Oregon State University Libraries and Press

Jason Dorsette Oral History Interview, August 28, 2015

Oregon State University

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CR: So, I asked to start with uh, some of the community aspects. What are some of the ways that the center interacts with the local community of Corvallis?

JD: Well, that’s a great question. So we interact with the local community, in a couple of different ways. So, one way that we interact with our community is within our BCC and all of our cultural centers we have advisory councils, right? And so, our advisory councils of course are made up of professional staff in the centers, as well as students who represent that affinity group, but we also have spaces on the council, on the advisory council, for members of the community to participate. They, the structure of the advisory council does not allow any type of voting structure if you will, but instead we do really rely heavily on our community partners to sort of serve as the advisors, coaches, and to helps us 1:00really make the best decisions regarding programing, events, and things like that.

CR: Uh huh.

JD: Yeah, that’s one way.

CR: Okay, so one of the things I noticed when I was doing research on this, is that one of the assisting coordinators for the cultural center in 1991, he said that while it had original been formed in 1975 partially due to a lot of the racial harassment and insensitivity.

JD: Uh huh.

CR: Over time, the students and body sort of increased, and a number of minority students increased, there been more a trend towards diversity sort of explaining to people what the cultural center was about. I know that’s one of the big focuses now. So, do you feel like that’s sort of a permanent trend that as the student body increases, is there a way to sort of keep a balance between like providing the safe haven and sort of comfortable home for students and still sort of reaching out to all the different groups?

JD: Yeah, most certainly. Um, and so you used the word, uh, um, a “minority” 2:00which is a word that is often, often used when describing these types of, of organizations, groups, affinity-based groups, culturally-based groups that, that we work with. So what we are wanting to introduce and offer to, to, to everyone is, to really try to look at, at reframing the word “minority” and really use the word “emerging” - and so we are an emerging population, right? And when we say emerging we mean that, but because the numbers have shown, the census, the numbers in terms of number of population indicators show that one day the minoritized group, or underrepresented group, will become the majority.

CR: Right.

JD: And so the majority would in essence become the minority, and so we are liking, so we would like to use the word “emerging group.” And so to answer your questions, I do see opportunities for emerging groups as well as the 3:00current majority groups to live in a world and be a part of the community, this OSU community, that is much more collaborative, cohesive, and I think it would do a really good job to help create that by clearly stating and communicating that all of these spaces are open for everyone, okay. It is important because we are coming from a marginalized community or an underrepresented population, especially here in the Pacific North.

CR: Right.

JD: That we that we honor, okay, and we continue to provide opportunities for everyone to learn about everyone’s different cultures and how their cultures have really impacted society, how it impacts our community, and so we like to 4:00say that while these affinity-based groups and organizations have centers to support that great work, we also want to be clear to everyone that for instance, if you go out into the BCC, the Black Cultural Center, the overall agenda, if you will, will be a Black or African or African American focused agenda.

CR: Uh huh.

JD: That does not meant that we will not have conversations with folk who identify as you know, other ways then then Black or of, of, of, of African American or, or African. However, we do consider these spaces as educational learning labs for everyone to learn about the Black agenda, to learn about our Black America, right, and to learn how their contributions have played into the larger society. So does that answer your question a little bit?

CR: Yeah.

JD: Ok, cool.

CR: So, the center was partly founded out of like some of the racial tension that was...

5:00

JD: Yes!

CR: Happening then.

JD: Definitely.

CR: And incidents like that still happen every once in a while, like there was the racist graffiti in the bathrooms and stuff in recent years.

JD: Yes, yes.

CR: So how do you feel the role of the center changes during those times and how do you respond to those?

JD: So, that’s great. You know the role of our centers definitely changed in those times and I’m not quite sure if you recall, but we did experience quite a bit of incidents last year, maybe even not on campus, but globally because we do live in a global society.

CR: Right.

JD: We have a lot of students from all over the globe and so our Office of Diversity and Cultural Engagement really worked to and with other administrators and faculty and staff and students on campus in the, in the essence where those things occur, those unfortunate things occur. We are able to transform our centers into these spaces of dialogue, these spaces of being in community and we can have a conversation, that guess what, it may be uncomfortable okay, as we, 6:00as a collective community try to troubleshoot and unpack and understand some of these issues that are just not fair, not right, and just plain wrong, and so we are very, very responsive. We again, we work with all university officials, our marketing teams, our faculty and staff, and we quickly and our students, uh and we quickly provide opportunities to be in community together and to strategize, okay. So a lot of those dialogues often turn to strategizing sessions, okay. What’s the problem? What are we wanting to do? And how are we going to get there?

