Q&A: Alisha Davis
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, so I am truly a Grand Rapidian. My dad is a retired teacher, and my mom is a retired manager for an office furniture company. I’m a three-time Western Michigan University graduate. I have a bachelor’s degree in community health, a master’s degree in family and consumer sciences, and a Ph.D in educational leadership, with a higher educational focus.
Did you always know that you wanted to work at Grand Valley?
Well, it was kind of by accident. I worked at Spectrum Health and Priority Health. My dad always wanted me to go into teaching, and I was like, “Nope. Not going to do it.” But I was working in health care and saw that Grand Valley had some adjunct jobs available. I understood both the provider and payer sides of health care, so I thought, “Well, let’s try it out.”
I ended up teaching two classes that semester. The next semester, I taught three, while still working full time at Priority Health. I was then asked to come to Grand Valley full time. Once I was on campus and worked with students full time, I ended up loving it.
One of the things that I’ve always done in health care is focus on disparities and underrepresented groups, so transitioning to that type of work on campus was natural. I ended up focusing on DEI, and on our marginalized students. I really love that work as well, it’s something that I’m really passionate about. I always want to be dedicated to making sure that the spaces that we’re creating are spaces that are inclusive for everyone and a campus where our marginalized students can thrive.
You've taught Allied Health Sciences classes, what inspired you to pursue work with Grand Valley’s social justice centers?
I am passionate about working with our historically marginalized students and making sure that the services and coordinated care that we provide are just that: coordinated. I have a wonderful group of talented staff members who are amazing at what they do. They’re working with our students and creating opportunities for them to be successful. Being from a marginalized group, that’s the lens that I tend to approach things from. When you’re creating inclusive spaces, even if the focus initially is on marginalized groups, it ultimately creates inclusive environments for all. Everyone benefits from a focus on coordinated care. That is what led me here: Working with talented staff that create environments for students to thrive.
February is Black History Month. What does this celebration mean to you?
It’s really important to celebrate our historically marginalized groups. They’re often left out of the conversation, so it’s paramount to provide a time that they are highlighted, celebrated, honored. When we promote celebrations like Black History Month on campus, we’re creating a sense of belonging and acknowledgement by saying, "This is important to us." Black people are being recognized for our value and the many contributions we’ve long provided to society. The work that we do in our social justice centers elevates this and creates a sense of extended family on campus.
We’re also creating educational opportunities. When you’re looking at the majority group, it’s important for them to be knowledgeable as well. It’s not just creating a sense of belonging for our historically marginalized students, but it’s also creating educational opportunities. The more you know, the better you can do, and the more you can contribute to the community. I think that’s a piece that sometimes gets overlooked in the work being done, but is a very important aspect.
You’ve been working for Grand Valley for more than 13 years now. What has been your favorite part?
It’s working with students and seeing those “Aha” moments. When something that you said triggers that lightbulb moment. Or sometimes, they’ll ask you challenging questions that you have to think about, and you actually learn from that experience. Outside of the classroom, creating connections with students where they come back to you and ask for help in finding the right direction. You’ve now been a piece in the puzzle that has helped them to find their way and be successful. Those are the things that make me love what I do.
Why do you believe that the social justice centers are valuable?
We’re creating change on campus in ways that impact historically marginalized students. Yes, we create a sense of belonging, yes we help students thrive, but we also have a voice on campus, and a responsibility to speak for students. From that social justice framework, we’re helping to remove those systemic barriers that impede progress and hinder success for our marginalized students. That advocacy piece for students is really important for the social justice centers. Students’ voices sometimes get lost on campus, and it’s our responsibility to be the voice for those students, to make sure that we are creating the best Grand Valley that we can.
What is one thing you are passionate about?
I’m really big on fairness. When I see things not being fair or groups being bullied because of who they are, that is the thing that really upsets me. It’s also the thing that drives me to do the work, making sure that whatever we do in life, that we’re doing it fairly and with equity, not leaving anybody out of the conversation. And that the rules are the same. We don’t get to treat people unfairly based on the groups that they represent. That’s what we see in society and in many spaces. It’s not OK.
Do you have a favorite piece of advice, or a mantra you follow?
I remember as a child, my dad had a friend who was a famous artist. I wanted his autograph, but I was really afraid to ask. And my mom said, “Just go ask.” And so I did. I walked up and said, “I really want your autograph.” And he told me, “Always ask for what you want. Because they can only tell you no. But if you don’t ask, then you don’t know.”
In this work, you gotta ask — ask for what you want, how you expect things to be, ask why things don’t align with equity and justice. They can only tell me no, right? But I could also get a yes. I think that was a life lesson that I learned young, and I try to use the spaces that I get to be in to ask the questions.
And I think my mantra as of late is an Angela Davis quote: “I’m no longer accepting the things that I can not change. I am changing the things that I cannot accept." It speaks to what we do here. It’s making the most impactful changes that we can for the groups that we work with. We’re changing the things that we cannot accept.