Students entranced by hip SOAN professor

Photograph by Jo Tabacek

By Amelia Eichel

Since the college administration took away the DSA benches, many students have been scrambling for a free social space on campus. The gazebo behind the Fields art building serves as a haven for many students and is one of Lewis & Clark’s hidden gems. Sociology professor Bruce Podobnik built the gazebo with students many years ago, and it is being used exactly how they intended.

“Lewis & Clark is so manicured. It’s kind of irritating,” Podobnik said. “We wanted to create a space that’s off the radar.”

Throughout his life, Podobnik has been somewhat of renegade, trying to create a more free, sustainable, and equitable world. He lived in Peru for the first 16 years of his life while his father, a mining executive, was the first person in his life that he clashed with ideologically.

“My dad took me on this helicopter ride to show me the mine. I was probably 18 and I was all outraged ’cause we went over this ridge of beautiful rain forest and suddenly there was this massive hole.”

Podobnik became further radicalized and more conscious of his neocolonial, privileged upbringing at University of California Santa Cruz where he studied global inequalities and Karl Marx. During his second year of college he refused to take money from his parents because of the mining and became homeless for eight months. He lived in an abandoned church with friends and later camped on a lagoon.

For his junior year, Podobnik decided to go back to Peru for a year-long study abroad program. Unbeknownst to him and the program coordinators, Peru was undergoing massive social and political change due to a Maoist organization called the Shining Path who was trying to overthrow the government.

One week after arriving in Lima, Podobnik met a woman, fell in love and got married immediately. He ended up spending a lot of time at his new wife’s parents house. They lived on the outskirts of Lima next to a famous community called Villa El Salvador that was well known for radical leftism.

“I ended up spending a lot of time there, so I started doing a senior thesis project on the neighborhood organization in this shanty town,” Podobnik said. “It turns out that while I was there, the Shining Path was trying to take over the organization. A few times the power went out at night and a big hammer and sickle in flames went up on the surrounding hillside.”

About a year after the program ended, the Shining Path executed some of the Peruvian activists that Podobnik had become friends with.

“I have this fascination with radical left-wing activism, but sometimes revolutionary movements can go too far,” Podobnik said.

Podobnik went on to get a PhD from Johns Hopkins University. He published a book in 2006 called “Global Energy Shifts” about the conditions that would allow us to transition to renewable energy. Unfortunately, the world has not moved in that direction. This struggle between facing a harsh reality and being optimistic has come up many times throughout Podobnik’s life. Meditation, music and teaching are ways that he deals with the chaos.

Podobnik is a Zen Buddhist. He meditates regularly and attends week-long meditation retreats.

Another source of bliss in his life is music. Podobnik is in a band called Superluminous. They have played many shows all around Portland and a few times at LC. Currently they are in the midst of recording a rock & roll album which will be released in late 2018.

Podobnik’s impact on the college and his students is unique. In 1999 he and two other LC professors took students to the famous World Trade Organization protest in Seattle where they were tear gassed and a few students got arrested. He used to take students to the Tryon Life Community, which is basically a hippy farm commune.

“A couple of my students dropped out of LC and went and lived there after I introduced them to the whole place,” Podobnik said. “Both of them eventually graduated from LC and are really happy, but I didn’t intend for them to drop out.”

Podobnik really prioritizes getting students into the community. He taught a class last semester called Myth, Ritual and Symbol where students had to find a community group that makes use of myths and rituals and do a research project on them.

Bruce co-founded the Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network (GPSEN) which is a United Nations affiliated organization. He lives in an ecovillage in Southeast Portland which is committed to sustainable living. He wants to paint a mural on the side of Olin which he has permission for but needs students to volunteer to help.

“There is a hillside behind Miller by the kiln and my vision is we fill that space with little gnomes and make it trippy,” Podobnik said. “We could make meditation pods out of branches we collect in the forest with tarp on the inside so students can go meditate between classes.”

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