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Photography by: Nata Jenney

When people find out that I’m a freshman here at UO, their immediate follow-up question is, “Oh, what dorm are you in?”

And I immediately answer, “I’m not in a dorm. I live in an apartment” without a second thought. I’ve become almost robotic in my response because of the amount of times I’ve had to answer that question.

I’m most definitely not alone in this.

As our university grows, the amount of students needing a place to stay grows as well. Unfortunately, the university has not been able to keep up the past couple of years and as we transition into a new phase of university population, we must be nothing but patient.

The Problem

There are currently 4,200 beds in the University Housing system. Although a high number, it is not nearly enough to suffice the amount of people who want them. So where does that leave the freshmen who have never been own their own before? It puts them out in the real world – where they are forced to learn how to be completely independent.

This wasn’t always a problem. With the University becoming more and more of a top option for students from around the nation, the university has had a large increase in the amount of incoming freshmen.

“The biggest year change was probably three years ago,” said Food Services director Tom Driscoll, when he noticed the high admittance that was accompanied by a high need for rooms.

This leaves freshmen who applied too late for housing to literally be homeless for the next year and have to scramble to figure out how they are going to live on their own.

Driskoll says that the University has acknowledged the increase and is in the process of creating another residence hall that will add an additional 451 beds – a number that Driscoll claims will be enough to house everyone that will want to be in the halls.

However, lack of housing isn’t the only reason why freshmen are forced to live off campus.

The reason I personally chose to live off campus is to relieve my parents of that burden of a cost of living on campus.

Let’s do the math here. I pay $287 for rent, $15 for internet and around $15 for electricity a month. Factor in about $100 on groceries, and that’s about $415 a month, or about $3700 for the year…compare that to the nearly $9000 for a tiny room.

And tt’s no secret that housing here at the University not only has the smallest rooms but is also one of the most expensive. It costs nearly 9 grand to live in Bean – where the rooms are half the size of my bedroom back home. And to even get your own bathroom, you have to be willing to pay a minimum of almost 13 grand.

“It’s expensive, no question about it,” Driscoll said. “You also have to figure in the benefits and in that case, you’re not really comparing apples to apples. There are a lot of programs and people surrounding you 24/7.”

The health of the freshmen off campus.

Coming into college, the most I had ever cooked was Top Ramen. It wasn’t until the summer prior to college that, thanks to my ex-boyfriend, I learned how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.

So how was I expected to survive on my own?

I immediately thought, “Well, I’ll just go buy a meal plan and life will be swell.”

A reasonably swell plan indeed, except for the fact that the University of Oregon doesn’t really technically offer a meal plan.

They currently offer what is called “DeDuck”, which is a fancy term coined for using your student ID card as a sort of a debit card. You put a certain amount of cash on your card and you can use the money to spend on residence hall food. There’s an incentive to do this rather than simply paying with cash because with every $100 you put on your card, you get 10 bucks.

Sounds good, except the prices of the food in the residence halls are ridiculously high.

I average close to seven or eight dollars for a meal in these residence halls by getting a salad and a bottle of juice. Where’s the incentive to buy if I could just walk to a grocery store and make my own damn salad?

“We price things using the retail market,” Driscoll explained. “It’s the same price as recommended by the manufacturer.”

The price per meal is cheaper for residence hall students with a set meal plan because they made the huge commitment to living in the halls, so they deserve the deductions.

So what about those of us who would be open to buying a $2,000 meal plan?

“It’s just not convienient for people off campus,” Driscoll said. “People would open accounts and would later on ask for a refund because they end up not using the points at all.”

Makes sense.

Until I checked out my sister’s school, Boise State University.

They offer various meal plans for students and faculty that do not reside on campus. They range from $37.50 to $380, or 5 to 45 all-you-care-to-eat meals. On top of that, you can also choose to purchase the $1400 complete meal plan offered to on-campus students.

However, these meal plans are non refundable and need to be used within a year.

Fortunately, Driskoll says that the University is working on a program that will further benefit both on and off-campus students.

