Jon Mathis, equity educator at Chemeketa, seeks new WU dean role
Updated: Mar 19
A profile picture of Jon Mathis taken from his LinkedIn page.
The second finalist for the Dean of Students for Community Care and Inclusion, Jon Mathis, participated in an open forum on Friday, March 12. Mathis currently works as Title IX Coordinator and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Educator at Chemeketa Community College, a community college located northeast of Salem with an undergraduate population of around 8,500 students.
Mathis started the forum with a presentation in which he discussed his values, methods and actions. He said his values were family, faith, compassion, sense of justice for equity issues, discernment, hope and humor. He also stated his commitment to growth, describing how he wants to be vulnerable and honest, bringing out the “unique brilliance” in himself and in others.
Mathis then explained his method of approaching his job. In line with his values of family and compassion, he wants to prioritize relationships, to know people as they really are. He also wants to keep learning about injustices and inequities, being challenged to wrestle with what he knows and what he thought he knew. Finally, he mentioned having an action-oriented method, always trying something, and continuing to move on something even if it fails.
Mathis also explained how he spends his time in his job. He stated that he tries to initiate a personal connection with the students, faculty and staff on campus. He also said he teaches and learns with students, faculty and staff, bringing opportunities they want. He said he is ready to offer a collaborative approach to vision casting and strategic planning, something he says he has fully contributed to in the past. He also said he did and wants to continue to inspire strengths development in staff and students. Finally, he wants to provide ongoing professional development on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as he has done with workshops, book clubs, listening spaces and speakers.
He concluded by saying that differences need to be embraced, diverse perspectives need to be accepted and that his values inform how he prioritizes relationships, education and action in his daily work and service.
For clarification, a faculty member from PNCA asked Mathis how he defined equity. Mathis said that equitable practices are about dissecting systems and approaches have been oppressive and reforming them to be a provider of equal opportunities.
When asked why he is applying to Willamette, Mathis said he loved the Willamette community, witnessing it from nearby Chemeketa Community College. Part of it for him lies in it being a liberal arts college which he believes allows for an active, dynamic experience of living and working. He said the greatest reward in his work in higher education is seeing students in the college community, especially first-gens graduating, which will forever change the future of their families with an increased sense of agency.
A Willamette community member asked Mathis what would be new and challenging for him in this job. He said he is excited to connect and partner with local tribal communities and to understand diverse identities.
University Chaplain Karen Wood asked Mathis how he supported LGBT+ students at his previous jobs at Pepperdine University and Multnomah University, both conservative, Christian universities, and how he will support the LGBT+ community at Willamette. Mathis said he created close relationships with LGBT+ populations, acting as a safe space within these conservative, Christian communities. He mentioned that Pepperdine had a LGBT+ club which recognized the LGBT+ population but at the same time, did not accept them. This boiled over when he had to deal with housing tensions between conservative Christians and LGBT+ identifying people in housing. He said he has always cared and strived to resolve conflicts and advocated on behalf of LGBT+ populations.
Associate Professor of Sociology and Department Chair Emily Drew asked Mathis how he would balance disciplining and helping student activism. Mathis said that remaining silent on student activism matters causes bigger problems because students feel misunderstood or ignored. He said he is careful about coming down with the heavy hand of the institution, although he believes it is often kind. He said he would be an enthusiastic supporter of the why, understanding the reasons behind the actions and would work with the student or students to move in that direction. He also mentioned he would empower student activists to oversee him and make sure he does what he said he would do.
The Collegian asked Mathis during the forum how he would serve neurodivergent students at Willamette and how he has done so in the past. Mathis said he has a growing passion for helping with neurodiverse issues, especially after being the director for disability services at Multnomah for four years. He said he has been working with a colleague at Chemeketa Community College to suggest better teaching methods that would not only benefit neurodivergent students, but neurotypical students as well. He said he has been actively debunking the common misconception that neurodivergent students are disruptive. He also said he has been finding their unique perspectives and contributions instead of holding them to the same standards as everyone else.