“Odysseys to the margins of justice”

“When I was asked by a member of the CUPA family to present this year’s student speech, I was overwhelmed with excitement to speak at a momentous occasion as this is today. I was also overcome with the thought of what is appropriate to impress upon a graduating class that already embodies so much experience in their respective fields of study and those that are already rising to be agents of change. So, instead of presenting a cliché speech that is bookended in motivational quotes that are supposed to bestow you with inspiration, I decided that I should be honest with you all.

We have a lot of work to do.

I represent a very privileged and powerful position in society. As an educated, cisgender, white, gay male, I have been afforded the opportunity to remain silent on current affairs and issues that do not impact my long-term success or immediate safety. And that is why I want to take a moment before you walk across this stage and claim the degree that you have earned to speak with you about some of the responsibilities you have moving forward along your selected paths.

The decision to remain silent, especially on the part of white people, too often permeates into the mainstream of policy and politics. The existence of silence among privileged communities has served as a catalyst to perpetuate the continual disenfranchisement of underrepresented communities and as a bulwark against progress.



Photo credit: Nina Johnson, www.ninaleejohnson.com


In 2014, I graduated from Portland State with my Bachelor’s and took a job in the Delta of Mississippi as a High School Teacher at a school that never desegregated after the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. For more than 60 years, black students in Cleveland, Mississippi remained in segregation because of the silence of the rest of the nation.

Democracy does not work in the presence of silence. Yet, in 2016, 6.1 million people could not have their voices heard as a consequence of felon disenfranchisement laws. That is larger than the vote difference between the two presidential candidates by over 3 million. In addition, African Americans are impacted disproportionally at 1 of 13 not being able to vote, compared to 1 of 56 non-Black voters.

Here in Portland, Blacks/African Americans make up 24% of the homeless population of Multnomah County despite only being 7% of the total population.

We live in a country that likes to hide its problems. Every year millions of people are incarcerated for low-level drug offenses and instead of providing these individuals with the care they need, we relocate them out of the mind of the citizenry.

This is the story of politics and policy within the United States- difficult issues become issues of silence. Either we have a silent majority allowing these issues to persist or we relegate an underrepresented community to silence.

As we graduate, we are embarking on odysseys to the margins of justice. Throughout the United States there are communities and causes that are shrouded in silence because they have been marginalized through policy. The issues that we have written of in our essays are now animated by continued inaction. We are no longer responsible for earning grades but rather enhancing the human dignity of those that have been forgotten and disregarded.

In the Spring Term of 2016, I was in Dr. Rachel Sanders course on Ethics and Public Policy when she presented my class with an intractable problem relating to a policy’s disproportionate negative impact on people of color and those in poverty. Her follow-up question asked students to envisage a policy strategy that would solve the seemingly endless cycle of such policy outcomes. She waited patiently for a response that didn’t come from her class. Prior to ending the course, she made a final statement that I hold as a reminder of my responsibilities as a policy professional and as a privileged white man. She told my class that we are the ones responsible for finding solutions to the impossible and, in fact, the ones entrusted to do so.

As I walk across this stage, I refuse to be silent at the margins of justice. How about you class of 2017?”

Link to full speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DM5eLiv__7w&feature=youtu.be



Law School

Hey there, friends!

Well, It has officially been a full month since I graduated with my M.P.P. degree. A lot has happened in the last month. I have decided on what law school I will be attending; prioritized a self-care routine; and began to really critically think about what my future in law school looks like and how I should situate myself going into law school. That being said, it has been wonderful to have the time to take a few steps back while also working through some significant life decisions!

First! I have decided on what law school I will be attending in the Fall of 2017 (more like summer but I will get to that soon). After a considerable amount of time dedicated to weighing my options, I have chosen to attend Syracuse University College of Law! For those of you that are not aware, Syracuse is located in central New York. I will be living there for approximately three years. Syracuse University College of Law started in 1895 and is now located in Dineen Hall, which was finished being built in 2015 (see photos below).