CR: Right.

JD: You know. Um, we did a very similar thing when there was an event that happened with the white fraternity, sigma SAE, in Oklahoma. And we worked with 7:00the office of fraternity and sorority life and the Black Cultural Center to organize a town hall meeting. We invited the public, we invited the entire campus, we had about 300 people in the, the auditorium at that time, and we had a really good discussion.

CR: Uh huh.

JD: And that discussion led to me having an opportunity to go to at least 9 different fraternities and sorority houses on Greek road here on campus, well, off campus, and have further conversation around diversity, social justice, racism, classism, ageism, and sexism. And so it really opened up and opportunity for us to kind of take the conversation a little deeper, because as you know we are all in different places, the way in which we may speak to someone that constantly talks about social justice and diversity and racism is very different to the way that I would speak to someone that knows absolutely nothing about it.

8:00

CR: Right.

JD: You know. So we do have to provide a curriculum, conversation of point if you will, to reach the student, the faculty, or the community partner, where they are. And then once we have that relationship established, that’s when we kind of dive a little deeper and unpack all the areas of oppression.

CR: Uh huh.

JD: So yeah.

CR: So, you mentioned the incident of Oklahoma. So do you guys use, so it’s not, so you use like national events to open a dialogue.

JD: Yeah, yeah, yeah because again, OSU is just not Corvallis, so you could probably tell by my accent, I’m from North Carolina.

CR: Right.

JD: You know, so I’m from the East coast, from the southern states, and racism, classism, social justice is completely different in that part of the country. And so imagine just from the East coast to the West coast if there is differences, imagine how it is from someone who may live, like let’s say in, I don’t know, Saudi Arabia? You know, or China...

9:00

CR: Right.

JD: Or Afghanistan or Korea, you know? And so we have to constantly be in community. We have to create opportunities for everyone to understand, okay, again everything is different, everyone is different and there is awesomeness, and coolness and greatness in everything, and we appreciate that, but how can we together help everyone understand where we are at this current time and this current city of Corvallis, okay, while at the same time, appreciating and very knowledgeable about our many differences, right.

CR: Right.

JD: For instance, I may say a word here, a word may be used one way on the east coast, but maybe used completely different in the Midwest, and the completely different in the West coast, and then that word may not even have any meaning in different countries, and you know, in the world. And so it’s a lot of conversation and so that’s why we are, we love to have dialogues; we love to be in community because that’s really how we learn. And unfortunately we 10:00don’t learn everything in those spaces at all times, but I think that is our charge. To continue to be in community, ask questions, and ask questions from this place of really wanting to learn, right. Really being sincere, you know. This is what I’m struggling with. This is what I do not understand. Could you please help me, educate me on this? What does this mean? You know, yeah.

CR: So, how do you see the center changing in the foreseeable future?

JD: Oh, that’s a great question. So I see our centers changing quite vastly. As you know, you know, we have four, renovised, or not renovised, but four centers that we kind of - we are so fortunate enough to receive some, some, some funding from our capital campaign here, thanks to president Ed Ray and the board of trustees, and we do see our centers expanding. We see that these spaces are 11:00becoming spaces that are much more welcoming to all people. I personally have received a lot of thank you emails, a lot of ‘hey you know I do feel safe in this Black Cultural Center because I may identify as White.’ ‘I do not feel as if everyone is looking at me and judging me’ - right. Which is good, which is good because this is an institution of higher learning and that’s what college is all about. It’s about learning and it’s about building relationships.

I also want to go on record saying that you will also notice that for instance in our different centers that not everyone identifies as that particular center’s affinity group or not everyone has some of those same social 12:00identities. So you do not have to be or identify as female or a woman to work in the Women’s Center. You do not have to identify as LGBTQ person to work at our Pride Center. You do not have to identify as a Black or African or African American to work in the Black Cultural Center. And so we encourage everyone to go and look at the setup of our centers. Look at the staff, okay. I personally have five student staff members that work directly for me, right. And they are, they all have so many different identities, right. So they are not all folk who identify as European, they are not all heterosexual, I mean I have the gambit, I sought to hire students that best reflect that work that I do.

CR: Right.

JD: Yeah, so really kind of like tearing down those barriers and creating safe 13:00spaces for everyone, but clearly knowing that, that while doing that the agenda, the overall programming mechanisms, the events may cater or may really feature the, you know, the particular affinity group.

CR: Right.

JD: Yeah.

