Submitted by The Evergreen State College
Dr. Dexter Gordon began his tenure as executive vice president for The Evergreen State College in August 2021 and has just taken part in the college’s first in-person commencement since 2019 due to the pandemic. In addition, this year commemorates the college’s 50th anniversary since its creation in 1971.
Prior to coming to Evergreen, Gordon served as the founding director of the Race and Pedagogy Institute as well as director of the African American Studies program at the University of Puget Sound where he was a distinguished professor teaching rhetoric, media, culture and African American Studies.
Gordon often explains that he was first introduced to The Evergreen State College, not on either of its two campuses, but in the community where he was working as a change agent to remove barriers to education for underserved populations.
That is where he came across Dr. Maxine Mimms and Dr. Joy Hardiman, founders of Evergreen’s Tacoma campus nestled right in the heart of Tacoma’s Hilltop Neighborhood. Both of Evergreen’s two campuses offer freedom to students to pursue what they are truly passionate about and a community where everyone has a place at the table. Gordon was drawn to Evergreen’s grassroots community engagement and rich history, so when the college’s board of trustees discussed with him the new executive vice president role, he felt compelled to serve.
“I have a lifelong commitment to making education accessible to others like me who come from communities long excluded from such opportunities. I also come from a tradition of acknowledging those who came before me,” Gordon explains. “I come from a community where there is an understanding that the community is responsible for raising its children. When I graduated from college in Kingston, Jamaica, a busload of people came from my home community of Old Harbour Bay, St. Catherine to celebrate with me – friends of my mother and father who all had a part in my education because they had invested in me. My success was their success.”
On Friday, June 10, Gordon looked upon the hundreds of students and their friends, family and community members there to celebrate the momentous occasion of graduation. He reflected on the past 50 years that brought the college to this point. Evergreen’s graduation is notoriously without the pomp and circumstance of other college commencement ceremonies. Students do not necessarily all don caps and gowns and instead choose to wear garb that reflects who they have found themselves to be. The diversity, individualism and spirit of the graduates resonated with Gordon, who was seen smiling, clapping and cheering for the many speakers and students walking across to the stage to receive their diplomas.
Gordon, a first-generation high school and college graduate took it all in with a smile. His work over the years has led him to this pivotal role as an executive leader in higher education where his experience as a distinguished faculty member and proponent for access and equity to education gives him a great understanding of what students today are facing.
“Evergreen’s focus on bringing learning to typically excluded communities is what I found so attractive when asked to help lead the college in this unique role as Executive Vice President,” explains Gordon. “Watching Dylan Kuehl walk across the stage to get this bachelor’s degree as the first student with Down Syndrome in our state to achieve this amazing accomplishment gives insight into exactly how, with perseverance and a thirst to learn, everyone can find their way here at Evergreen.”
Gordon came to Evergreen with the challenge of working alongside the college’s leadership, faculty, and staff to reverse the recent trend of falling enrollment numbers. The new Executive Vice President explains that in his first year, he is encouraged that despite the enrollment and covid challenges, the faculty and staff remain committed to public education, public good and creating access and opportunities for those who have for too long been long excluded and long denied a pathway to social mobility and full engagement in making a rich and robust democracy.
“That’s where I see my life commitment,” explains Gordon. “Evergreen is on the right side of the education spectrum. I see the college as a full partner with the rest of the state in providing the kind of quality education that we can all be proud of. I look around the country and am hard-pressed to see another public, liberal arts institution that is dedicated to removing barriers to education while making sure that diversity is central to what we do.”
The Evergreen State College has a rich history of being diverse — people of color make up more than 30% of the college’s student body, over 60% are female, and over 50% of the students identify as LGBTQIA+. All find their place at Evergreen, learning how to succeed as over 90% of its graduates who apply are accepted for admission into graduate school.
When asked about what the future of Evergreen holds, Gordon does not hesitate to respond by saying: “Our future as a college is being proven with the number of strong leaders who have and will graduate from both the Olympia and Tacoma campuses. We not only reach those typically excluded, but we provide our students with an excellent education that sets them up for success. We are looking for the leadership of tomorrow in today’s classrooms and it is no secret who will serve in the legislature, on city council, start a business or run one of our state agencies, especially since 36% of Evergreen graduates enter public service. A remarkable achievement.”