Dean Patterson ’71: Expert Guidance

Thursday, April 1, 2021

A poem hangs on the wall.

Visitors to the office of longtime Case Western Reserve University administrator G. Dean Patterson Jr. ’71 took note of the words in the frame, which were written specifically for anyone entering the space:

A Dean’s Mission
You are the most important person when entering this room.
I promise to do my best to listen, understand, and treat you with respect.
I will show genuine concern and sensitivity to you as well as to any issues that we might discuss.
I may not always say what you wish to hear but
I will say what I feel that you may need to hear.
I will always try to act in your best interest and be an advocate for your success.
We are both people, human, and students of this life, so I am sure that we can learn from each other if we only take the time.
You are the most important person when entering this room.


Patterson retired in 2019 as associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students at Case Western Reserve in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. He devoted his professional career to helping institutions of higher education understand the needs of all students regardless of their perceived race, culture, or ethnicity. 

“I was raised that people are most important,” Patterson says. “I could get another piece of furniture or another chair, but I could never get another one of you. How could anything material be more important than another person? That came from my mom [Mary], and I based everything I did in my career on it.”

For his decades of service and counsel to students and employees at Case Western Reserve and John Carroll University (he taught in the nursing schools and psychology departments at both schools), as well as his work with patients and families at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and at University Hospitals of Cleveland, Patterson has been chosen as the 2021 recipient of Mercersburg’s Class of ’32 Distinguished Alumni Award. This is the school’s highest honor; it is presented annually to a member of the alumni body who has most distinguished himself or herself through character, service, and achievement.

Patterson has served on the National Advisory Committee for the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE), which was founded at the University of Oklahoma and is the leading national forum on issues of race and ethnicity in American higher education. He is also an accomplished poet, having received the International Who’s Who in Poetry Award from the International Library of Poetry, Noble House Publishers, and the National Library of Poetry.

(And yes, Patterson is the author of the poem “A Dean’s Mission.”)

Case Western Reserve honored Patterson at his retirement by creating the G. Dean Patterson Jr. “People are Most Important Award,” which is presented to a staff member, faculty member, or alumnus of the university who has consistently made students feel valued, affirmed students’ sense of belonging, and treats students with respect. The award was presented for the first time in 2020.

As a Mercersburg student for two years (he arrived as an 11th-grade student in fall 1969), Patterson was a member of the football and track & field teams and a musician, living in Main Hall on campus. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English and psychology and a master’s in health science education and life span development, all from Case Western Reserve.
Patterson spotlights teachers James Ealy and Victor Cahn as well as Headmaster William Fowle as faculty mentors during his time at the Academy. “Bill Fowle was a great man,” Patterson remembers. “I tried to interact with everybody [on campus]; even way back then, that’s who I was. It was complicated sometimes; we had some students who were very prejudiced, and I couldn’t understand why. But Headmaster Fowle and I talked about all that stuff. He got a lot of pushback for integrating Mercersburg Academy [in 1964], but he was very supportive of diversity and of people of color. I trusted him.”

After completing his master’s, Patterson spent 10 years at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. He was a supervisor in the Child Life Department at University Hospitals of Cleveland. While there, he also taught in the medical and nursing schools and the psychology departments at both Case Western Reserve and John Carroll University before returning full-time to his college alma mater. He became associate dean for student affairs in 1992, assistant vice president in 1995, and was promoted to associate vice president in 2002. Patterson assumed the title of associate vice president and dean of students in 2014.
Patterson has been a featured speaker in Case Western Reserve’s Power of Diversity Lecture Series, and has presented nationally and internationally with a focus on bringing people together. He and his wife, Elisaida, an administrator at the Cleveland Institute of Art, have two children and two grandchildren.
“I was fortunate that my mom taught me that ‘race’ means ‘the human race’,” he says. “Today, the world often uses the word ‘race’ as a construct, and usually to divide us based on skin color or privilege or those types of things. To me, everybody’s my brother or sister, whether they know it or not—and whether they want to be or not. I say that very comfortably.”

As this year’s Class of ’32 Award recipient, Patterson will be honored as part of Virtual Reunion Weekend 2021, when he and his fellow members of the Class of 1971 will celebrate their 50th reunion.