CR: So what do the renovated centers, what do they sort of, what do they mean to you? Like what do you think they allow you to do now?

JD: Oh, that’s a great question. I think the renovated centers, first of all, they allow us to, to provide an additional point of pride for Oregon State University. Oregon State University has so many points of, of pride. And I’m just so happy that we can offer up and tangibly demonstrate our commitment toward diversity. You know Christopher, there’s a lot of people talking about this work all across the country and I can tell you they talk, ‘oh well you know we are all about diversity, we embrace diversity, we embrace social justice’ but Oregon State University we are the only, and I repeat the only university, okay, as far as I know, in the whole world, but I’m going to say 14:00in the states, that have not just one, not just two, but seven different cultural and resource centers.

Not just seven different cultural and resource centers, but this very office that you are in, this is another office that supports that. So I’d like to say that we are a well and front of the eight ball if you will, around really knowing how important and embracing how important diversity is and creating good and solid infrastructure to demonstrate our commitment. You know, and so, the exposure the employment opportunities for students, the opportunities for faculty and staff to, to come to these centers and to conduct research with students. Of course we have some funding to host and collaborate around 15:00programing and events. We have state of the art equipment in these spaces. And we even have opportunities now to have barbeques, tailgaters, tailgating events. And so yeah, I think, you know, the sky is the limit for us here within our cultural resource centers. We’re so appreciative of Oregon State University because this is not common. And again coming from the East coast, from the South where, you know, social justice and diversity is really different. I am so fortunate, every day I am so grateful to, to be a part of this team and to be a part of the Oregon, the Oregon State University community.

CR: What part of working in the centers do you enjoy the most?

JD: Oh, that’s a good question. I will be telling you, not the truth if I was to say that sometimes politics do not get involved because they do, right? You 16:00have to battle the bureaucracy, right? Of just, systems. And then with cultural awareness, right? It is very difficult for us to do that at times because there is some mandates, policies, that regardless of how you identify as a university that we must adhere to, we get that. However, coming from a cultural lens, there’s somethings, in terms of bureaucracy and these systems of oppression that just do not align with our values. So that is a difficult thing that I have to navigate and I have to navigate every day, and unfortunately I don’t have the blueprint, to say, “okay Jason do x y and z in this, in this particular order” but one of the highlights, is for me, is to know that we have a great supportive team, I have a great supportive professional team that I work with. I 17:00also have awesome students, that challenge me, that keeps the mission and the vision always current in my, in, in the forefront of my thinking, and it’s, I appreciate this space has been very open to change and very adaptive to the new Oregon State University, you know, very adaptive to the 21st century.

CR: Right. So speaking sort of I guess, sort of experience it like race in Oregon State, there haven’t been, at least as far as I could find, boycotts since 19, I think it was 1996, as far as, dealing with racial harassment and the like, but obviously with the bathroom issues and stuff. There is still, like, I mean that’s still a present issue on campus, do you think that it gets enough 18:00attention or that it is somewhat underestimated today?

JD: You know, so that’s a good question. And attention, I don’t know if that’s the word I would use, you know. Do things like this get enough attention? I think that like anything, there needs to be somewhat a plan of action, and people that are affected by these issues of hate and social justice, or just injustices in general. I think the leadership needs to come from those particular affinity-based groups or social identifying groups that are in the struggle and are directly impacted by these things, allow those groups to create 19:00a plan, okay, a very strategic plan of action and then move forward. Because if our immediate instinct is to have a march, have a boycott, have a protest, and we are not well educated on the issues, on the ramifications, on the truth, the facts. It tends to sound like a whole bunch of noise, and nothing will get done. And so I think that the communities that once again are most affected, effected excuse me, by it and impacted. I think that the opportunity and the leadership if you will, really lends, starts there, to strategize and then other folk could come in, and to support and to stand in solidarity. Yeah and so that’s really what has been happening for quite some time now, and I’m glad because 20:00sometimes, Christopher, if folk are just chanting and marching, and doing stuff and there’s no real end goal in mind, it starts to become kind of, it sounds as if... You know people are like, so what is this all about? You know? And so you have to provide that framework and that, summon that structure and that plan of action to really effectively communicate what it is that you are protesting or marching about. Cause if not, nothing will ever happen. Yeah, so that’s my take on it, that’s my personal opinion on it.

CR: Yeah, okay. So, I have some questions.

JD: Yeah.

CR: From the oral history project, so.

JD: Okay.

CR: If you don’t want to get in to them. I don’t know how much time you have left.

JD: Yeah, I think I have a couple more minutes, like five more minutes.