We will have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’m getting hungry…perhaps I should go get a $5 salad at Dux Bistro.

So are we off-campus froshies left stranded?!

To an extent. Because this is such a new and hopefully temporary problem, the University hasn’t exactly had time to make an elaborate plan to resolve the issue.

That’s where First Year Initiative, or FYI comes in. The program makes the much-needed attempt at getting these freshmen together and become more connected with the school.

“We try to reach out to students who want to be reached out to,” said FYI founder and president Kassia Galick.

FYI works with the University to offer cooking classes and other programs to bring the students together as well as producing a monthly newsletter.

Unfortunately, it’s still not enough. I, along with other off-campusers, can’t help but feel a little ostracized from campus life.

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot that can be done at this time.

Through this transitioning time period, we have to embrace the fact that the university is growing and understand that although it sucks to be excluded from the “dorm life”, there are other ways to get involved and all it takes is a little creativity and openness to do so.

Besides, I enjoy having my own bathroom. And not having my roommate sleep two feet away from me.

Just another sober sister

Posted: March 2, 2011 by Brittany Nguyen in College Life, Comedy

“It’s college. Everybody drinks in college.”

Really? That’s funny. I know quite a few who don’t.

Including myself.

Is it my morals? My ultra-conservative views? My Catholic religion? (No, it most definitely cannot be that last one…)

No, it’s because I don’t want to. As simple as that.

I don’t find it very appealing to down a liquid that will give me a burning sensation down my throat, into my esophagus and landing into my poor undeserving stomach. Not to mention the fact that as a lightweight there’s a chance that with one too many drinks the alcohol will travel back up my esophagus, up my throat, and out of my mouth. (And I’m not the biggest fan of vomit)

I don’t find it very appealing to not remember a really fun night or stumble upon trashy pictures of myself that I don’t remember taking.  I don’t want to be that girl in the background of all the pictures with her skirt hiked up a little too high or be the subject of pity as other have to babysit me all night because I had one too many shots.

Classy.

But perhaps the biggest reason why I don’t drink is because I don’t feel a need to. I mean, I don’t eat or drink things that I don’t like the taste of, and I don’t like the taste of alcohol, so I won’t subject myself to it.

Oh, and the tiny little fact that I know how to have fun sober. Seriously. You DON’T need to be buzzed to have fun. You DON’T need to be buzzed to “loosen up” (that’s the biggest bullshit I’ve ever heard. If you’re not comfortable where you are, then don’t be there.)

And no, I am not embarrassed that I don’t drink. In fact, most people are perfectly fine with it. Others, however, feel the need to baby me.

“Here, there’s coke in the fridge. Guys, it’s okay, we’ve got coke for Brittany tonight.”

“You can play too, Brittany…um, I guess you can just drink water…”

Okay Mother Tipsy. Thank you for making me feel like I’m 5 years old.

Another misconception: just because we don’t drink means we don’t want you to drink.

I couldn’t care less what you put in your bodies. I couldn’t care less if I was the only sober person in a room full of drunk kids. It’s your choice to drink, and it’s my choice to stay sober and watch you drink. I’m not going to sit there all night advocating the needs to be sober. I’m just NOT going to drink.

Sobriety. It’s simple, really. Yet a lot of people make it much too complicated.

The Sweetest Pea

Posted: February 3, 2011 by Brittany Nguyen in Journalism

Photo by: Branden Andersen Eugene resident Sweet Pea spends most of his time at the 13th street Circle K selling line art.

By Brittany Nguyen

Coming from a suburban town twenty minutes outside of Portland, I interacted very little with those who did not have a home and were forced to live on the streets.

It’s quite a different story here in Eugene, and although it may have taken a bit of time to get used to, I’ve learned to embrace the diversity that this city has brought me.

And I’ve killed the stereotype I had about homeless people – that they are who they are because they’re lazy, that they are gross and they smell, and that they are a danger to my everyday safety.

