Campus Politics

Demystifying the ‘Bluff Bubble’

Students discuss the facets that shape the University’s culture.


On campus, the Bluff overlooks downtown Portland and the Willamette River

On campus, the Bluff overlooks downtown Portland and the Willamette River. (Photos by Tyler Hunt)

By Hanna Herrin, Maraya Sullivan and Tyler Hunt |

Community. Family. Home. These words are often used to describe the unique culture that the University of Portland embodies. Disconnected is not among them.

On the surface, the campus projects beauty, featuring pristine grounds and enchanting structures, peppered with signs of age and filled with memories. To outsiders, prospective students and the surrounding community, a quick walk through campus affirms what the website claims: the University is a place of faith and formation where education and service are valued above all else.

In springtime, the campus blooms with cherry blossoms and flowers, kept up by the university's outdoor maintenance team

In springtime, the campus blooms with cherry blossoms and flowers, kept up by the University’s outdoor maintenance team.

Recently, however, students have started to tell a different story, calling out the lack of diversity among the student body as a source of disconnect between the University and the outside world. In a recent Beacon article covering diversity on campus, senior Mikayla Posey explains that diversity issues tend to go unnoticed and, as a result, under-discussed due to a phenomenon she coins “the Bluff bubble.”

The term “Bluff bubble” isn’t new to UP students, who have long-since searched for a term to describe the effect the University’s unique community feel has on their formative undergraduate years.

Defining the “Bluff bubble” isn’t simply black and white

Though some students, like Posey, believe in a strong existence of a community “bubble,” fueled by a lack of diversity, others pinpoint UP’s location as a source of seclusion.

Grace Holmes, a junior Accounting major, recalls feeling trapped during her freshman year. “I think the Bluff bubble begins as a very real thing. It begins freshman year and usually diminishes every year after.”

Refusing to remain trapped, Holmes took matters into her own hands, seeking out opportunities to explore and become more comfortable with the neighborhood.

“I know some graduating seniors who have never even been to St. Johns,” Holmes said. “This, to me, is extremely concerning and unfortunately suggests that the Bluff bubble doesn’t always disappear with age.”

Lack of diversity noted as a prime culprit

Bethany Codding, a senior Communications major, agrees that the University’s location plays a role in the bubble’s creation but, like Posey, cites diversity as the driving force in this argument.

“Diversity can bring about different ideas, mindsets and ways of thinking that can contribute positively to the University,” Codding said. “Without a diverse student body there is a tendency to see events and experiences from only one side.”

Since its inception in 2010, University-hosted Diversity Dialogues Week has exposed students to open discussions and learning opportunities that they may not have access to in a traditional classroom setting. During this week, students can engage in cultural dancing, attend performances and film screenings and even try authentic cuisine.

Most students appreciate the University’s recognition of this week, but are still unhappy with the low number of diverse individuals that make up the student body. Currently, the student body contains 33% minorities, of which the University includes: African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Multiracial individuals.

Holmes adds that though the diversity percentage on campus has increased in recent years, there is still a disconnect created between UP and the surrounding area. “I wish there was more emphasis on understanding how we fit into the broader idea or culture of Portland, itself.”

But she isn’t saying University of Portland students need to embrace hipster culture, donning flannels and skinny jeans. “We really value community and relationships here, so I wish we would expand our definition of community a little more.”

Students reveal their candid thoughts on the “Bluff bubble”

We spoke with a diverse group of UP students to get a better understanding of how the “Bluff bubble” impacts students on an everyday basis.

While many students feel the Bluff bubble is a result of UP’s location and lack of diversity, some students, like senior Engineering Management major Fatima Ruiz Villatoro, see the bubble as a result of being ill-informed about news and current events.

“I don’t think we can blame where we are, alone,” Villatoro said. “If we want to know what is going on out there, we should search for it.”

Regardless of what students identify the source of the “Bluff bubble” to be, one thing is clear: our time at the University is shaped and molded by the culture it creates. This culture is formed by a multitude of environmental and social factors, coupled with values, attitudes, beliefs and hierarchy.

From geography to race, educational opportunities and religion here is a definitive look at the characteristics that in one way or another, shape UP’s culture.

UP 2

Progress is progress

While many students argue that the “Bluff bubble” is here to stay, many have seen the University continually seek out opportunities to break through the bubble.

“This past year, I’ve seen coalitions form, such as Black Lives Matter. The University has started to address depression and foster important conversations around real issues,” Codding said. “I would describe UP’s culture as ‘slowly pursuing progress and diversity.’”

Progress is progress.

Faces of the Bluff

Black, white, atheist or Asian, here’s a look at some of the diverse faces on our beloved bluff.

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