker and a stationary engineer, operating the boilers and other mechanical systems at an inner-city hospital. My late mother raised my two sisters and me while working as a seamstress and, later, as a taxi driver.

Each had eight siblings. To their credit, they were the only ones in their families to move away from the Salinas Valley to make a life for themselves in the San Francisco Bay Area. We grew up initially in a blue-collar town with a large Latino population, then moved to a white, middle-class suburb where the schools were better, the streets wider and cleaner, and the community character was pretty bland.


So what does the American Dream mean to me?

I offered a modest vision, couched in terms of financial security, physical safety and psychological freedom. I want for Lori and me to be comfortable now and in retirement, knowing we can pay our bills and have something left over. I want to be healthy and secure in our home and neighborhood. And, I want to know I am able to think, read, travel and act as I please.

But I also realized that definition was incomplete. I was being too selfish. I wasn’t accounting for anyone else’s well-being other than my own and Lori’s.

We’d been invited weeks earlier, so I knew the topic would arise. And in the days before the dinner, I reached out to a few friends and family members for their take.

Here’s what some of them had to say:

“It’s about a comparative level of comfort in this world — financially, ideologically and otherwise — and being afforded great opportunity….Even at my weakest points in life, I’ve had relative comfort and opportunity simply because of my birthright.  I think that along with comfort and opportunity comes the responsibility to help create opportunity and comfort for others — even if that’s as simple as doing our best with what we have so we can reserve resources for others in true need.”

“When I think of my American dream, it is one of collective prosperity–not one where you just earn enough to take care of yourself. [My spouse] and I talk frequently about the inherent selfishness of our economic system. That kind of thinking (and behavior) leaves others behind….I want a fully integrated and prosperous society where there is no single model of success, but rather, endless ways to contribute.”

“After years of pursuit of the elusive American dream, I have come to believe that it is a  utopian pursuit and a self-destructive ideal. It elevates self as a deity, and leads one to using people as objects and relationships as a means to an ever moving destination. I choose to pursue God and Love instead. The pursuit of love sees people and relationships as the destination.”

And then there was Lori, asserting that her version of the dream calls for racial harmony and tolerance for all.


I was humbled by these perspectives and grateful for the chance to reconsider my own notions of the American Dream.

As a homeowner, college graduate and white-collar professional who climbed from the working class into the middle class, I’d hasten to say I’ve already realized some aspects of the dream on a personal level. But I also know without the love, support and sacrifices of my parents — and my wife of 41 years — it surely would not have been possible.

Their gifts, coupled with the recent conversation, remind me to think outside myself and to rededicate myself to the cause of helping others achieve their dream.

I’m thankful that I have two platforms for this. One, by working directly with college students, many of whom, like me, are the first in their family to attend university. Two, by working on behalf of Portland-area high school students, particularly those at high-poverty, high-diversity schools where many are first-generation immigrants.

Not everyone is so lucky as to be in position to have an influence on their future.

Photograph: H. Armstron Roberts/CORBIS