Jason Dorsette has filled a series of roles at Oregon State University in his six-plus years on campus.
Adjunct faculty member. Diversity champion who helped get new cultural centers built. Doctoral student in educational policy and equity. Now, he’s working with the school’s educational opportunity program, which aims to ensure the success of male students of color.
“There are so many things that we can do to support students of color,” he said in an hourlong interview in the clubhouse of his north Corvallis apartment complex. “How can we embed social justice into their work? Race does matter because these folks are going to go out in the workforce and they have to be able to adapt.
“How do we promote educational opportunity for men of color? What does it mean to be a man?”
The program, led by Janet Nishihara, includes mentors, a study hall and group discussions. He brings in speakers from the business world. The 30-plus students take trips that aim for greater cultural understanding: the White House, Martin Luther King Jr. sites in Atlanta, the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.
“Anything that speaks to culture,” said Dorsette of the forays.
The program also offers training in etiquette and fashion. Participants learn which fork is used on the salad and Dorsette teaches the men how to tie a tie … and then gives each student one.
“I’m always giving away my ties,” he said.
Dorsette came to Corvallis on a bit of a whim. In his early 20s he established a goal to hit all 50 states by the age of 50. When he got an opportunity to work at OSU in diversity while also advancing toward his doctorate he said, “Why not? You only live once.”
And then he visited.
“It was a beautiful fall day and I fell in love with the campus,” he said. “I love it here. I love the people. And I love the leadership.”
Dorsette has put down roots in other areas in Corvallis. His family has a long tradition of involvement in the NAACP, and Dorsette has advanced to vice-president of the Corvallis-Albany chapter.
He also has joined the Imagine Corvallis Action Network Advisory Board, which is implementing the vision plan the city approved in 2016. It’s a group of “movers and shakers,” including Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber, Corvallis School District Superintendent Ryan Noss, plus county and OSU officials.
“It’s important my perspective as a man of color is part of the conversation," said Dorsette, who wants the board’s work to help improve the climate for business owners of color.
“I don’t want to have to go to Portland to get a haircut or drive 45 miles to Eugene to buy food,” he said.
Dorsette made a strong impression on his colleagues at the January meeting when he advised the group “it might be difficult to get buy-in from under-represented communities."
“I think there might be some resistance out there,” Dorsette said. “Some people haven’t been engaged for a long time. And we need to be sure that we are not just paying lip service, saying ‘thank you very much’ for submissions that are just set aside.
“People were telling me to stay away from ICAN,” Dorsette said, “but I think there is room for growth there and I didn’t want to be on the sidelines. How can I contribute? We should be calling people in instead of calling people out.”
Ten years out, Dorsette said he would like to be a university president. He would love to run a “research one” university; the group of 60 colleges includes OSU.
“But my heart is with the historically black colleges,” said Dorsette, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at one of them, North Carolina Central in Durham.
His N.C.-Central experience introduced him to one of his heroes, chancellor Charlie Nelms. They share a fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, the first African-American Greek house.
Fraternity bonds run deep with Dorsette, who adds, “if I could be like Charlie Nelms … he is just great.”
Dorsette, whose speech is frequently framed by questions, then asks “How do I get there?"
His answer: “I have to be humble and proactive and always think about those with the least and remember the stories of people who didn’t have some of the opportunities I have had.
“I need to be a well-rounded person who lives, eats and breathes diversity, equity and inclusion, calls people in and leads by example.”
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