Art exhibit to honor women veterans
Author: John Kirkland
Posted: February 20, 2017

Portland State University’s Veterans Resource Center is teaming up with the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs and the Portland Art Museum to present “I’m Not Invisible,” an exhibit of 20 portraits of women military veterans. The exhibit will debut Friday, Feb. 24, from 5 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. at the Portland Art Museum. Afterwards, it will become a traveling exhibit at locations throughout the state, including PSU. Organizers hope the exhibit will eventually be displayed in Washington, D.C.

The event is timed to coincide with Women’s History Month in March.

The portraits of PSU women student veterans and other women veterans from around Oregon were created by photographer Sally Sheldon and commissioned by Felita Singleton, director of PSU’s Veterans Resource Center, in an effort to increase awareness about the challenges of women service members who feel ignored and unappreciated for their efforts.

“I commissioned this event last year, shortly after my after I began my position with PSU, as a result of hearing consistent concerns from PSU student veterans,” Singleton says. She reached out to Elizabeth Estabrooks, Oregon Women's Veterans Coordinator from the Veterans Administration, to help organize it. “We put together the exhibit to increase awareness and dialogue among the masses about the emotional and physical violence and collective inequities that abound for women service members,” she says. 

Women – including the nearly 28,200 women veterans in Oregon -- comprise 9.6 percent of all armed services veterans in the United States. The 1980 census was the first time American women were asked if they had served in the military, and 1.2 million responded that they had. A Congressional study two years later found that women did not have equal access to veterans’ benefits, and were not adequately informed that they were entitled to them. Until recently, women were barred from combat. Only in the last year have women gained full access to all combat jobs in the military. About 22 percent of active component women have complained of sexual harassment, and in one year, 4.9 percent reported being sexually assaulted, according to a 2014 Rand Corporation study.

Military veterans are a big part of Portland State’s history, and they continue to play an important role in the university’s identity. The university was founded in 1946 as the Vanport Extension Center to accommodate returning World War II veterans. Today, with an estimated 1,000 vets on campus, PSU has a higher number of veterans than any other Oregon university.