Historically, the Lents neighborhood has been given fewer resources and has been negatively stereotyped by the wealthier communities surrounding it. The Grant community is no different than other affluent areas, labelling the area around the Marshall Campus as “dirty” and “dangerous.” However, a quick look into the history of the neighborhood reveals why the area has been given these negative connotations.
Story by Mackie Mallison, Ari Tandan and Nora Janowski | Photos by Momoko Baker, Mako Barmon and Elliot Johnson | Video by Kana Heitzman
It’s seven o’clock on an August morning in 2015 and Franklin freshman, Sam Oeding, braces for his first day of high school at the Marshall campus while the Franklin building is under construction. The warm sun beats down on his back as he waits for a ride to school from his friend’s father. Oeding opens the car door and he and his friends begin their commute to the new campus.
But as they approach Marshall, Oeding observes a drastic change in the scenery of the area.
Turning onto Powell Blvd., he notices an abandoned lot crowded with tents and shopping carts. Oeding recalls his uncle’s concern after hearing that his nephew would be attending school at Marshall. “He just thought it was … a bad area,” says Oeding. Oeding’s own perspective of the neighborhood quickly formed as well. “I thought school was going to be, like, this scary thing,” he says.
But Oeding’s opinion changed as the school year continued. “It turned out it wasn’t that bad and most people over there are just friendly, maybe a little lower class, because they live in this less fortunate and less privileged area, but they’re still these great people,” he says.
However, these first impressions of the Marshall neighborhood are not uncommon among Grant students.
Ever since Grant High School was founded in 1924, the area around the campus has been predominantly white and upper-class. Because of the lack of wealth in the Marshall neighborhood, many Grant students have expressed concern about the move to southeast Portland, calling the area around the new campus “dirty,” “sketchy” and “dangerous.”
Kevin Mealy, a junior who lives in the Grant neighborhood, feels that the school should not have moved to the Marshall Campus; this is a common attitude among students in the Grant community. “It’s just not that great of an area,” Mealy says. “It just feels unsafe.”
However, Grant students who live in the Marshall neighborhood feel differently. Sydney Jones, who has lived in East Portland for her entire life, believes that the negative stereotypes of the neighborhood are “ridiculous,” and says, “You can’t make those kinds of assumptions about a place unless you’ve actually been there and experienced it.”
Experts say that it’s common for students like Mealy to feel uncomfortable when in a less wealthy neighborhood.
“People in general … like to live in their little neighborhoods and what’s comfortable to them, they have no reason to interact,” says documentary filmmaker, Sabina Haque. In 2016, Haque was the artist in residence with the Portland City Archives, the city’s official record of history.
Negative connotations about the Marshall area are not only prevalent in the Grant community, but within the greater Portland metro area. Because of the high number of crimes committed in the area, AOL.com named both the EastPort Plaza and Lents neighborhood – where the Marshall campus is located – as “dangerous” in their 2010 article, Safe and Dangerous Places in Portland. But a quick look back into history shows that these negative connotations stem from the lack of resources provided for the community.
“It is one of the most dangerous places east of 82nd because a lot of the safety measures have never been put in place,” says Haque.
In the 1950s, land east of 92nd St. was considered “mid-county.” Resources such as water, libraries and voting rights weren’t provided to the community by the City of Portland.
When contractors arrived in mid-county in the 1950s and 1960s, they were not required to install sewer lines in the suburban housing units. As a result, the entire area of 140,000 people had to purchase individual septic tanks, an expensive form of external sewage.
The City of Portland finally attempted to resolve the issue in 1983 by connecting the area to the city’s sewer line. However, the members of the community again had to pay for these services, which cost upwards of $13,000 per home.
“The problem … was that the way that these decisions were made was not inclusive. People didn’t feel like they had a voice,” says Haque. “There is a reason why East Portland residents feel gypped.”
Installing sewer systems was costly especially because the neighborhood was largely inhabited by lower-income people of color who had moved there in the 1970’s. Affordable housing was only available to people in specific neighborhoods, and families of color were forced to move east of 82nd.
Many of these individuals turned to gang activity and crime as a way out of the neighborhood. According to the Monthly Neighborhood Offense Statistics by the Portland Police Bureau, 2,423 crimes have been reported in the Lents neighborhood since August 2016.
Haque recognizes that the area is more dangerous than other neighborhoods in Portland, but wants to educate Portlanders about the underlying reasons. “If you are a youth living east of 82nd your chances of dying are actually higher because of the physical location of where you live,” says Haque. “This comes from … a series of people not taking responsibility for really creating proper development.”
Leading into the 2017 school year, many Grant students felt the same way about Marshall as Oeding did at first.
For Oeding, going off-campus during lunch helped him settle and adjust to his new environment. “The Subway lady would give us free cookies and it was just like welcoming and also good to have someone in that community that like was watching out for you,” he says.
