Jason Dorsette: Maximizing collegiate success for African-American men

i-c7e9686653e5b4df6a019b152f648b6d-pic2-thumb-200x301-51271.jpgIn the 18 years from my first faculty appointment, one of the most satisfying parts of the journey has been watching students come through my life who you can tell - you just "know" - are going to make a huge difference in the world. (I previously wrote of one of these here, Arizona clinical pharmacist, Sandra Leal, PharmD.)

Well, two years ago, I was at the kickoff of a Juneteenth celebration at my new institution and was immediately drawn to this striking young man who, after speaking with him for a spell, convinced me that he was going to be one of these kinds of students.

It's not just that he stands out from a crowd because he's taller than me. Anyone who has met Jason Dorsette will tell you that the man just simply exudes warmth and elegance. And not just because he is literally tall, dark, and handsome. He makes you feel welcomed, listened to, and valued. You see him making an impact in everything he touches, from leading the NCCU Graduate Student Association to building through Habitat for Humanity to leading a new university initiative to cultivate young African-American men for collegiate success.

I view Mr. Dorsette as a role model. And I'm just a professor from a completely different discipline.

In our continuing series reviewing issues raised at the Centennial HBCU Symposium in Research Triangle Park, NC on June 3-4, 2010, I want you to know more about Jason Dorsette. I have no doubt that you will hear much more about him in the years to come.

From Jason's professional biosketch:
i-6f53f05a1147abd0780962ba9fb942c6-Jason Dorsette profile.jpg

Mr. Jason J. Dorsette is a native of High Point, North Carolina. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Education as well as his Masters of Public Administration from North Carolina Central University.

He has received numerous awards on national, state and local levels for his ability to lead. Mr. Dorsette research interests include African-American males living in the 21st century growing up in single-parent households; students' support and advising; and the importance of expanding economic development for minority communities.

He has been fortunate to travel throughout the state, sharing his passion as it relates to mentoring black males in college. He has been blessed to participate with several internships. Some of the internships include the United States Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc., the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, The United States Department of Education, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and Durham Habitat for Humanity.

Currently, Mr. Dorsette is Student Services Specialist/Program Advisor for Student Leadership, Training & Development at North Carolina Central University and Coordinator for the North Carolina Central University Centennial Scholars Program. In his spare time, Mr. Dorsette likes to play sports, read and travel. He lives by the motto, "A persistent strong desire pushes your goal into manifestation." Last but not least, he is a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

While I was fighting the vestiges of my semester-long illness and Jason was jetting around for job interviews (we kept him!), we had an e-mail exchange to share with our readers of Terra Sig:

Terra Sig: Thanks for doing this, Jason. We'll have your formal bio on the blog but tell us a little about your background and how you pursued your own education.

Jason Dorsette: I am from a small town just west of Greensboro, North Carolina called High Point. I am a product of a single parent home. Like many African-American families, my father was not present in my household. I am a first generation college graduate. Although my family members were not able to further their educational endeavors post-high school, my mother and grandmother always advocated for me to pursue my college education.

Growing up, I shared in the same dream like so many of other African-American boys; I wanted to be a professional basketball player. As a result of my athletic accomplishments on the court, I was decided to enroll in Louisburg College, which is a junior college outside of Raleigh, NC. My plan was to play basketball for Louisburg College and then transfer to a Division I school to further my dream of becoming a basketball player. In short, when I arrived at Louisburg College and tried out for the basketball team, I was called a "Nigger" by another student who was trying out for the team and decided to never return back to for tryouts.

As a result of me disliking Louisburg College, I transferred to North Carolina Central University (NCCU). NCCU was a total culture shock to me. Although I was an African-American student, I did not attend an all-black high school, nor did I have a lot black friends growing up; my friends were mostly white. Even though my most of my friends where white, they NEVER treated me as an outsider. They were extremely embracing and welcoming at all times.

The transition to NCCU was not the best. I entered into institution trying to find my fit. I can recall being told by several brothers and sisters that I speak, dress, and act like a white boy. In addition to me not being welcomed by my peers, I did not see a point to go to class. At my lowest my GPA was a 1.67 and I was placed on academic probation. Not only was I not fitting into NCCU, but I was almost was asked to leave due to my poor academic performance. After several attempts to convince my mother to allow me to transfer to another institution, I realized that she was not budging. After all, she was supposed to attend NCCU after high school but became pregnant with my brother and never fulfilled her dream. She made me attend NCCU because this she wanted to attend NCCU.

