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Oregon Legislative ‘Student Voices’ task force hear from OHSU members in first stop on statewide listening tour

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A large room with dozens of people sitting in a round table talking.
The Student Voices Task Force, championed by Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, came to OHSU for its first stop in a statewide listening tour. (Courtesy of the office of Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon)

OHSU students, faculty and staff recently participated in the first stop of a statewide listening tour by the Oregon Legislature’s Joint Task Force on Student Success for Underrepresented Students in Higher Education, or ‘Student Voices’ Task Force, which is focused on barriers underrepresented students face in higher education and how the state can engage on removing them.

OHSU President Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, joined a roundtable discussion with legislators, other higher education and community leaders, as well as several student government leaders, where he highlighted the financial burden carried by students in higher education and shared OHSU’s goal to have a scholarship for every student. Jacobs thanked legislators for the state’s recent investment in OHSU 30-30-30, which will help the university progress toward that goal. He also shared with legislators the importance of hiring faculty and staff from underrepresented groups so that students can see themselves reflected in the learning environment.

“With respect to health care education specifically, producing a more diverse and culturally competent health care workforce is essential for the effective delivery of health care services that meet the social, cultural and linguistic needs of all Oregonians,” Jacobs said.

The Student Voices Task Force, championed by Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, formed with the passage of House Bill 2590 (2021). The members are spending the interim period ahead of Oregon’s 2023 legislative session visiting public institutions of higher education throughout Oregon to hear from underrepresented students and the faculty, staff and community organizations that support them. Legislators will incorporate what they learn on the listening tour into policy proposals for the next session.

In addition to Jacobs, OHSU faculty, staff and students joined conversations throughout the day and provided input to task force members during the public hearing.

“This is a wicked problem that requires a multifactorial solution,” said George Mejicano, M.D., M.S., senior associate dean for education, OHSU School of Medicine, during a roundtable of PSU and OHSU faculty and staff. “It requires an equity lens and systemic, dedicated commitment, not just a two-year, biennial investment. Transformational change will only occur if we’re in it for the long haul.”

Over the course of the day, legislators heard about systemic issues, such as cultural competency and sense of belonging, as well as a multitude of other issues, including access to financial resources like SNAP benefits, mental health supports, the high cost to attend and low pay for adjunct faculty.

The Student Voices Task Force will continue its listening tour with similar roundtables and public hearings across Oregon. Students, faculty and staff interested in providing testimony to the committee are encouraged to join the upcoming virtual hearing on Thursday, April 21, beginning at 9 a.m. To find more information, including links to sign up to provide oral testimony or submit written testimony, visit the task force's website.

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