Terri Tower was born in Salem, Oregon in 1947, and lived there until her family moved to Washington when she was in the first grade. The family later moved again, this time to Portland, Oregon. Tower attended high school in Portland and was very involved in extracurricular activities and sports, including student government, cheerleading, volleyball, basketball, and softball. She began attending Oregon State University in 1965, following in the footsteps of many of her family members.
Tower maintained her interest in student government during her college years, becoming an ASOSU senator representing the women’s residence hall. Her constituents’ major concerns during this time were the rules then in place for women: a curfew for women only, a prohibition on wearing pants on campus, the requirement that permission be obtained to have male visitors in the dorms, and an additional requirement that their dorm room doors remain open at all times. The civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, and anti-Vietnam War protests were also prominent issues.
Tower went on to receive her master’s degree in anthropology from Portland State University. At this point, she found herself at a crossroads where she felt compelled to choose between getting married and travelling to Uganda with the Peace Corps. She chose marriage, but the relationship ended unhappily only a few years later. This turn of events did leave Tower free to travel to Indonesia where she taught English for three years.
After returning to the United States in 1980, Tower worked for Oregon State University as a Hall Director/Area Coordinator within University Housing and Dining. In 1983, she moved to the East Coast and worked for Cornell University as a Live-Out Area Coordinator. She eventually decided to return to OSU and, in this second term of service, helped bring about the International Living Learning Center. Tower was also instrumental in naming a new residence hall after the first African American student to graduate from Oregon State, Carrie Halsell. Tower won the Oregon State University Retirement Association Award in 2016.