Most students first experience our campus during student orientation or when touring with parents. It’s exciting to become acquainted with your home for the next four years and get a taste of the college experience by playing Frisbee in the quad or walking to a game at Autzen Stadium. Unfortunately, my first experience on campus was moving into the dorms right before classes began, despite being from Portland, just two hours away. I was working at Portland Center Stage the summer before my freshman year and could not attend orientation. My family helped me move in that day, and after they left, the terror of being a first-generation college student in an unfamiliar city set in.
During my first week on campus, I realized just how much I didn’t know about college. I didn’t know where my classes were. I didn’t know what the Clark Honors College would expect of me. I didn’t know where to get “campus cash,” what it was, or how to use it. I worried that I was making a mistake in pursuing my dream of higher education because everything about the college experience felt so foreign and unknown.
In an effort to get to know the campus and relieve my anxiety, I took a walk around what I now know is the Memorial Quad. Immediately, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (JSMA) stood out from the surrounding buildings. I have dreamed of attending college since I was seven years old, imagining what it would look like once I got there. At that age, I imagined a campus full of old, ornate brick buildings that made you feel smarter just looking at them.
The JSMA was just how I had imagined college as a child. Before entering I stood outside for a moment, admiring the doorway. The architecture of the facade is the most eye-catching on campus, from the patterns of brick to the detailed engravings surrounding the thick iron doors, flanked by floral designs on either side. I could have admired it for hours. While the new, renovated buildings on campus are beautiful in their own way, there is nothing that says “academia” to me like the JSMA. As I admired the doorway, I distinctly remember reading “Museum of Art” handsomely inscribed above the door and feeling at home on campus for the first time.
The JSMA was built in 1931 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sometimes I get chills thinking that countless other students have looked upon this same doorway for decades, and maybe thought it was just as breathtaking as I did. It makes me feel like I am part of a community.
The rest of my freshman year was a blur of part-time jobs, late nights in the library, and learning to do my own laundry. But my classes were not as intimidating as I expected, I did not get lost as often as I feared, and I didn’t shrink any of my clothes. I settled into life in Eugene easier than I had imagined. I visited the JSMA a handful of times that year, though not as often as I would have liked. I try to study in the adjacent café when I can, and when I have a weekend off, I take advantage of the free admission offered to students and explore the exhibits. Most often, I go out of my way to walk past the doorway of the JSMA. I forget the stress of finals and notice something new about the architecture. I take a moment, admire that familiar doorway, and remember that I am home.
—By Francesca Fontana
Francesca Fontana is a junior journalism major from Portland.