Portrait of Dorian Smith sitting in front of The Dr. Lawrence Griggs Office of Black & Indigenous Student Success

Fall 2021 — Five years after a pair of initiatives were created to reverse a trend of decreasing applications and enrollment by Black and Indigenous students at Oregon State University, a new office and center are now supporting underrepresented students. The Dr. Lawrence Griggs Office of Black & Indigenous Student Success and the Griggs Center are named for the longtime Educational Opportunities Program director and community leader who devoted decades to helping students succeed and thrive.

“We were seeing gaps in Black and Indigenous student success and access to the university,” says Dorian Smith, director of the office. “The initiatives looked deeper into what were the causes and collaborated with key partners to address the issues.”

The downward trend for enrollment and applications by Black and Indigenous students has been reversed. For example, between 2017 and this year, Black student undergraduate applications increased by 112%, and there was a corresponding 48% increase in the enrollment of Black students. While applications and enrollment are important metrics to track, the initiatives also sought to change the student experience.

“Instead of looking at it from a deficit and saying what are the barriers and what are the gaps, we use an approach that is asset-based,” Smith says. “Knowing the different cultural backgrounds, we use those assets to help students be successful.”

Since the start of the initiatives, Smith has been working with Black students through the Educational Opportunities Program. The new office adds three more positions to support underrepresented students.

“We’re seeking to collaborate with the whole university,” Smith said. “We want to find ways to create institutional change.”

An example is the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. The program seeks to increase the number of traditionally underrepresented students completing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. LSAMP matches students of color with tutors of color. “So, it’s really comfortable for students to receive tutoring,” Smith says.

The office is also engaged in outreach before students apply, says Native American & Indigenous Student Success Coordinator Christy Jones. Black and Indigenous students can begin their college transition early through Bridge, a program that shows first-year students how to navigate campus, find resources and create community. 

“We bring them in early and connect them with faculty and other students so they can be successful on their first day,” Jones says.