Unexpected opportunities can alter the best-laid plans. For Lawrence Steven Dorsey III, known as Steve, a chance to speak at the California State Capitol last fall opened previously unimagined possibilities and called his charted life path into question.
Dorsey, a 22-year-old senior, is pursuing a psychology major and religious studies minor and serves as the president of the Student Association of La Sierra University (S A L S U). The progeny of noted Southern California Conference pastors of the same name — his father and grandfather — leadership and service run in his DNA. Dorsey’s aspirations to advocate for his fellow students emerged while he served as S A L S U freshman senator and materialized with his election to lead the student association during his senior year. From this platform, he unexpectedly found himself in a position to speak on behalf of students across the state of California.
Following an invitation from university president Joy Fehr, Dorsey provided testimony before the California State Assembly’s Higher Education Committee November 3, 2021. He delivered his testimony, which centered on the present equity gap in higher education, during an informational hearing on the post-pandemic future of the state’s colleges and universities. La Sierra University is a member of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), and Dorsey appeared along with AICCU’s vice president for government relations, who served on a committee panel discussing the pandemic’s impact. Dorsey’s testimony required substantive preparation, and he credits La Sierra’s Title V Project Coordinator Amy Wolf for the assistance she provided him in forming his thesis. He tamped down any nervousness by remembering “that the testimony was not about me,” he said.
“When President Fehr extended me the opportunity, I did not comprehend the scope of what I would be doing,” Dorsey noted. “Testifying at the state capitol was one of the more formative experiences of my life. Testifying on behalf of La Sierra and students of California showed me the significance of using your voice, but more importantly, being ready to stride when God opens a door.”
Following the hearing, several assembly members encouraged Dorsey to apply for the California State Fellows program, which involves a range of opportunities including potentially serving full-time as a legislative staff member for 11 months. Dorsey submitted his application and expected to be interviewed in February. A decision is anticipated in March. In the meantime, he has also applied to graduate programs for clinical psychology, the career path he had previously mapped out.
“At its core, this fellowship could represent a monumental step in a possible political career, which I did not expect but am ready to embrace,” Dorsey said. “During my freshman year, I had a 10-year plan of where I envisioned myself, whereas now I have settled with excelling in what I can and letting God guide the path to my next step. … It will be exciting to see which door God opens.”
While awaiting God’s direction, Dorsey continues to lead his student association team and advocate for students on university committees and in meetings. This proved a particularly important role as the university returned to in-person learning for the 2021-22 fall quarter following more than a year and a half of virtual operation.
“The most vital goal I had coming into this year was harnessing the excitement of returning to campus to create a tangible school spirit that would display itself in a myriad of ways,” he said. “Moreover, I wanted to change the perception of S A L S U and help cultivate a new generation of leaders that will inevitably rise to the occasion. These goals are in progress. We have had a fantastic IGNITE [new student orientation] experience, record attendance with our events, but most importantly, new leaders arise every day.” When asked for his perspectives about the top three ways the university can best support students, Dorsey cited accessibility to students, creativity in supplemental funding for departments that deal with large numbers of students, and increased support for the athletics program as a means of bolstering school spirit and enrollment.
Dorsey is the third member of his immediate family and the second sibling out of three to pursue an education at La Sierra University — “I am the middle child, which could explain my diplomatic tendencies,” he joked. His younger brother, Nicholas, is studying music at La Sierra and his father, Lawrence Steven Dorsey II pursued graduate studies in theology at La Sierra University. His older sister Salena is graduating this year from Oakwood University in Alabama.
Dorsey’s previous leadership experiences on campus include serving as a customer service representative for Sierra Towers men’s dorm, as resident assistant, and then as student dean, all of which provided important lessons as he moved upward. And through it all his parents have served as chief mentors and influences.
“From a very young age, my mother instilled in me the importance of mental health and the need for representation in psychology. Though she will never take credit for it, Nichole Dorsey is an immense factor in why I’ve grown to love psychology and why I am ready to make it my lifelong response to God’s calling for me,” Dorsey said. “On the other hand, every Saturday my father was a tangible reminder on the importance of serving something bigger than yourself. Having a pastor as a father illuminated the many joys of ministry and the challenges of leading a congregation. Pastor Dorsey II is my spiritual mentor, a trusted confidant, and most importantly, my father. … [My parents] are two people I will be forever grateful for having in my life.”
He also noted the example and impact of President Barack Obama, who was elected to office in 2008 as the nation’s first African American president and went on to win re-election in 2012.
“He was an icon who embodied the importance of representation in government to me as a young Black man,” Dorsey said. “The class and eloquence he demonstrated as President of the United States was something I tried to emulate in any leadership position I had. President Obama taught me the importance of grace and dignity in the way you present yourself to a world that is always looking for a reason to take it away.”
Foundational to it all is his faith in God. “Faith is what all my career aspirations orbit [around],” Dorsey said. “Nothing I have done or will do would be possible without the free-flowing grace offered to me daily. Faith is what has kept me grounded throughout my life.”