New Trailblazers Program seeks to enhance diversity at WMed and empower underrepresented communities

WMed Diversity LogoAfter he came to WMed in May as the new assistant dean for Diversity and Inclusiveness, Donovan Roy, EdD, was impressed by the building blocks that were in place to foster a strong culture of acceptance, mutual respect, and empowerment.

In June, he was buoyed by the initiative of students, residents, faculty and staff who came together with other medical schools and institutions across the country for "White Coats for Black Lives” to express their solidarity and support for the black community and remember George Floyd and others who have lost their lives to police brutality.

“I see a lot of us who are part of the WMed community, including students and residents, who view things through that social justice lens and want to empower underrepresented populations while already being involved in an intense curriculum,” Dr. Roy said. “When they have free time, much of their focus is on allyship and social justice. Those things have really impressed me.”

Still, Dr. Roy says there is more that can – and should – be done at WMed to embrace and increase diversity at the medical school. That’s why he and Cheryl Dickson, MD, MPH, associate dean for Health Equity and Community Affairs, have launched the Trailblazers Program, a new initiative that Dr. Roy says will help build upon and enhance diversity at WMed.

Dr. Roy said the new program, which began in November, is a multi-pronged effort that will involve the entire WMed community – students, residents, fellows, faculty, and staff – as well as members of the Kalamazoo community and beyond.

“Being a trailblazer is a mindset where we want to show that everyone should understand that they will have a voice here,” he said. “We have to continue to build that and push the envelope of increasing diversity because this is a very complex concept and not something that we can accomplish in silos. It has to be done in multiple lanes at our medical school if we want to set a trail and blaze a pathway to increase diversity at WMed.”

Dr. Roy said promoting and increasing diversity at WMed will take on many different forms, whether it’s professional development courses for women or events highlighting people of color or the LGBTQ+ community, as well as Native Americans and those of Asian or Latinx descent. Already, since November, the offices of Health Equity and Community Affairs and Diversity and Inclusiveness hosted an event for Native American Heritage Month and a Native American student panel on diversity and inclusion at universities.

“We have to be able to explore and talk about all diversity, not just black and white,” Dr. Roy said. “This is a way for us to really acknowledge one another. The Trailblazers Program is a culture shift to really engage in that way.”

An important aspect of the new Trailblazers Program will be to highlight members of the WMed community and the Kalamazoo community who are already true trailblazers. Dr. Roy said those individuals are those who – through their work and experience – have gained a clear understanding of themselves by challenging those things they grew over time to believe and, in turn, have become allies for everyone in their community.

“We want others to grow to be that kind of supporter, to know how to empathize and sympathize, and view diversity and talk about diversity through an anti-racist lens,” Dr. Roy said.

Going forward, to infuse the growth of the Trailblazers Program, Dr. Roy said he is working to put together external advisory committees that will serve as outlets for collaboration and training about different cultures and help identify possibilities for future events and keynote speakers. The committees, he said, will be made up of individuals from WMed and the local community, as well as representatives from across the country.

“We want to let everyone know that the American Dream can be achieved in Kalamazoo and that WMed is a place that really wants to help set the tone, not only on our campuses but in Southwest Michigan,” Dr. Roy said. “That’s why we need folks to be trailblazers – people who are not afraid to step out of their comfort zones, not afraid to speak up or be an advocate for those who don’t have a voice. Ultimately, that’s what I want the Trailblazers Program to be.”