Hayley Pearson, Karli Rodgers, and San Poil Whitehead
Janet Nishihara is a third generation Japanese American who was born in 1959 in Ontario, Oregon. Growing up in the rural town of Veil, Oregon, Nishihara’s high school did not provide many academic opportunities. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English education from Oregon State University as well as her master’s degree. She has held positions at the university such as a graduate teaching assistant, a writing instructor, an academic counselor, supervisor, and the director of the Educational Opportunities Program. Currently, her position is interim associate provost for academic success and engagement and director of advising on campus. Her current duties include: coordinating the work in regards to the first year experience, improving academic advising, and overseeing academic support programs for students.
Janet Nishihara discusses her transition from high school to college as an exciting opportunity while acknowledging several of her mentors at OSU. After highlighting various positions she has held at OSU, Nishihara relays her current position’s job duties as interim associate provost for academic success and engagement and director of advising on campus. Regarding diversity, she discusses the changes she has seen at the university, which has improved in terms of student recruitment and retention. She brings attention to several important initiatives such as the Difference, Power, and Discrimination program and the cultural centers. Furthering this, Nishihara states what she believes to be OSU’s role in supporting staff and faculty of color within the Corvallis community. On a more personal level, Nishihara describes her role in supporting diversity as interacting with students and maintaining the momentum of change on campus. When discussing the numbers regarding diversity, Nishihara sees an increase in the university’s efforts to support students of color. This increase is, in part, due to the walk-out of black students in the 1960s that she chronicles as leading to the establishment of the Educational Opportunities Program (EOP). Immigrant acculturation is an issue she discusses before talking about the Asian Pacific Cultural Center, its start, its role, and its new location. Relating back to her career, Nishihara then talks about the role of EOP and TRIO. Before closing, Nishihara recounts some of her greatest challenges including adjusting to a bigger city and being a woman of color on campus as well as some of her accomplishments including the DPD and student successes.
In the interview, Janet was asked to touch on diversity in Oregon State University’s community in various questions. Janet states that the university has been growing in recruiting and retaining a diverse population here, but also thinks that the university could do better in diversity with staff and faculty. She describes Corvallis itself as not being a very diverse town but she has high hopes for the diversity numbers to rise. Janet is also very passionate about wanting to revisit the meeting of women faculty of color here at Oregon State and is something that can be pulled together and would be strong. Being a part of the Asian Pacific Cultural Center (APCC) rebuild, she is also pleased that university does pay attention to importance of the centers for people with different cultures. She discusses the fact that the College of Business had already planned on building Austin Hall where the APCC is currently being built but because that’s where the students involved wanted their building, the College of Business didn’t take it from them and moved down the street.
When we interviewed Janet, we were very inspired by her activism wither work in the various cultural centers on campus, specifically the Asian Pacific Cultural Center. She raved about how accepting and helpful these centers were for students, but pointed out that these programs and opportunities should be further expanded to staff of color at Oregon State University. Janet frequently hangs out in the Asian Pacific Cultural Center (APCC) and says that she has too many stories to tell from her time there. She did mention a time where everyone was cooking in the APCC kitchen, she was chopping onions and how awesome it felt to be part of an accepting team and community where she felt so included. We feel that if more staff made appearances in the cultural centers, staff of color at OSU could feel like more of a unified group. Although, Janet did discuss how this is extremely difficult to enforce and that even with the best of intentions, OSU cannot force one group of staff to participate in something and not other groups. At one point, Corvallis thought of having all staff of color live in the town of Corvallis in order to make it a more diverse town. Of course, this was never put into action because it is unconstitutional. It made us think that as much as Oregon State can want to be a more accepting and diverse campus, the school itself can only do so much. Students and staff have to make a real effort in order to make real change on campus. Janet was excited to talk about the women staff of color small group that used to meet once a month at Oregon State, but as schedules got busier and busier, the group doesn’t meet up anymore. We think this group is a fantastic idea to make staff of color feel included and accepted. Janet was hopeful that the group will start again soon and try to accommodate more people’s schedules. If every cultural center had one of these nights for staff, even just once a month, we think it would make a big change to how staff of color view diversity and acceptance on the Oregon State campus. If the cultural centers work with the university, and students and staff work with their own busy schedules to make time, we think OSU could become more accepting and diversified than it already is.
More About Janet Nishihara’s Current Role at OSU