Dineen Hall is a state-of-the-art law facility that houses multiple clinic programs, a 24/7 law library (which I am already in love with), and is ultimately just a wonderful place to study the law. Although it will take me a little to get used to the significant amount of snow that the area receives each year, I think I will manage just fine. On the positive side, many of my favorite Hallmark movies were filmed in the area!

While studying for my J.D., I will also be pursuing the Advanced Certificate in National Security and Counterterrorism through the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism that is housed in the law school and partnered with the Maxwell School. I am beyond excited to have this opportunity and look forward to my next steps!

Law School Motto: Suos Cultores Scientia Coronat/Knowledge crowns those who seek her.

Now let’s talk about my self-care routine! While in my Master’s program, I was absolutely awful about taking care of myself. I stopped exercising, did not write for pleasure, and rarely was able to read for fun. Since graduating, I have got back into a running routine, which has been absolutely fantastic! For the first time, I have started to get into trail runs instead of just running on pavement. I now regret not spending more time in Forest Park, Tryon State Park, and other wonderful locations that are directly in Portland. I am also attempting to get as much running in as I can prior to moving to Syracuse where it snows so much. Although, I hear from my friends that it beautiful during Summer and Autumn months.

I have also been dedicating a significant amount of time to reading for pure pleasure. First, I love reading and rarely have the time to read for fun while in school. I am going to take every moment I can between now and when law school starts to read! Second, as you all are aware, law school has a hellish amount of reading to complete each week. I want to keep my reading game real and in top-notch form. No slacking here. I am finishing up with Wildwood Series this week and then will be reading the highly acclaimed “Just Mercy.” If anyone wants to read this book at the same time as me, let me know and we can dicuss some of the themes of the book on here!

One of the hardest parts of preparing to move 2,800 miles across the United States is what to let go of. I have already started the process of purging unnecessary things, selling other things, and organizing what I should keep with me. Luckily, I am moving into a complex in Syracuse that is brand new and will be furnished. That takes a lot of stress off of me. I am also trying to make the decision of whether I should sell my car and just fly over (which would also help me financially), or if I should make the long road trip across the United States. For those of you that have stayed with me all of these years, you will recall that driving to (and back from) the South was quite a feat. The location I am moving to has a shuttle that would take me to and from law school (including in the snow) and to grocery stores. I would like the freedom to explore the area though. We will see what I ultimately decide on. So many decisions! I will be moving into my new home in New York on August 1, 2017. Only a few short months away! School begins on August 14th.

Just wanted to give you all a short update!




A Master?

Hello All,

As of Thursday, March 24, 2017, I have completed my Master’s of Public Policy program at Portland State University! In the program, I concentrated my studies on Democratization, Elections, and Security policy (yes, I am emphasizing this for all of you who continue to ask me what my areas of focus were. I did significant research in Education and Climate Security as well). It feels incredible to have completed another step in my educational career!

There is another step! Starting this August, I will be continuing my education as I pursue a Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) at a law school I have not yet decided upon. After reading that, many of you may be scratching your heads or could be suffering from whiplash because the latest information you had was that I was going to be attending a Ph.D. program in London. Well, here is the plot twist!

After completing the applications for Ph.D. programs in Political Science at various schools across England, I realized that I was not as dedicated to that path. I truly love academia and instructing, but my true passion lies in allying with others in the trenches. I pursued a Master’s degree after serving as a teacher in a segregated school in the South (East Side High School, Cleveland, MS- you should look up the CNN article on it), and at another school that had little to no resources to serve their students. At both schools, I found myself surrounded by a dedicated staff of educators who were restricted by what they could do as a consequence of historic and current trends of segregation. This is where my passion for challenging a system from the bottom-up blossomed.

And this experience is why I am pursuing a law degree. I cannot imagine a life researching and observing challenges in society from afar (albeit very important for moving the needle on many issues). I want to stand alongside those that ask me to walk on the same path as them and represent them in a way that is productive in forwarding their cause. Although I plan to attend a law school that allows me to also pursue an internationally focused certificate/program, I will be concentrating most of my courses on public interest.

