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The creation of Growing Oaks

Growing Oaks was founded in a deliberate action of hope following a year of suffering through a global pandemic, political violence, fire, and ice. Below, we share a few reflections about those dark days to acknowledge the past as we reach for the light of tomorrow.


The Santiam Fire

During the fall semester of the 2020-2021 academic year, the community of Willamette University and the city of Salem were plagued by deep orange-red skies caused by the deadly wildfires in Oregon. With the increasing issue of climate change, there have been extreme amounts of fluctuating weather conditions throughout the United States. Daylight was cursed by red. The smoke filled the air and people’s lungs. Even with the addition of masks, the people of the Willamette community and the broader city of Salem community were harshly affected. Homes were lost, and the suffocating, blazing fires added to the uneasiness that the Willamette community was already experiencing. However, it wasn’t just people who were impacted. Willamette University Biology Professor David Craig noticed that a population of Bushtits was found nesting in Giant Sequoia trees during the afternoon, as well as a group of nocturnal insects that began their day at the same time. Professor Craig saw this as a small glimmer of hope during these tense times, which was something that everyone needed. Unfortunately, that small glimmer of hope would soon fade.


COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 Pandemic deeply affected everyone. The normal way of life changed, and there were many anxieties and challenges brought on by the pandemic. During the 2020-21 academic year, there were a lot of Willamette community members concerned about the year ahead. This pandemic changed college campus life as people knew it. Students who came back to campus had to adjust to campus life with the addition of COVID. Not only did COVID affect individual students, but many on-campus clubs and student organizations saw negative effects. Fewer and fewer people were attending events and club meetings to ensure their own health and safety, along with the health and safety of their peers. COVID also had major impacts on the mental health of individuals and communities, as people felt isolated from each other. The Growing Oaks project aimed to create hope and positivity during a time when those were lost. 

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Social Unrest

In addition to a global health crisis, there was an extreme amount of social unrest. From the brutal police shootings of black men and women to the vandalism and killings of Asian Americans to the tragedy of missing or murdered Native American women, the BIPOC community has faced many heartbreaking and horrendous acts of violence in the past year. Willamette University is home to a diverse population of students who care about and are actively searching for more ways to be supportive of the BIPOC community. Many students and staff have been actively involved in speaking out about the harsh realities the BIPOC community has faced recently and connecting current violence to multi-generational and institutional racism embedded in our society. However, that didn’t stop the violence that occurred across the street from the university, as well as the acts of violence that some of our students faced as well. 


The Ice Storm

In February 2021, a huge ice storm hit. Many trees iced over and felled. Oregon Oaks were impacted the most, specifically very large or legacy Oregon Oaks that have been around for generations. People in the community became interested in learning more about the trees that fell, which led to the creation of the Oak Salvage project, run by three Willamette University professors: Joe Bowersox, Karen Arabas, and David Craig. In observing the Oak Salvage project, which analyzed ecological and climate patterns through tree rings, interest in creating a similar project exploring Oregon Oaks bloomed. There had been so much tension and turmoil surrounding the community, and after everything that had happened, this community deserved some good. The Growing Oaks project was created to reconnect the community of Willamette and beyond after the harsh and difficult year we had all faced. There was also want and need to advocate for the historical, cultural, and ecological importance of the Oregon oak species due to their declining population. Click the button below to learn more about the ice storm's impacts.

A photo from the February 2021 Salem Ice Storm. This photo was taken by Grace Shiffrin, showing a sign from campus and the surrounding area covered in ice.
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