During his last week, Dr. Jarvis Watson, the assistant dean for multicultural affairs, sat in his almost cleared-out office in the Student Activities Center and reflected on his 14-year professional career at Stony Brook University.
Watson’s last day was Nov. 20, and he is set to embark upon his new position within the coming weeks as Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Watson has had several positions during his time at Stony Brook, in which he had the opportunity to work closely with students.
“I can really respect this legacy that I have had the privilege and honor to develop,” he said.
He began his professional career at Stony Brook as an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) counselor back in 2006. EOP provides access to higher education for economically disadvantaged students whose academic preparation did not fully prepare them to successfully pursue a college education. The program serves between 700-750 students each year and Watson averaged about 125 students on his caseload per year, according to Pamela Matzner, the director of EOP.
“I couldn’t think about a better position to be in and if you really want to understand the campus, EOP taught you everything,” Watson said. “It taught you how to be a good financial advisor, a good personal counselor and a career advisor. It really helps you to understand how to grab the community and make sure you rally around all students.”
Watson was the first staff member that Andre Minueza, a senior health sciences major, met during his summer entering EOP.
“Every experience after that had always been uphill with him, he is one of the few faculty on campus that will check up on you and make time for you whenever you would need it,” Minueza said. “He understood what I would go through and would always keep on pushing me to better myself and work harder.”
Minueza also said that Watson hired him when he applied to work at the UNITI Cultural Center.
“He came to Stony Brook and he isn’t leaving without our gratitude and appreciation of having the ability of changing the lives of tons of students,” he said.
Watson said that his favorite aspect of the program was being able to become familiar with students from the start of the summer academy, to the point in which they graduate. He continued his work with EOP students at Stony Brook Southampton, where he was the assistant director for EOP.
He says the position at Southampton gave him the opportunity to actually have a seat at the table and advocate for students.
“My voice started to kind of get a little louder and a little more confident, a little more direct and more intentional, which probably set the foundation for me to do what I’m doing now,” he said.
Matzner, the director of EOP, said that Watson will be greatly missed.
“He greatly impacted our students, especially our young men of color,” she said.
Watson was also the faculty advisor for the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB), which is an organization that helps African American males develop professionally and to better understand their full rights as citizens.
Aaron Jackson, class of ‘19 athletic training major, was the former president of the SAAB during the 2018-2019 year.
“To a young black boy at Stony Brook, Dr. Watson was my role model,” Jackson said. “After spending two years in SAAB, Dr. Watson not only became my mentor but my brother. The legacy that he is leaving at Stony Brook will never be forgotten and I am grateful to have been a part of it.”
Watson then found himself in his current role: the assistant dean of multicultural affairs, in which he helped outline the Stony Brook Plan for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, helped to develop the Diversity Leadership Development Initiative for historically underrepresented student affairs professionals and also developed and managed day to day operations for the UNITI Cultural Center.
His attention towards students could be seen in the way that he stood up and advocated for students. For example, on one night in 2018 a group of Black students in the library was asked to leave because some people thought they were being too loud. After refusing to leave, the police were called and one of the Black students explained that the situation was a form of discrimination, according to Watson.
Watson advocated for the students during a meeting with faculty to help resolve the situation. A procedure was established for university faculty to deescalate and communicate before calling campus police, and sign-ins for quiet zones were eventually put in.
The role that Watson played in that situation inspired him to interview for the interim chief diversity officer position.
“At the time, I said, this is what I want,” he said. “If anybody was going to take the lead on some stuff, it had to be somebody who knows the institution, the students, the faculty and staff.”
Watson spent about two years as interim chief diversity officer, in which he was able to serve on the university’s leadership team. Watson said that he believes Stony Brook is both diverse and inclusive. However, he said that there is no limit on how inclusive one can be, as there is always room for acceptance.
During his time at the university, he was also in charge of hosting Black History Month events and takes pride in the fact that he was able to get Spike Lee for the opening ceremony in 2020 and Korey Wise for the closing of that same year.
“He has been an incredible role model, support, and student advocate throughout his leadership roles in EOP, Multicultural Affairs and the Student Support Team,” Rick Gatteau, vice president for student affairs and dean of students said. “I am very grateful for Jarvis’ hard work, commitment, and passion for serving others, and know that he will be very successful at the School of Visual Arts.”
Watson says that his primary goal in his professional career at Stony Brook was to create a path forward for less fortunate students.
“I wanted students to make sure that where they ended up, isn’t where they started,” he said. “I wanted students to not only discover their purpose, but define their purpose for what it meant for them.”
However, for Watson, where he began is also where he ended up in professional career — he is an alumnus of Stony Brook, where he earned his undergraduate degree in English in 1998. But this time around he had a priority of helping students.
“As an alumni, I could really be in a position to make sure that we are inclusive and equitable on all these different levels,” he said.
Watson also earned his master’s in counselor education and an EdD in educational administration, leadership, and technology from Dowling College.
“I hope that I taught students that if you can conceive it in your brain that you want to achieve certain things, then you can be what you want to become,” he said. “The most powerful thing that you have is your voice. That voice is not just a sound, but it’s the spirit that drives that voice.”