At Every Moment, The World Is Whispering Opportunities. Listen Closely

Now that you are caught up on my next steps, I want to share a few things that I learned in my Master’s program:

  1. I have way more questions than I do answers:
    • The further I go in my higher education career, the more I realize that I have fewer answers than I do questions. I am now equipped with quantitative and qualitative methods, various statistical analysis skills, models and framework, policy processes, and knowledge on general and specific policy areas, but I still have more questions. The reason for this is because I have been exposed to more areas of policy and challenges that the world faces. From school vouchers to climate policy or international security, there are pressing issues that underlay the simplistic titles that we give challenges. It is liberating to recognize there is so much more to do in the world and also inspiring to know that I have an opportunity to help challenge the status quo.
  2. Get rid of toxic relationships:
    • To be successful, you need to learn to say no to people. Whether it be a needy relative, an emotional friend who’s baggage is always more important than yours, or simply a relationship that is not healthy– you need to prioritize yourself. Learn to love yourself enough to limit the influence of negative people in your life and/or completely cut them out of your life. There is a wonderful article written by Mark Manson titled “Fuck No or Yes,” that speaks directly to the issue of keeping toxic and unhealthy relationships in your life. Only keep those in your life that hold a mutual benefit to you. Why should you keep talking to the nagging friend who sits on their ass and complains about their life? That one relative who thinks you are a sinner because of your “life choices?” Once you learn self-love practices, you will realize that everything gets a little bit brighter.
  3. Follow your heart:
    • Yes, I recognize that this is a cliche but it is so incredibly important! In the last year-and-a-half, I have lost two of my previous students and a colleague to a school shooting, my mother to an unexpected stroke, and was shocked to find one of my peers and friends had been killed in a tragic event in D.C. You have one life and you should live it to the fullest! Your passions and desires should not be restricted to the bounds of social expectations or financial constraints. There is a way to get to where you need to go and it may hell getting there but each step is taking you that much closer. Listen to your heart and follow it.
  4. Allow yourself to be challenged:
    • I have been exceptionally lucky to be surrounded by people in my professional and educational careers that have challenged me and expanded my horizons. YOU GAIN NOTHING FROM DIGGING IN YOUR HEELS AND REFUSING TO LISTEN BECAUSE OF SOME MORAL HIGHGROUND. It is not easy being proven wrong or to have something you believed to be common knowledge to be disproven, but the sooner you learn how to accept new perspectives the better off you will be.
  5. Look for sage advice:
    • You should always seek out others before you make a decision. You may be writing a paper, making a decision on some life altering choice, or may be completely lost. Many of us harbor a pride that is informed through a society that rewards individualism and “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality, but I implore you to move past those ingrained expectations. The decisions that I have made in and out of grad school have been made more informed by me seeking advice from multiple people. Many times, the advice I received I did not agree with but it definitely helped me think through the decision at hand.
  6. Stop comparing yourself:
    • This one is a big one. I suffer from it. You suffer it. We all suffer from it. Read this slowly: liberate yourself from creating competition with others. Now reread that last sentence. The only competition you should be having with someone is the one that you have with yourself. The results, marks, grades, etc. will increase much more if you take the time to self-assess your strengths and opportunity areas instead of someone else’s. Your approach should focus on bettering yourself not attempting to set a standard that once you “achieve it” you will be the best. Not only does this perpetuate a fixed mindset, it also limits you in acknowledging what you need to change to succeed at your highest possible level.

I am not perfect at any of the aforementioned concepts, but I am working hard to be the best person that I can be. Each of the six ideas listed above now serve as personal commandments, and I have found that my life is so much better because of it.

Let In The New.

Now, I am taking the next few months just to really prepare for law school. I have started a blog that is going to provide tips on I am preparing for law school and the advice that I have received from others. I will also provide links to other help blogs/sites on the topics I discuss there.



Are you ready for the next step? I know I am.



