June 24, 2018
“I’m spending this summer in Portland, Oregon, a hippie liberal and sustainable city, on a Duke program where I’ll be doing an environmental law internship”… this is how I frequently described DukeEngage Portland to my friends and family. After interning the last few summers with environmental non-profit organizations in Washington D.C. and going to events on Capitol Hill, I knew I wanted to try something different. I was interested in exploring a new aspect of the “green” field, in a new city, with new people. The program seemed to match each of my goals. I eagerly applied and was happy to be accepted.
During the Academy, I struggled with the idea that our program didn’t seem to fit the “mold” of DukeEngage. Our primary focus was not people to people service. We wouldn’t have to worry about learning a new language, being in a homestay, or following unfamiliar norms. I didn’t know how DukeEngage would differ for me from an internship except for being outside of the Beltway.
As I continued to research my partner organization, Crag Environmental Law Center, I became more and more intrigued by their work. I started learning about environmental law, how policies are not enough in themselves, rather they require constant defense. I watched videos about the impact of Crag’s successes – whether protecting Oregon’s Mount Hood or preventing Nestle from bottling water from a local river – and read about the support they continue to provide for their clients. After traveling to Alaska earlier this summer, I rekindled my appreciation for natural habitats and the need to protect them for animals. So, I got very excited reading about Crag’s work defending public lands for wildlife, including the Tongass National Forest which I had just visited. As a passionate environmental and animal advocate, I wish to maximize every opportunity to help, and Crag seems like it will provide many of them throughout the summer
While I can imagine myself working as an environmental lobbyist or legislative assistant on Capitol Hill, I’m looking forward to being exposed to more directly protecting nature at Crag. I am eager to see what it’s like to be on the front lines of work I do and consider if the courtroom could be the best place to act on my passion. I am excited to leverage my past experience developing social media content, updating web pages, and organizing events to further Crag’s work.
But, I don’t think DukeEngage is designed to just be an internship. I think it’s designed, as the name suggests, to “engage.” To merely see, visit, and complete the highlights of Portland would cause me to drastically miss out on the excellent opportunity I think this program provides. Rather than just going to Voodoo Donuts, I should talk with the locals who are there. Rather than just taking TriMet to where I need to go, I should explore the various city blocks along the way. Rather than just reading about the festivals which take place, I should attend them. Rather than just walking by parks in the city, I should hike in them. Rather than visit, I should “engage.”
Yesterday, I started to do just that. At the Farmers Market, after trying samples and buying food, I started chatting with some of the vendors. In the evening, I hiked through three different parks, one of which felt like I was in the middle of the forest, when in fact, I was in downtown Portland. But, if I were to say that I’ve started getting a sense of what Portland is like, I would be mistaken. I really have no idea. Why have people fought to preserve nature here? Who truly values sustainability? What does it mean for Portland to be one of the whitest cities in America? How can one reconcile a reputation for progressivism with a history of discrimination?
By the end of the summer, I don’t plan to have the answers. Instead, I want to see for myself. I want to talk to people across Portland – of many races, religions, and socioeconomic statuses – to understand what they think and why. I want to experience the various aspects of the city that make it unique. I want to question my assumptions about Portland and open my eyes to what I really see. I want to contextualize my experience, and consider if and how it changes my vision of an ideal community, society, and world.
I hope to wrestle with these questions alongside my fellow participants. I want to get to know them and how they think and feel. I would love for us to open up and talk about the deeper ideas were contemplating. My dad once told me that the most insightful question you can ask someone is “what is important to you?” I hope to ask and be asked this question, and see if and how it evolves throughout our DukeEngage experience. I want to challenge my fellow participants and be challenged by them. I want to grow alongside a great group of people in an awesome city. I want to connect with Portland – the people, culture, and natural environment. I want to truly engage.