Nobody would ever say that about Michael Rister, aka Sweet Pea — and wielding a white bucket strung over a long PVC tube, it’s hard to miss him.

“It’s more of an advertisement,” Sweet Pea said of his infamous bucket, “It’s kinda like my mobile office. I’ll use it as a cooler every once in a while though.”

Where does the name “Sweet Pea” come from, you ask?

“It happened back in 1994,” Sweet Pea laughed. “We were hanging out in a school bus and I wanted to name it ‘Sweet Pea’. My friends instantly looked at me and said ‘that’s your name’. And sometimes, when you get a nickname, it just sticks and defines you.”

You can find Sweet Pea every night from 8pm to 2am in front of the 13th St Circle K, distributing his artwork. With nothing more than what he is given by his friends, he intricately draws lines that create masterpiece designs.

“I use anything I get my hands on,” said Sweet Pea of his choice in art supplies. “Pens, paint, any kind of craft supply.  I’ll sell my artwork, but I let people name the price. Sometimes I’ll give it away for free, sometimes people give me ten bucks. I’m honestly just trying to show my art.”

Most of his art is drawn at the 13th street Circle K, which considers his home away from home.

“That’s pretty much where I’m always at,” Sweet Pea said.

The 35-year-old grew up on the East Coast came to Eugene in 1994 with Grateful Dead as they performed at Autzen Stadium. He immediately fell in love with the city, residing here ever since.

Photo by: Branden Andersen

“We all know Sweet Pea,” said Circle K empolyee Trey Nolta with a chuckle while pulling out a cigarette, “he knows so many people that he always manages to find a place to crash.”

“Sweet Pea is like our little mascot!” another Circle K employee chimed in.

I watched  brother-and-sister-like interaction between the two of them as they jokingly bickered and laughed together throughout my interview.

But for Sweet Pea, it hasn’t always been fun and games.

“Life has been a rollercoaster with its ups and downs,” he said. “But you have to just keep on going, you can’t stop.”

Lately, it’s been at a down for Sweet Pea.

After constantly being harassed by another homeless man, Sweet Pea snapped and ended up attacking him with a chain on his black messenger bag.

“I didn’t take care of the situation in a good way,” Sweet Pea explained. “That’s not me, that’s not who I am.”

He spent 30 days in prison on a second-degree assault charge, and is currently serving a 3-year probation sentence.

But Sweet Pea isn’t gonna let that get in the way of his dreams.

This past September, after 17 years since the last time he was in school, Sweet Pea began the fall term at Lane Community College. Unfortunately, only after a few weeks, Sweet Pea became sick and, because he doesn’t have health insurance, could not properly treat it and had to drop out of school.

Photo by: Branden Andersen

Those who know Sweet Pea also don’t see his arrest affecting the kind of man he is. They see him as a talented man whose art shines brighter than his record.

“he’s a super nice guy,” said University of Oregon senior Ryan Castro, “seems lonely, but he always has good intentions.”

Sweet Pea’s biggest intention, in fact, is to put a smile on people’s faces.

“I just want to try and make people happy.” Sweet Pea said as two college-aged students walked into the store. He immediately gave them high fives as they cheerfully said hi to him.

And if he can’t get them to instantly smile, he knows what to do – it’s his infamous joke that everybody seems to know:

“Hey, you dropped something…made you smile!”

T’was the season to empty your wallet

Posted: January 5, 2011 by Brittany Nguyen in Holidays, Journalism

Photo by: Rebecca Jones

The tough times in the economy, slow-down in businesses seem to appear nonexistent in some families during the holiday season. Some find the spending as a way to come together as family and community and others see it as a way to express their love for the holiday. Either way, they are spending money, and a lot of it.

In the October 25, 2010 article “Consumers Issue a Cautious Christmas Spending Forecast”, Lydia Saad reported that Americans were said to spend $715 this holiday season on gifts alone.

That statistic ran in line with the shoppers I talked to at Washington Square Mall in Tigard, Oregon.