Revolution Self

Hello World, Again:

Today, while browsing at a local bookstore in Portland, my path crossed with a book titled “Your Truth Is Worth Telling.” This simple yet very profound facade of a book caused me to pause on the spot directly before it. This phrase is more than something motivational to me but also an inditement of my actions.

Despite my passion for writing and also sharing my own narrative, I have failed to do so as of late. For some time, I kept a blog titled “Living Authentically: A Page Turner.” I have returned to this blog countless times and found myself unable to produce or create a post for my readers. My last post was a tribute to my mother, who passed away this last year from a stroke. The posts prior to her passing were dedicated to the Umpqua Community College shooting of October 1st, 2015. My previous blog has transformed into something that has transcended my own intentions, it is a place for tribute. I realized I needed a new space to continue sharing my own story.

Writing is something that I take very seriously, as many of my friends can attest to. Words to me are living entities that we tattoo on a medium for others, ourselves, posterity, and so many other reasons. Words are powerful as they hold the capacity to motivate, inspire, damage, and heal. Words are influential because they can be used to weave a tapestry of a narrative. Most of all, words provide us with the opportunity to tell our story, which is an incredible gift.

Bold. Courageous. Fearless.

As today is the beginning of a new year, I want to take this opportunity to welcome you to my new blog, “Turning Authentic with Ethan!” Turning Authentic is more than just a place for me to record my daily life but will also serve as a location for me to deposit the lessons I learn along the way. This blog will also serve as the hub for my friends to travel along with me, as I prepare for a new chapter in my life.

In a short 82 days from this moment, I will be graduating from my Master’s program at Portland State University. I have now completed all of my applications for Ph.D. programs at schools in England and am already holding my breath in anticipation of their responses. I am hoping on this day next year, I will be writing from a small café located somewhere in the United Kingdom.

Closing the book of 2016 holds something different for me than many others. I have read your facebook posts and retweeted memes regarding the awfulness of 2016. I assure you, I am sympathetic to many of those points, but I also challenge all of you to reflect on the incredible things you have accomplished in the last year. What are a few of your accomplishments? Who have you met that is still in your life? What has challenged you but you rose to the occasion nevertheless? What are you thankful for? Sometimes the narrative we tell ourselves need only be changed by asking different questions. Instead of focusing on the worst parts, find the slivers of light that have made each awful moment in 2016 worth getting out of bed for.

You are not required to change all at once. You are required to be brave enough to make small changes one day at a time.

As we all venture out into the unknown of 2017 holding tightly to our resolutions. I want to remind you of something important- you are enough. You. Are. Enough. There is nothing wrong with committing to living a better lifestyle, wanting to learn a new hobby, or focusing on the small moments in life. With that being said, as you start jogging on the treadmill, practicing that instrument, or simply taking a moment to sit with your coffee in the morning as the sun rises, please remember that you are enough in who you are.

Living authentically is not about focusing on what you need to change. Living authentically is about accepting yourself in all that you are. You need to accept the beauty, the strengths, the opportunity areas, and the unknown. This is directly related to the title of this blog, Turning Authentic. Turning Authentic is a nod to recognizing that we all should commit to making ourselves better one task at a time. Further, it is also a reminder that authentic living is not a destination but a journey of many paths and forked paths.

2017 is a year for me to revolutionizing myself. So, here are my New Year’s resolutions, which you all can hold me accountable to:

  • I cfullsizerender-1ommit to recognizing that I am the right person to do what I am passionate about and give myself the credit that I deserve.
  • I resolve to take time and enjoy the beauty around me despite how busy I may become.
  • I will continue working on being vulnerable with myself and others to ensure that I am open to the experiences that I stumble upon.
  • I will lower my “walls” to have meaningful relationships with others.
  • I will cherish each opportunity and take time to realize their magnitude in my life.
  • I will learn and grow academically, personally, and professionally.
  • I will say “yes” more to my heart.

Turning Authentic is my truth and I hope you enjoy the journey.

Let’s start 2017.