CR: Ok, so what has been your challenges working, what are some of the challenges you had working at the, with the cultural centers? And how have you dealt with them?

21:00

JD: Yeah, that’s a great question, so uh, currently, right now, we have on boarded quite a bit of professional staff, okay. And prior to this 2015, prior to 2013, these centers were really operated, totally facilitated operated and managed by students. Which was great, loved it. However, uh there was some things that, that we could have done a little better. And so ushering one of the largest challenges, challenges from my limited perspective now of being here, has really been, how do we embrace and lean into change, right. Like I said earlier, I have been here for a year and a couple months, and I have worked at 22:00other institutions besides OSU, right. And so, how can some of my ideas, some of my team member’s ideas, how can we infuse some of our ideas with the current ideas that are here and with the older ideas, right. And so how can we scale it up, how can we move from good to great? That has been somewhat of a challenge because we have people who have been a part of these communities, rather in the capacity of an advisor member or some capacity that has years and years and years of history. Well this is 2015, this isn’t 1996 anymore, this isn’t 1965. So, how do we say that in a graceful way, in a way in which no one feels as if, “oh you know he’s changing everything, messing everything up.” No, not messing everything up, we are just, we, we’re trying to accommodate our ever changing students. And we need some grace on both hands, and if we are 23:00doing things, too much change, let’s talk about that. Just don’t, write us off or say, “oh you guys are idiots,” you know, or “you folk are idiots,” no lets, let’s be in community, let’s have a conversation. Yeah, so that’s been one of, one of the challenges: embracing change.

CR: So what projects or events or activities would you like to see or would you recommend in the future?

JD: So one opportunity that we are hoping to embrace in the future is an opportunity for definitely to continue to be in community, an opportunity to fundraise, right. And fundraise in a way in which it doesn’t like make our affinity based groups our social identified groups feel marginalized in anyway, but how can we provide opportunities for potential donors to give to our causes. 24:00To financially support our programs and even if you can’t support us financially, how can we further engage community members? And stakeholder of all kinds? And how can we create opportunities for them to see themselves within these centers and make it a positive impact on our students? So that’s one thing that we are really going to be ramping up this year. Another opportunity that we see within our centers is that often times folk forget that we are all made up of so many different identities, so many different social identities, right. So how can we sort of debunk some of those myths around, “oh well all Black people play basketball” - actually, they don’t. “All, all people of color like Hip hop music”- actually, they don’t. And you are talking to one, I don’t even really like, I don’t know a lot about the Hip hop music, you know? I know a lot of students who know about it, you know. I, I love the Dave 25:00Mathews Band and some people tell me, “oh Jason you’re old” - well I love Dave Mathews Band, you know that’s just what I like to do. So, how can we really create opportunities for all of our, many and multiples and intersecting identities to kind of come to the forefront and to be a little bit more salient, you know, and so not just basing your, or not just having stereotypes about someone because of how they look, you know, their outer appearance they may be of color, they may be whatever, right? Yeah, so those are two things.

CR: What is one takeaway you have from working with the cultural centers that you would share with others?

JD: I would say one takeaway would be to ask questions, okay. Always ask questions, and I would say we wish that you, we wish that all of our visitors 26:00staff, colleagues, administrators, community members feel welcome in these spaces. And I think we do a really good job, we could do better, I think we are moving toward that path, but I think we do a pretty good job with making sure that everyone feels welcome in these spaces. And so, we would encourage folk not to shy away from these spaces, but embrace the spaces. All of our spaces are operated and financed by student fees, so every student fee, uh pays some contribu, contributes to some bill in the centers, so why not use them?

CR: Right.

JD: You know. And so yeah, you know, like, like give it a shot - the students and the staff are really nice in the spaces, and we are, and actually we know that as we continue to really welcome visitors, welcome folk who don’t look 27:00like us to these spaces that we will see the change in which we want to see here at Oregon State University.

CR: Okay, thank you. Could you just sign the release form? I’ve got a pen.

JD: What’s todays date?

CR: The 28th.

JD: Ok. Alright friend, thank you.

CR: Thank you very much!

28:00

JD: It was so nice to meet you.

CR: Yeah, nice meeting you too.

JD: I look forward to seeing you around. And you do come to some of our cultural centers, right?

CR: Uh not too much, but I’ll start, yeah.

JD: Please start, friend. Yeah, we have seven of them they are all around campus, so yeah, please come and tell everyone about it.

CR: Alright.

JD: Okay, we’ll see you.

CR: Have a good day!

JD: You too!