While the main objective of college is higher learning, many students also come to school hoping to get in on the traditional college experience with ivy-draped walls, pep rallies, homecoming and seniors who think they are John Belushi reincarnated. PSU is commonly seen as lacking some of these characteristics. People complain about not having this program or that social opportunity because “it’s a commuter school.” But are we really missing out on that much?
I spent my freshman and sophomore years at a traditional state school, Oregon State University in Corvallis. It had all the usual symbols popular culture associates with college: the hundred-year-old buildings, the huge football program, fraternity row, overzealous cops…
Since there are not usually that many muggings or gang shootouts going on in a small, bucolic college town, law enforcement focuses more on the student body. They tend to spend a large chunk of their time handing out tickets like candy, except candy doesn’t cost $134 the first time you eat it. They pull over a prodigious amount of cars every weekend for classic reasons like crossing the center line, having a burned-out turn signal, etc., hoping to get lucky and find someone they can pop for a DUI. Or curfew … while living in C-Town, I was stopped twice for being out after the midnight curfew for children under the age of 18. I was 20 at the time. What would you think if you saw a youngish-looking person walking across a college campus in the middle of the night?
Wow, he needs to go home and get to bed so he won’t miss middle school in the morning!?
Portland cops, on the other hand, have seen it all. They are usually more concerned with bloodshot-eyed street people hassling passersby than bloodshot-eyed college students leaving a football game.
Portland rent may be considered high, but real estate is downright obscene in a college town like Corvallis, regardless of whether you live in college housing or off-campus. All the dorms at OSU are run on the principle of the Ondine “freshman experience” floor where you pay by the term instead of the month and have a meal plan included in the cost. Toward the end of my stay in Hawley Hall, one of the more recently renovated dorms, I worked out how much the rent came to on a monthly basis, with the food factored out. My jaw hit the floor when I saw that it was $435 for my half (I had a roommate) of a closet-sized room with no bathroom. There was only one men’s and one women’s bathroom per floor and I lived the furthest from the men’s of anybody on the whole floor. On weekends, when studying gave way to other priorities, the restrooms turned into de-facto co-ed facilities. People just used whichever one was closer to their room … or the fire escape. My dorm had the side benefit of being downwind from the on-campus agriculture barns where cows engaged in typical cow activities, like producing a hellish aroma that wafted through the windows of nearby buildings on warm fall afternoons.
The problem with sprawling, picturesque campuses is that it takes a sprawling, picturesque time to get from home to class. Unless you plan your classes based on their geographic location rather than, say, where they fit in with the curriculum you are studying, passing time between classes can typically be fifteen minutes or so. PSU is neatly compact by comparison. I live in the Ondine now, and it only takes about two minutes to stumble across the street to class in the morning or stumble back across the street from the Turtle at night.
It is a good thing I left Corvallis before I turned 21, because if I had stayed I would be sick and tired of pubs and bars by now. There was no clubbing as we know it, just sports bars like Tailgaters, the Peacock, etc. The Peacock at least had a dance floor on the second story–the “Top of the Cock” as it was vividly nicknamed–where they played lots of bad ten-year-old rap.
As a total night owl, it always bothered me how they basically rolled up the sidewalks in Corvallis after 10 p.m. At colleges like OSU there is really nothing there
except the university itself. Take away that and you would have another Prineville. Portland State, on the other hand, is seamlessly integrated into one of the coolest cities on the West coast – which works out beautifully if you want access to a bigger world outside your own personal animal house.