Grant principal, Carol Campbell, attempted to inform Grant students about the Lents neighborhood over the summer by sending out emails inviting the Grant community to a picnic in the Lents neighborhood before the start of the school year. However, no members of administration attended the event.
But as the school year continues, Campbell says the administration will continue looking into ways to create an environment where students feel connected to the Marshall area. “This is our neighborhood now, this is our school, and we should be looking for different ways that we can be involved,” Campbell says.
Lynn Yarne, the digital media teacher at Grant High School, is integrating community building with the Lents neighborhood into her teaching. “I’m hoping that more interactions with different types of people in a different area will create more more of an understanding and more visibility,” she says.
However, this is just one person. It’s going to take the entire Grant community to actively learn and to create a broader understanding of the neighborhood and the residents within it.
Haque agrees that the only way Grant students will feel comfortable is if they form connections with the people in the Marshall neighborhood. “If we create a little bit of openness through art, through film, through direct interaction, we can find opportunities for more … cultural exchange,” she says. “Until the citizens actually want an equitable, sustainable city and realize that it’s in their best interest, things won’t change.”
. . .
Sydney Jones, senior
“I think (the stereotypes about the Marshall area) are because of the mindset. And I think it’s also where (the students) grew up. If they’re used to big houses, nice lawns, then that’s what they are gonna be comfortable with … Maybe just because I grew up in (the Marshall neighborhood) I haven’t heard like ‘sketchy’ and ‘dirty’ and ‘dangerous’ … I guess I can get where that’s coming from in some sense … Obviously it’s not the Grant neighborhood, where it’s like big houses that are really nice and all that. (The Marshall neighborhood) … is highly populated with Asian families, and I’m sure that plays a role in the thoughts of it being sketchy and dangerous … (Grant students) need to learn how to live with people who are different from them … whether or not you like it. Everyone has a different thing to bring to the table; it doesn’t matter of their skin color or their background … You’re always gonna have a biased opinion because of how you were raised, because of where you come from so the opinions, the more cultures, the more anything that you can see, the more well-rounded you’ll be.”
– Interview by Mackie Mallison, photo by Mako Barmon
Christhopher Yamasaki, sophomore
“It’s definitely a lot more run-down. I think in terms of the general feel of the place … it makes you more uncomfortable definitely. But I think for me … I’ll play soccer after school but it’s not like I’m gonna be doing a bunch of stuff with friends there … Once you get out to Southeast it’s definitely more gang affiliated because you even see a lot of tagging and such from the gangs. That’s what puts me on the edge the most. It’s just going to the more iffy places of Portland. In the Grant area I don’t think there’s very frequent gang fighting … If you go to deep North Portland it’s even worse and if you go to deep Southeast Portland it’s pretty bad.”
– Interview by Mackie Mallison, photo by Momoko Baker
Lynn Yarne, teacher
“I think Portland is a very white city but there are … ethnic populations and Asian people, black people, Latino people … they’re kind of ignored. I think Grant has a perception of being wealthier, white and more affluent. It’s strange because the MAX stabbings happened over here but (Grant Park) isn’t considered a sketchy neighborhood, and it didn’t become sketchy even though something so intense happened right around there … whereas I feel like when there is a shooting or something similar on 82nd, it’s accepted as part of the stereotype. Just bringing up the conversation of ‘are there negative perceptions (about the Marshall area).’ I think it will open up a lot of wonderings. Maybe students will think: ‘Why do I have this negative perception?’ Is there more crime around (the Marshall) area than at Grant? Maybe so … But do I think that people are inherently violent over there? No.”
– Interview by Mackie Mallison and Ari Tandan, photo by Elliot Johnson
Kevin Mealy, junior
“(The Grant Campus) is probably a lot safer, most of the kids who go to Grant know this area a lot more … Outside of the McDonald’s there are always homeless people sleeping. I wish we were back at the Grant neighborhood. Now we’ve got to have a new relationship with the new area. I think we should have a community event or a day where the whole school gets out and gets to know the community so we could get to know each other and not just be strangers … it would make us more of a community and tie us all together as one.”
– Interview by Mackie Mallison, photo by Momoko Baker
Jordan McCallister, sophomore
“I’ve been over here before because my cousins live over here, and it’s not bad at all in my opinion … I don’t see people like getting in fights everyday or like bullets flying by … People mind their own business out here. I know this neighborhood is completely different from my neighborhood and Grant’s neighborhood in Northeast. I just know that (there are) more people of color over here. It’s more diverse. All of the people of color, they have been … kicked out of their homes and moved out here towards Marshall … because the prices of housing has gone up. The students are going to have to deal with it whether they like it or not. When they go to lunch they are going to have to see people who are not of high social status like them or have the same type of currency that they or their parents do.”
– Interview by Nora Janowski, photo by Momoko Baker