During the second semester of my sophomore year here at NCCU, I was required to take a course entitled "African-Diaspora" with Dr. Sylvia Jacobs. Dr. Jacobs challenged me like no other person I know. She saw potential in me. She then introduced me some positive black college men on campus that were a part of the 100 Black Men of America, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. These men took the time to actually get to know me and groom me. They were very influential in my development academically and socially.

As I entered into my senior year, I became an influential student leader. I was Chair of the Rules Committee with the Student Government Association; President of the 100 Black Men Chapter of NCCU, in which we received organization of the year in North Carolina and runner up nationally. I earned my Bachelor of Science in History with a concentration in Middle Grade Education.

I then took an internship working with a program funded by the United States Department of Education in Washington, DC. The experience working in Washington, DC, was GREAT; however, I decided to pursue my Master's Degree in Public Administration (MPA). While pursing my MPA I was appointed to serve as the President for the NCCU Graduate Student Association. I was charged to re-energize the graduate student body by getting my fellow graduate students and faculty members excited and motivated while pursuing their degrees.

Terra Sig: I first met you at our Juneteenth celebration in 2008 when you were president of the NCCU Graduate Student Association. What has driven you to lead organizations and projects while you are pursuing your own demanding schedule?

Jason Dorsette: My desire to give back to this great institution that has given so much to me has driven me to lead and participate with various projects and organizations on campus. Furthermore, as a kid I always enjoyed being the leader in different activities.

Terra Sig: Can you tell us how the system-wide Minority Male Mentoring Program and the NCCU Centennial Scholars Program got started, how it's funded, and what your goals are?

Jason Dorsette: National research indicates that minority males are not attending and/or graduating from college at the same rate as their female or Caucasian male counterparts. A multitude of colleges and universities around the country have developed programs and initiatives to increase opportunities for access and success of this critical population.

NCCU has been named 1 of 9 state supported institutions to participate with the UNC Minority Male Mentoring Project. The UNC Minority Male Mentoring Project is a grant funded by the UNC System General Administration (GA), to increase enrollment amongst minority male transfer students from a 2-year community colleges to a 4-year universities. (Durham Tech and Vance County Community College are our clients)

For the past few years, several colleges have developed leadership groups and activities specifically for minority males and now we can include North Carolina Central University!
The NCCU Minority Male Mentoring Program Steering Committee has been charged with designing, supporting and recommending initiatives to increase access, promote retention and increase degree completion rates for minority male students transferring from these 2-year colleges. In collaboration with NCCU Undergraduate Admissions, the NCCU Male Minority Mentoring Program has developed a strategic multi-faceted approach that encourages academic achievement; promotes personal and professional development; and provides support for students to enroll and stay in college and graduate, and achieve their goals.

The three primary goals of the NCCU Minority Male Mentoring Program are:

  • To increase the access and persistence rate of minority males.
  • To proactively connect minority males with academic and other support resources during their first semester at North Carolina Central University (i.e. University College, fraternal support, and support from learning communities such as the Centennial Scholars, etc.)
  • To enhance the college environments to create a culture of success where minority males can develop a sense of belonging and a connection to faculty, staff and other students.

Terra Sig: Our own program at NCCU has been averaging 60-75% female students. What do you view as the barriers to getting young African-American men interested in a 4-year degree? Is there a perception that education just isn't cool or any other peer-pressure to NOT go to college?

Jason Dorsette: Although it is difficult to identify every barrier to getting young black men interested in 4-year degrees, I have been able to identify some variable that make black males less interested in a 4-year degree.

