Dream Big, Climb High

Dorothea Schurr

This past Monday, Lawrence University alumnus Joseph Patterson gave a lecture entitled “Reflections of a Manchild from 1965: Dream Big, Climb High,” in which he talked about being a black student at Lawrence in the 1960s. Afterward, he attended the Black Organization of Students (BOS) meeting, where he talked to students about his experiences and theirs.
Joseph Patterson was the inaugural president of BOS’s founding organization, the Association of African-Americans, and graduated from Lawrence in 1969 with a BA in Geology. After getting his Masters in Business Administration, he worked for Fortune 200 financial service companies before later forming Patterson Investment Properties Consulting, L.L.C. as CEO with sponsorship from Citigroup.
Throughout the lecture, Patterson focused mainly on his experiences at Lawrence and how they helped him deal with life after college. He discussed the prejudices toward himself and minority students in general from both faculty and other students, along with the variety of forms it took.
Another theme was perseverance. From literally the very beginning of his career at Lawrence, Patterson knew that there were adversities he would have to overcome; On his first day of freshman year, a professor told him he wouldn’t get more than a C+ in his class simply because of his skin color.
Patterson said that he often found himself being asked to represent African Americans as a whole. Questions such as “what do you [African Americans] want?” and assumptions that he could represent the US African American population as a whole were a common part of his life at Lawrence. When reading books about African Americans in class, it was often said how lucky they were to have him there to interpret.
At one point during his time at Lawrence, Patterson decided that he wanted a theme house for BOS. The difficulties and steps he had to go through to get the house tested his patience and will, but the next year they ended up with the house. This made him realize the difficulties involved in moving from wanting something to actually achieving it.
Patterson said that he overcame the bias of some professors and the stereotyping of minority students, but it was an incredible struggle. Out of the three African American students who began in the class of ’69, only two remained by the end of freshman year.
Patterson’s audience on Monday was composed mostly of faculty and a few students. Brittany Johnson, current head of BOS, says she wishes more students had gone to the lecture but that the student attendance at the BOS meeting later that evening was substantially higher. She says she was inspired and feels that people need to hear the things that Patterson has to say.