Dorothea Berkhout was born in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1950. Early on in her life, she and her siblings attended Public School 12 in Paterson, New Jersey, as part of the Eastern Christian School Association. Through the Eastern Christian School Association, she then went to Eastern Christian High School in North Haledon, New Jersey, from 1963 to 1967.
After graduating from Eastern Christian High School, she initially attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from 1967 to 1969, but then, she moved to California. As a result, she finished her schooling at the University of Southern California after attending there from 1969 to 1971 and obtaining a major in French with a minor in Linguistics. Following her interest in language, she would go on to attend graduate school at Ohio University from 1971 to 1977, and there, she obtained her Master of Arts in French in 1973.
Following her time in graduate school, she worked several jobs such as a staff associate at the Association of American University Presses in New York, and the general manager of Transaction Books & Periodicals in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She returned to Ohio University and obtained her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature in 1983, and in the same year, she began to work at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of New Brunswick.
At Rutgers, she first worked as an Assistant Provost from 1983 to 1990 and then as an Associate Provost for Administration and Planning from 1990 to 1996. She transitioned from the Graduate School to Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, where she worked as the school’s Associate Dean from 1996 until her retirement in 2021.