The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Phyllis Lee Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

January 28, 2015


“Striving for Equal Opportunity at OSU”  January 28, 2015  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Lee discusses her upbringing and education in Portland, and the importance that Chinese culture played during her youth. She then notes her school years at the Oregon College of Education, her first employment as an elementary school teacher, and her travels overseas with her husband, who was enlisted in the military. From there she recalls her tenure working for the College of Education at Portland State University, her years of involvement with a regional Civil Rights compliance program, the completion of her doctorate in Education at Oregon State University, and her employment as Director of Employee Education at Kaiser Permanente.

The bulk of the session focuses on Lee's professional associations with OSU as a member of its Board of Visitors and as Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA). She recounts her hiring as director of the newly created office, the lack of diversity and the racial tensions that led to the office's creation, and her collaborations with OSU Presidents and upper administration to improve the climate on campus. She shares her memories of the early days of the OMA and the role that it played in enhancing diversity and helping shape curriculum at OSU. She likewise remarks on the creation and impact of OSU's cultural centers, the reaction on campus and in the community to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, her office's outreach to the OSU Greek system, and her connection to the university's Ethnic Studies department.

As the interview nears its close, Lee speaks to the impact made upon her by an important mentor, Dick Withycombe. She also describes the efforts of OSU's TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) initiative and details her work with numerous professional organizations in her field. The interview concludes with a discussion of Lee's activities in retirement, the creation of the Phyllis S. Lee Award, Lee's reflections on change at OSU and her thoughts on the direction of the university going forward.