What’s in a Name?

By Midge Pierce

A name change for the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) to the Office of Community and Civic Life has surprised observers who wonder if the new label is merely symbolic or a substantive shift in focus for an organization that self-describes as the “gateway to civic engagement in Portland for 44 years”.

Director Suk Rhee indicates the July name change will not alter the mission. What it will do, she says, is expedite efficiencies in connecting programs that serve the community. Among the organizations it funds is Southeast Uplift (SEUL), a coalition of community groups. SEUL recently revealed a new mission statement to support neighborhood social and ecological well-being.

Some applaud ONI’s new name as reflective of organizational goals to be more equitable and inclusive in providing resources to more groups. Others surmise it is a step toward reducing the influence of neighborhood associations that some social activists have called bastions of white privilege. Those taken by surprise want to know more about who participated in renaming and the selection process.  Several asked whether a group tasked with modeling good community  outreach is following its own citizen engagement processes sufficiently.

Rhee responds that survey and focus group contributors were members of the community, partner organizations, bureau staff and other City employees.  More information is available at:


What’s in a Name?

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