By Marissa Ammon

With Christian Griffin-Editor

Dr. Wazir Jefferson is the new Chief Diversity Officer at Dutchess Community College. With this position Jefferson aims to reach students to ensure they know they are worthy and accepted while receiving a great college education.

Judi Stokes, Director of Communications and Public Relations at DCC, speaks highly of Jefferson saying, “I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with him and it’s great to have him and the new position here. He’s very committed to all the students and helps everyone.”

So, Who is Dr. Wazir Jefferson?

He laughed at the question, and jovaly answered: “I am a human.”

Like many other human, Jefferson enjoys a good bike ride, working-out at the gym–with or without a partner– and taking a trip when he is bitten by the travel bug.

At his core, is a lifelong joy for attending church and listening to gospel music. He might be found listing to Travis Greene or Miranda Curtis in his office during the week, but probably will not be caught singing outside of his car. He highlights these activities as integral parts of his cultural experience.

Jefferson is the fifth of seven kids and was born in New York City. In the early 80s his family moved to Poughkeepsie.

His path of advocacy began at an early age as and his siblings looked after the medical and daily needs of their youngest brother born with Down Syndrome.“Being sensitive in that way has always been forefronted,” Jefferson says.

Through his K-12 years he was introduced to a number of programs that exposed him to higher education. These programs offered one-on-one interactions with faculty, staff, and students and served Jefferson in finding the passions that pulled him. He shared that without these programs, achieving a Doctoral degree may have never been possible for him.

“I thought [higher education] was only for certain group, and never saw myself achieving such,” he said.

Jefferson attended the Poughkeepsie School District. From there he moved on to Temple University and received a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration followed by a Master of Arts in Education and Human Development at George Washington University. Jefferson’s next destination was the University of Utah for his Educational Doctoral Degree.

At the U of U, Jefferson served as the first Coordinator of Diversity Education in Housing and Residential Education. In this role he developed a peer diversity dialogue program which is now known as the Social Justice Advocates. This program enabled student leaders to facilitate a number of diversity workshops in the residence hall.

While working on his doctorate, Jefferson also served as a student success advocate. His book bag and a name badge were his office. Jefferson walked around campus and asked students about their campus experience and how he could partner with them on their journey to graduation.

Jefferson’s journey has not been easy. A number of times, barriers made him feel like he could not finish or unsure if he would be able to pay for school. Sometimes those barriers came from inside him.

“Believing if I’m worthy and believing if I’m worthy to do ‘this,’ whatever this was at that time,” he said.

However, when Jefferson felt down, he would reach out instead of suffer in silence. Many people have, and still, mentor him and remind him why is doing what he is doing. Now, he is taking on the role of mentor to students and staff.

“I want to help those that I encounter grow just as many have and continue to do with me – developing a reciprocal relationship,” he says.

For students who are struggling, Jefferson says:

“Ask for help. No one has come to college knowing everything there is to know and the exact plan for success and completion. Find a friend or peers to hold you accountable and lift you up and who you can hold accountable and lift them up.”

In 2017,Jefferson was considering positions other campuses, then, quite serendipitously, somebody told him about a position in his hometown. For a split second, his inner doubt said, “they won’t hire me,” but he ignored that and told himself “why not try?” He applied near the end of November [2017] and by January [2018] the interview process started.

After seeing the legacy of Jefferson’s family, his journey back to Poughkeepsie is no surprise. His grandmother, Marcel “Auntie” Peart, was the first of his family to graduate from DCC, in 1972. A number of cousins attended, one brother graduated in 2002, one brother is currently attending and his older sister graduated twice.

Somewhere along the way, students gave him the nickname “Dr. J.” They wanted him to know they thought he was cool.

Chief Diversity Officer is a relatively new role within K-12 and collegiate environments; and the roles of officers vary campus to campus. At DCC, Jefferson will facilitate workshops on diversity aimed at furthering awareness. He is going to work with faculty and staff, in the many departments on campus, on ways to incorporate diversity and inclusion within the groups and with the individual students they interact with.

Jefferson’s goals for the near future are to create systems and processes, “where individuals can converse and exchange across differences, while recognizing everyone has something to contribute and learn, so that bias can be addressed proactively versus traditionally reactive.” He also aspires to develop a structure for students, faculty or staff to facilitate diversity and inclusion workshops and dialogues.

Jefferson ended the interview with a message:

“I’m a lifelong learner, committed to [each student’s] success and would love the chance to connect one-on-one or in a group setting. I am the Chief Diversity Officer for everyone on campus; not just this group [t]here or this group here, but for everyone.”