Donovan Roy, Ed.D., grew up in southwestern Los Angeles County as an All-American student athlete whose team won the state football championship. He was recruited to play college football on scholarship at the University of Southern California. He flunked out. He tried again, this time earning a scholarship to play at the University of Mexico. He flunked again. “I was not academically prepared. I did not have the skills set,” he said.
Dr. Roy found his calling at Wayne State College in Nebraska, where he received a bachelor’s degree in Human Services Counseling and a master’s degree in Higher Education Counseling. He ultimately earned his doctoral degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, with the dissertation “The Role of Social Capital and Networks in Supporting Black Males' Matriculation into Medical School.”
He has 18 years of experience in diversity and inclusion at several medical schools across the country.
(Read "Donovan Roy named vice dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion")
Question: Did you experience marginalization growing up? Is that why diversity and inclusion is a such a passion of yours now?
Answer: I grew up (in Inglewood, Calif.,) during the crack epidemic. I grew up around a lot of my friends who had potential, but not the resources or the network to really help them achieve that dream. If I was not 6’ 6”, and I was not a very good athlete, I’m not sure if I would have been able to transcend into the man I am today. Even though I had privilege to be an athlete, a male athlete, I did experience a lot of marginalization. They did not see me as a scholar. If you talked to anyone in the time before I entered higher education, they probably would not have expected me to be the Vice Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at a medical school. I would be a former professional football player, college coach at best, or maybe a physical education teacher.
Q: Given your athletic prowess, did you consider pursuing a professional career in football instead of in higher education?
A: Football was no longer on the shelf because I tore my knee up at the University of New Mexico. So, I had to find that second option. And that's when I really started to focus on academia, on improving myself and exercising my mind. I really wanted more for my life than just to be a former athlete who harped on the fact that he did not make it athletically. I really wanted to focus on being able to make sure that any young person who I knew was struggling could take an adverse situation and turn it around. So, that's one of my passions, just working with people, and helping them to see their potential. I understand about failing, but I also understand the importance of redemption. I really focus on helping students be successful in independent learning, because that's what I struggled with. Everything that I do today is based upon my experiences.
Q: What attracted you to Wayne State University?
A: I love the fact that the School of Medicine is very intentional about reaching out to, and supporting, marginalized communities, whether it be through the undergraduate program or through direct linkages to the medical school. I also liked the diversity of leadership. It really says a lot about an institution when you look at who the gatekeepers are. I also appreciate the opportunity to work with the undergraduates. There's a lot of misinformation on how to get into medical school and how to become a competitive applicant. And the fact that I get the opportunity to work directly with that population – who may not have the social capital, the social network – to become a competitive applicant.
Q: What about diversity and inclusion in medicine made you pursue it as a career?
A: While at Wayne State College, I started to understand the importance of diversity and how it shapes a college campus. But when I got into the Nebraska Area Health Education Centers… I saw how important it is to have primary care providers that look like the community that's served. It really shaped my understanding of why the life expectancy for African Americans and LatinX communities was shorter than Caucasian communities. It planted that seed and that love. I started looking at the lack of health care providers, and really understood how I can be able to improve the health outcomes in these communities by developing programs and helping underrepresented populations become health care providers by providing them with thrilling career engagement, academic support services, to really help them build a science identity.
Q: What would you like to accomplish at the School of Medicine?
A: I want to make sure that the people that serve the community reflect the community… . The way that we do that is starting with more diversity within our campus, having more faculty, having more students, having more employees that look like the people that we're trying to serve. That’s one of the things, but also to work closely with the community. And when I say work with the community, it's not about just going in and telling the community what we think they need, but actually asking the community, “how can we support them?”
The only way that we can do that is actually going to the community and building relationships, and fostering a a sense of inclusiveness, and really building that bridge between Wayne State, from the undergraduate to the medical school and pre-professional programs.
And most importantly, making them feel that Wayne State University is a place for all and not just for those who are from the majority, but for those who are a historically marginalized community, whether it be from the LGBTQI+ community, whether they be a first-generation college student, whether it be racial and ethnic populations. We're even talking about ageism, about the intersectionality of diversity, not just from a racial and ethnic minority.
The interview has been edited for clarity.