As I walked through throughout the mall people were juggling through the crowds with large shopping bags and crying kids, the majority of the shoppers I managed to stop spent around $1000 for an average family size of five or six.

One consumer claims to have spent several thousands of dollars this year for about 10 members of her family.

“It’s because I’m a grandma,” she joked. “And I mostly give out gift cards, it’s easier that way.”

I guess it’s the grandparent’s job to spoil their family rotten. And I guess some choose the easy route in doing so…I mean, if you’re going to spend that much money, why don’t you go ahead and get them that iPad they wanted? What about a car while you’re at it?

For 21-year-old Lynette Arbuckle, $3-4000 is the average total for her family of six, with $1000 of that spent on extended family.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Arbuckle admitted. “But it makes for a big Christmas every year.”

Ya think?

And speaking of crazy…what about those crazy decorations? We’ve seen them in movies…but do people REALLY spend that much money?

A trip up Bull Mountain Rd., an area in Tigard known for its upscale neighborhoods, led me to the Miller family who are famed for their over-the-top, beautifully set-up Christmas decorations. In fact, last year they purchased 187 poinsettias alone, a figure that isn’t forgotten by family and friends.

Jon Miller, 19, says that it’s all due to his father’s hard work throughout the year that lets them to have such an elaborate Christmas. “My father saves very much just for December. So in all honesty, I would guess my family spends over $4000 each year”

Miller’s mother, Robyn Miller, gives us a bit of a different estimate. She claims her family spent about $15-20,000 this holiday season.

Wait – what?

Can’t you buy a car with that price?

I’m guessing that her and Gift Card Grandma would get along quite well.

And the holiday cheer doesn’t stop there. The Millers are also known for their annual Christmas party, which always happens on the 3rd Saturday of December.

“It started out just being for my dad’s clients and business partners,” J. Miller says. “But then it just blossomed into family and friends.”

For Miller, it’s his Christmas. “I absolutely adore having everyone here with amazing food, everyone is smiling, and the biggest compliment is that everyone feels at home here during the party. I think the decorations give people something to look forward to and it makes people feel like a kid again”

You need $20,000 worth of decorations to feel like a kid again?

Whatever happened to the crafty 3-D angels we’d cut out with less-than sharp scissors, or the paper-link chains that helped us keep track of how many days were left until Christmas? I mean, I certainly don’t remember spending $20,000 for Christmas as a kid. I just remember getting crafty.

Speaking of crafty, another Christmas tradition that people look forward to is Portland’s famed holiday wonderland Peacock Lane, a place also known for their elaborate decorations. But is it really necessary to drop thousands of dollars in order to do so?

Apparently not.

Krista Brockwood, a 40-year-old mom of two tells me that a lot of people get creative and make their own decorations.

“We’re known as the ‘Peanut’ house,” she joked. “We made Peanut characters out of plywood.”

Though the Brockwoods spent $200 this year on lights alone, they have only spent a total of around $500 on decorations during the 8 years that they have lived there.

Just a bit cheaper than the numbers we’ve seen before.

Just a bit.

“I always look on Black Friday for deals and I have already made a list for next year,” she explained. “This year we switched to LED lights but it’s socially acceptable to leave your lights up year-round here.”

The residents of Peacock Lane, just like the Millers, want to spread the holiday spirit through their Christmas decorations.

“We are adamant about not being commercialized,” Brockwood says. “We want it to be free and accessible to everyone.”

They even set up a cocoa booth with the profits going to a different charity every year. In years past, the money has been sent to the boy scouts that helped set up lights that year and the Oregon Food Bank. This year, the money will go to the Glencoe Elementary School for a much-needed new playground.

“We’re total Christmas dorks.” Brockwood joked. “It’s fun being a part of something bigger than you and it brings us a sense of community.”

With a peanut train of homemade characters and lights shining brightly, Brockwood, and the rest of the Peacock Lane residents, show us that having over-the-top Christmas traditions doesn’t necessarily mean emptying your wallet.

Though some may disagree.