  • 1. The lack of self-esteem. I think that there is a clear connection between self-esteem and academic achievement. Low self-esteem means that the individual lacks respect for self, due to prior experiences. For example, when black males are unable to succeed in high school, this causes negative emotional reactions. Just think, what if a student receives the lowest grade on a final exam out of the entire class and then somehow someone stumbles upon the students' scores and broadcast the grade to others in the class, one could imagine the amount of embarrassment felt.
  • Jason Dorette graduation.jpg2. Negative stigma/perception associated with black males succeeding in institutions of higher education. More often than not, black males do not view themselves as scholars, instead they view themselves as professional athletes and that is it. Unfortunately due to the fact that in the black community, there are not as many black men in academia, the average young black male views on academic success is skewed. In our communities, we see more black males working average jobs and not furthering their education, which in return has potential to limit the options that black males think they have. Our black role models are mostly professional athletes. As black people we do not hold high academic endeavors in high regard. Our people seek more instant gratification versus having to put in the work and watching your work pay off in the long run.
  • 3. Peer pressure. I really think that the media and entertainers like rappers do not help in trying to promote higher education. This generation, commonly referred to as "the Hip Hop" generation is consumed with rap music. Some rappers' lyrics are too explicit. It's almost as if rappers' lyrics brain washes our black youth. Neither rappers nor enough persons in the black community speak on the importance of further education, therefore furthering your education is viewed as not cool.
  • 4. Failure to institutionalize or integrate with higher education. Often times, black male students fail to realize the importance of becoming fully acclimated with the university and the many resources they offer.
  • Terra Sig: In a February 18 Campus Echo article, you were quoted as saying, "The men need real down-to-earth, uncensored talk to prove we care. We need to plant the seed and provide mentors to go beyond all measures to ensure success." What kind of uncensored talk works best with these young men?

    Jason Dorsette: The kinds of uncensored talk that works best for the young men is actually getting in their faces and hold them accountable for their actions. As a young professional in the field of student affairs, I am very knowledgeable as it relates to the various theories and models pertaining to student development and developed best practices; however, sometimes it takes me having to result back to my African-American male culture. In addition, flexibility is crucial for a good mentor. Our young people are social network fanatics, ie. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. as mentors we need to always remain familiar with the new trends and happenings of the generation that we serve. Mentors cannot continue to do the same traditional practices of mentoring. They should think outside of the box and dig deeper to relate to this generation.

    Thumbnail image for Jason Dorsette with Kevin Rome.jpg

    Jason with his own role model, NCCU Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, Dr. Kevin Rome (left).

    Terra Sig: In Barry Saunders's March 25 column in the News & Observerentitled, "Dining for Success," you and Kaia Clarke (Women's Leadership Coordinator for NCCU's Women's Center) were featured in an activity to teach young women and men the etiquette of dining and general professional etiquette. Do you think this is a deficiency specific to African-American students or just an overall problem in all facets of today's collegiate culture? How do you convince students that knowing which fork to use or what to do with your cell phone is important in business situations?

    Jason Dorsette: Honestly, I think that this deficiency is an overall problem with today's collegiate culture. The potential of etiquette and manners of our African-American students are internal, they need guidance on how and when to use them. Also, there is a population of students that have many examples of this practice but may be ashamed or embarrassed to expose among their peers. The benefit in collaborating with the young ladies enhanced our CSP objectives.

    We believe that our scholars have the potential to as long as the resources are provided. I believe the problem or concern is that today's collegiate culture, specifically at Liberal Arts colleges such as NCCU may be the deficiency. Considering the African-American Males Centennial Scholars program was established to address the retention issues of some black males as well to prepare them professional and academically for graduate/professional school and jobs explains that some Liberal Arts education is lacking or deficient in its delivery of curriculum. In my role as CSP coordinator, I was able to observe and recognize that many of the African-American males are enhancing their values and best practices as it relates not only to proper dinning etiquette but also to their professional well-being. Deciding to collaborate with Kaia Clarke was beneficial because it allowed the scholars to demonstrate what they have learned while being a part of the CSP. Truthfully, they wanted to impress the young women therefore they were not ashamed or embarrassed to showcase those manners that have been in them all along.

    I believe you can convince students why business and dining etiquette is important by giving other professionals an opportunity to share in positive testimonials. Instead of giving a student a little part of the big picture, working backwards will assist in their understanding and purpose as to this program relevance. Explaining to students that business is everywhere, from getting a haircut to buying your favorite music CD to asking the office staff for assistance, it is all part of best practices. In a nutshell, providing more programs such as the ones provided by the CSP will assist in continued development in the lives of African-American males and acknowledges the purpose of importance in their future endeavors.

    Terra Sig: You are widely known on campus as a motivating role model. I know that it may be embarrassing to talk about yourself but what special qualities do you think you have that make you so effective as a role model to young men?

    Jason Dorsette: This is a hard question for me to answer. People ask me all the time, "Jason, how did you become such a great role model? What do you do?" and my response is, I don't know. I do not have scientific method. But I will try to answer this question as best as I can. I think that I am an effective role model on campus because people can tell that I am genuine and have a good heart. Some qualities that I posses as a role model are: honesty, adaptability, persuasion, and fairness. Without sounding egotistical or arrogant, either you got it, or you don't.

