Three-time alumnus recognized for pivotal advocacy for Black community-building and student success at OSU

January 16, 2023

On Jan. 16, 2023, Dr. Keith Dempsey, ’93, M.S. ’96, Ph.D. ’10, was awarded the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alumni Legacy Award at Oregon State University’s 41st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Peace Breakfast. The award recognizes alumni role models who demonstrate a deep and abiding commitment to causes of social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion and who exemplify and enrich OSU’s values of community, diversity, respect and social responsibility.

Dempsey is an inspiring mentor and leading volunteer at Oregon State who is passionate about empowering and supporting Black students, alumni and community members. He is a three-degree Beaver, having earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, master’s degree in counseling and a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision.

“Dr. Dempsey has been the leading advocate for the needs and empowerment of Black students and a primary motivator of the role that alumni play in ensuring Black students chose to attend OSU, have safe and thriving undergraduate experiences here, and then pursue meaningful and impactful careers,” says John Valva, Executive Director of the OSU Alumni Association. “He is the mentor and inspiration to countless.”

Photo of Dr. Keith Dempsey 

At Oregon State, Dempsey’s contributions to Black community-building and alumni and student networks are broad and immeasurable, including serving as a founding member and chair of the OSU Black Alumni & Friends Network through the OSU Alumni Association. Other volunteer experiences include serving on the OSUAA Board of Directors (2019-22), the OSU Alumni Council (2012-15) and the OSU Alumni Undergraduate Scholarship Committee. He has also emceed the inaugural OSU Multicultural Alumni & Friends Tailgate and served as an Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) advisor. He has been a pivotal and longstanding supporter of EOP and the Black & Indigenous Student Success program. In fact, Dempsey has generously given the stipend from this award to support EOP.  

Dempsey has more than 20 years of professional experience in the fields of counseling, therapy and health care advocacy for African Americans. He leads his own counseling and consulting practice in the Portland area treating individuals, couples and families through the lens of racial trauma, helping clients reach their full potential through the power of counseling. He’s conducted national presentations and trainings regarding diversity, racial trauma and the plight of Black men. Dempsey is the past president of the Western Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (WACES). Previously he was associate dean of the Graduate School of Counseling at George Fox University, where he was the first Black person to achieve tenure. 

After recognizing the investment that people made in me as a student, I have a responsibility to pay it forward. Those students need exactly what we needed, and we can be gifts for them" – Dr. Keith Dempsey, '93, M.S. '96, Ph.D. '10

In the broader community, Dempsey has dedicated himself to volunteering for such organizations as MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, Self Enhancement Inc., Salvation Army, Kappa League Youth Program and the Perspective Gentleman’s Program. He has also run a program called Baby Steps at Portland’s Rosa Parks Elementary School.

Dempsey grew up in a mostly Black Portland neighborhood, and didn’t always know if college was for him. His high school counselor told him that he wasn’t “college material.” Instead of being dissuaded by these words, Dempsey chose instead to listen to his track coach, counselor and OSU alumnus Leon McKenzie, ’77, who encouraged him to apply to Oregon State.

At the university, Dempsey used an informal support network to navigate the unique challenges that Black students face. He was involved with the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center, the Black Student Union and EOP. And he joined a historically Black fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, where he is a lifetime member.

Dempsey credits personal relationships with mentors as a driving force for his academic success. The late Larry Griggs, former EOP director; Janet Nishihara, current program director; and the late LaVerne Woods inspired him to pursue graduate and doctoral studies.

Looking to help foster a sense of belonging for OSU students and alumni? Connect with the OSU Black Alumni and Friends Network (BAFN) or give to the Black Student Access & Success Initiative.

More about Dr. Keith Dempsey: 

Photo of Dr. Keith Dempsey