Dorian Smith Seeks To Expand Educational Opportunities for Black Students At OSU

Dorian Smith (center back) with students from the Educational Opportunity Program's Black Student Access and Success Initiative.

In an excellent talk on Wednesday, OSU Coordinator of Black Student Access and Success Dorian Smith, who’s job entails supporting and connecting with all black students at OSU, focused on his personal experience as a black football player for OSU and beyond for his talk for LBCC’s Black History Month, theme: #blackboyjoy.

Smith, who not only played but also coached football at OSU, said that athletes who have their “15 minutes of fame” can become of no concern to the school as soon as their profitability to the school goes away. As a coach, Dorian saw an immediate positive reaction from coaching his players on the field. But in his current position, Smith works with black students in general, including athletes, about the longer game of life.

“You have a certain time while you’re hot as an athlete and people actually care about you. After that you’re in a pool with everyone else … unless you’re super elite.”

“Black athletes are some of the most loved, adored, appreciated, exploited people on earth. Once there’s no more value of using your body,” said Smith, “then there’s no more value [for you as a person] to the person who brought you here.”

In his current role in the OSU Educational Opportunities Program, Smith seeks to change this institutional perspective to one that supports the whole student.

Throughout his talk, Smith emphasized that the challenges that are faced by black student athletes are not simple, but require looking at the big picture and making lots of efforts to improve the fairness of the situation to support long-term success of the individual athletes as well as the football institution they play for.

For example, OSU football players used to be required to practice at 4 a.m. Now that has been improved, but still requires the early start time of 6 a.m. Athletes are not allowed to use their own image for a podcast while they are in school, but they are asked to demo shoes, which are then sold for great profit.

Players, said Smith, feel pressure to play on injuries both because the image of the black man as “tough” and because “there’s always another guy coming for your spot.” Players work hard at year round practices, but until recently food was only provided during football season, and still “walk-ons are not allowed to eat at the table,” said Smith.

Players, said Smith, are treated as though their job is practice, and are discouraged from pursuing demanding degrees such as engineering, steered instead to degrees such as liberal arts, which may not support them as well later on in life. To the extent this discouragement is meant as an insult to intelligence, Smith seeks to support all black students with inspiring stories of successful black people who succeeded in the realms beyond athletics.

The joy that Smith first found in the camaraderie in sports and the locker room, is the joy he wants for his student charges in their entire lives. Although Smith is glad for his experience playing as a top athlete, he doesn’t want there to be such a narrow definition, that a man who is black has to do sports, has to be a tough athlete, has to smile, or not smile, or talk softly, or slouch, or not be academic. He is proud of his identity, which includes entrepreneurship, and seeks to support black students in success both on and off the field.

Smith shared an anecdote from his four years of pro football in Canada, which left Smith with a new impression of what his black identity could encompass.
“I played up there for three or four years,” said Smith, “and had a really good experience, an amazing experience.
“There was this whole different expression of what blackness is and what blackness meant,” Smith said. “This lady asked, ‘What are you from?’
“I said, ‘What do you mean? I’m Black.’
“And the lady was like, “No, like, I am from Nigeria. And my friend is from Eritrea.‘
“As far as I know,’” Smith said he responded, “‘I’ve got Texas and Louisiana,’”
The crowd in the IEDI laughed, but Smith’s serious message that knowing our roots is important came through clear in his talk, when he referenced his grandparents who went from being sharecroppers to owning a mall because their store was the most successful one when the owner wanted to sell. Smith’s mom was a high school graduate who worked hard and encouraged Smith to take part in sports.
Smith went on to talk about, “This huge carnival [in Canada.] It’s all black folks.” His pro-football team was able to stay and enjoy the carnival because of a bye week the next week. The freedom of expression [in Canada], said Smith, “was eye opening.”
Smith wants to bring more freedom of expression to the community of black students on the OSU campus. He is working on getting housing that will allow the students to feel comfortable and be together instead of spread all over campus.
The Institutional Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (IEDI) Center was completely quiet as audience members listened to Smith talk. When he spoke of feeling “African but not African enough, American but not American enough,” IEDI Director Javier Cervantes nodded in understanding. Audience members also nodded in appreciative recognition when Smith mentioned Florence Griffith-Joyner, who not only set records in the 1980s that still stand for the 100m and 200m races, but also became a fashion icon who designed uniforms for the NBA Pacers.

At the end of Smith’s talk, LBCC English Department faculty members Tristan Striker and Ramycia McGhee both asked questions, and a student asked about Smith’s injuries, in answer to which Smith initially downplayed his injuries.

But then he listed them: saying “[I tore] my ACL twice, [and] I separated my shoulder.“
Smith’s worst injury was an ankle sprain that he felt he needed to keep playing on, which made it worse. “I had an ankle sprain, felt the pop, still had the adrenaline, taped up my ankle and kept playing” because, said Smith “in pro sports especially, someone is always coming for your job.”
“I had to plant off of that foot,” continued Smith, who later learned from a doctor that this caused more ligaments under his foot to be torn. Smith had no surgery, but he had six to eight weeks of recovery.
Afterwards, Smith stayed to talk to a young family while a student of McGhee’s thanked her for hosting the event, and later in the day, IEDI student-worker Yulissa Gonzalez said she was glad the event had been so interesting and well attended, and recalled Smith’s description of his injuries. See below for upcoming events in the IEDI, including speaker Alex Johnson II.

Story by Karen Canan

Upcoming Events in the IEDI:

All events held in the Institutional, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Center in Forum 220 unless otherwise noted.

Wed. Feb. 19 12:30-2:00 p.m.: Albany City Councilman Alex Johnson II speaks for Black History Month.

Thurs. Feb. 20 11:30 a.m.: Jason Dorsette speaks for Black History Month.

Wed. Mar. 4 12:00 p.m.: “Think Outside the Classroom” Interdisciplinary Student and Staff Panel on the Value of Conferences.

Tue. Mar. 31st 11:30 am: Fay Stetz-Waters, Director of Civil Rights for Oregon Department of Justice, speaks for Women’s History Month at in Forum 220 on “Contemporary Womens’ Role in Maintaining Democracy”

Feb. 24 and 25 1-2 p.m.: Student Leadership Council hosts LBCC Tuition Hearings with Jess Jacobs regarding tuition hearings and fee increases, snacks provided.

Thurs. Feb. 27 5 p.m.: Unity Dinner- Fireside Room, Calapooia Center-211 #blackboyjoy Essay Winners announced, Faculty Staff and Community Awards Presented.

Mon. Mar. 9 1-3 p.m.: “Latinas Machin” on, All are welcome to share snacks and beverages and hear about four Latina heroes: Delores Huerta, Frida Kahlo, Sonia Sotomayer, and Ellen Ochoa

Silent Week on Week 10: Mon. through Fri. Mar. 9 -March 13: Various Activities in the IEDI Each Day on Developing Coping Skills and Self Care During Stressful Times.