    Terra Sig: So, I'm a white dude - yes, I'm from a blue collar background and a first-generation 4-year college student but I'm from the North and I'm now a prof. I can't talk to young black men as a Southern black man and I'm not close enough in age to be dialed in to all of the lingo, music, and culture. In fact, the social science and education literature does sometimes note that the good intentions of white faculty on HBCU campuses can be viewed as paternalistic and even condescending. So, what can bespectacled, graying white guys with goatees do to support this project and be perceived as genuinely committed to helping these young men succeed?

    Jason Dorsette: Wow! This is a great question and honestly, I do not have a solution; however, I would offer some words of encouragement. As stated above, I attend a predominantly all-white high school in the South. During my sophomore year in high school, I took a class called African-American studies with Mr. Barnwell.

    Mr. Barnwell was a white guy with red hair in his mid-40's with a strong southern accent. As a matter of fact, his reputation amongst the student body was that he was the most racist teacher at the school, which I found out was not the case at all. Mr. Barnwell simply a white guy who wanted to push young black boys like myself to be all that can be. This reminds me, I need to check in with Mr. Barnwell.

    The only advice that I can give to white faculty members on HBCU campuses is to continue to work with our black students, because we need you. No matter what the literature says and regardless of white faculty members questioning if or not they are "real" in the lives of black males, I would say carry on. I have said this before and I believe this with all of my heart, other ethnic groups that decided to teach on HBCU campuses need to be praised and supported just as much if not more than black professors on HBCU campuses. They bring a different dynamic to the HBCU experience. Hell, the same Dukes who started Duke University, gave Dr. James E. Shepard money to establish NCCU.

    Terra Sig: Thank you, Jason, for sharing your story, insights, and advice with us and our readers. I really appreciate your frankness as well as your advice to me as well! Call on me anytime you think I can be of help.


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    Thanks for introducing us to such an awesome young guy, Abel!

    Jason, congratulations on your success thus far. You are an inspiring leader and mentor. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors!

    Great interview Dr.Pharmboy. Every example helps break the prevailing stereotype a bit. And what a fine example Jason is.

    Congrats on your success so far, and kudos to your mom for not budging at a crucial juncture. She must be really proud of you now. Wish you lots of success if all your future efforts too.

    belle: As always, I love to share stories about the remarkable people who come into my life. I really appreciate your RT of the interview on Twitter. If you come on down to ScienceOnline2011, you can even have a chance to meet him!

    arvind: Thank you as always for your support. It's all Jason - all I did was ask the questions. I had the chance to chat briefly with Jason's mother at the Chancellor's Reception for grad when he got his MPA - as you might guess, she too exudes warmth and strength.

    I feel so incredibly lucky that we were able to keep Jason here in Durham for our young men and the larger university community. I know that he had attractive offers at larger universities so I look forward to watching his star continue to rise firsthand.

    Think that there is a clear connection between self-esteem and academic achievement. Low self-esteem means that the individual lacks respect for self, due to prior experiences.

    By Agenzie hostes… (not verified) on 18 Jun 2010 #permalink

    Jason, I am so proud of you! You have become such an inspiration to many! God has really blessed you and will continue to!

    Little Talley!

    By Kristen Talley (not verified) on 25 Jun 2010 #permalink

    I have known Jason for over 3 years and he is a great leader of NCCU and Durham

    By Gautam Mohapatra (not verified) on 28 Jun 2010 #permalink

    I stumbled across this article and am very impressed with the story.
    I am at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and one of our goals is to support the success of African American Males.
    I wonder if Jason or someone else is available to be a speaker for us or to provide me with additional resources based on the success of their program.

    Yvette Trotman
    Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Anti-Bias Issues

    By Yvette Trotman (not verified) on 07 Jul 2010 #permalink


    I hope that you can be of some much needed assistance. I live in Greensboro, North Carolina. I am Godmother to a 14 year old African American girl who is extremely concerned about her 16 year old brother who has been kicked out of school and is selling drugs. There have been church members who have tried to reach out to him and mentor, but there is never a real connection. Can you offer any assistance or do you know of anyone here in Greensboro that you may be able to place him in contact with. He is a very intelligent young man and is capable of making good grades when he is focused. I look forward to any assistance that you can give. Thank you.

    By Erica Perkins-Rowe (not verified) on 20 Jul 2010 #permalink