As a young boy, Jason Dorsette decided he wanted to visit all 50 states in the United States. He agreed to interview for the position of director at the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center at Oregon State if for no other reason than to cross another state off his bucket list.
“I just knew I wouldn’t like this place,” Dorsette says. “But the second I stepped onto the Oregon State campus, I got a boost of energy, and I knew I would have the opportunity to positively impact students here.”
Dorsette left his home and a job at a historically black university (HBCU) in North Carolina, where he also earned a bachelor’s degree in history and middle grade education, and master’s in public administration and policy. He arrived at Oregon State and hit the ground running on Jan. 2, meeting with faculty members, administrators, and community stakeholders.
He plans to earn a Ph.D. at Oregon State while advancing the mission of the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center. While his long-term goal is to become a university president, Dorsette says he plans to stick around Oregon State for the foreseeable future.
“I’m a change agent,” he says. “I welcome a challenge and embrace change. I see change as my opportunity to learn and grow. Because my role model, Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t run from a battle, I will not either.”
Where are you from? What is your background?
I grew up in the “furniture capital of the world”, a very small town called High Point, in North Carolina. I am a first generation college student from a single parent home. My father was absent from my life at an early age. My mother and grandparents raised me the best way that they could. They instilled core values in me that taught me to always be helpful, respectful and to give people the benefit of the doubt. From a young age, I rallied and organized people together for various causes. I’ve overcome a lot, and feel that one of my strengths is an ability to give hope to the hopeless and to motivate others to reach their fullest potential.
Growing up, I always embraced diversity. I had Asian friends, white friends, black friends and Hispanic friends. Going to an HBCU was an interesting experience for me. I started my collegiate journey at a small, predominantly white, private junior college, in eastern North Carolina, but transferred due to some severe racial profiling on campus and within the community. When I transferred to an HBCU, I quickly learned that a lot of students’ understanding of what “being black is” was completely different from mine. I discovered that some students only viewed their “black” experience from one lens, and totally disregard the perceptions of other races. I’ve always been very sensitive to cultural differences, and I attempted to educate as many people as I could about seeing “racial” issues from others lenses.
I have been fortunate to be mentored by several leaders in the field of higher education. Many of my mentors are of different ethnicities, have different identities and have vastly different believes that I do. It was under the guidance of Drs. Charlie Nelms, Kevin Rome, and Shaun Harper that I found my true calling, which is to work with college students. Higher education and students affairs are a part of my lifestyle now, just like waking up in the morning and brushing my teeth.
What does the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center do?
1. Engage students: We want all of the cultural centers on campus to serve as the students’ home away from home.
2. Educate students: The Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center is not just a place for black students to talk about the black experience. We want to educate all students, faculty/staff, and community partners around the contributions of people of color.
3. Encourage productive leadership: We allow students to lead and become leaders. Our center is lead by students, and we want to help them facilitate the programing they want to see take place here.
What are your goals for the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center?
1. Recruit and retain students of color: The recruitment and retention of black students is a problem throughout the country. It’s not just an Oregon State problem. I want to encourage students to keep working toward achieving a degree.
2. Education: I want to educate students about the commonalities we share with different ethnicity groups. I believe there’s a way to display your blackness while respecting other ethnicities.
3. Help students utilize the center: I’ve told the students that after graduating from Oregon State, they’re not just competing with other graduates from Oregon State. They are competing with the world. I want to prepare them for the world outside this campus.
4. Engage alumni: I want to reach back to former students who are considered alumni of the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center and bring them to campus to share their stories with current students.
What are your biggest challenges?
I have a lot to learn about the way Oregon State does things. I want to understand the system here and learn how to implement the things I’ve learned through my career. I also love hitting the ground running. I like to get things done, but I need to work on trusting the system and trusting the process. Things may be moving slowly, but Oregon State is a great institution with a lot of focus on diversity and notable faculty and staff that are conducting some great research.
Oregon State has a large program celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in January and early February. Is that something you were excited to see and be a part of?
Dr. Martin Luther King is a huge role model of mine, so I was very excited to see practically a whole month of programing dedicated to him here at Oregon State. Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I try to live my life by that. Dr. King worked toward equality, not just for black people, but for all underrepresented populations. That is what I want to do here at Oregon State.
The Center will move into a new facility in September. Are you looking forward to that move?
Yes! We are in a time of transition here, and we are going through some restructuring. In our new facility, we will be able to better serve students, faculty, and the entire Oregon State community.