Making Cities More Equitable: Meet Davon Woodard (People of UW)

Read the full article by Nicole Reeve-Parker on the WholeU website. Start reading below…

Davon Woodard is an urban guy.

Though he spent a few years during grad school in Blacksburg, Virginia—a small college town in the Appalachian Mountains, home to Virginia Tech—most of his life he’s lived and worked in cities: Lansing, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Johannesburg (South Africa) and now Tacoma.

In fact, it’s fair to say Davon is downright passionate about urban spaces—particularly making them more equitable and livable for the diverse communities that inhabit them.

“Everyone has a right to a home (city) which is reflective of and respectful of their lived experiences,” he wrote. “My work is guided by that principle.”

Davon is an assistant professor of race and urbanism for the School of Urban Studies at the University of Washington Tacoma, researching and teaching critical urban theory within Black feminist and social justice frameworks. A digital ethnographer, his multidisciplinary training in economics, business analysis and community organizing informs his work.

Creating community

Davon grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, studying public policy at Michigan State as an undergrad. An ardent college football fan, he attended the recent UW vs. Michigan State football game where he may or may not have been wearing green and white. (The Huskies won.)

“I plead the fifth,” he laughed. “Honestly, I bleed green and white. But I root for all the Seattle teams.”

He recently enjoyed the pre-season opener for the Seattle Kraken, and like the rest of the Pacific Northwest he’s anxiously waiting for professional basketball to return to the city.

Barriers to belonging

After completing his undergrad degree, Davon spent a decade engaged in community outreach and fundraising for nonprofit organizations in community-based health, performing arts and parks and recreation programs.

Across organizations and cities, he noticed a trend: certain demographic groups are enormously underserved by the public programs created to meet their needs.

Catalyzed by events like Hurricane Katrina in the gulf coast and, later, the lead contamination of water in Flint, Michigan—which disproportionally impacted people of color and laid bare the effects of systemic racism on BIPOC communities—Davon began to question the historical racialization of urban spaces.

You belong here

As a first-generation college graduate who identifies as both queer and BIPOC, and who was a nontraditional adult learner in graduate school, Davon has experienced his share of imposter syndrome.

“I was literally the oldest person in my graduate program,” he said.

His educational path is a point of connection with his students, many of whom also identify as non-traditional, first-generation, queer, BIPOC—or all the above.

In fact, more than half of UW Tacoma’s students are first to college or first to degree in their families, and fully one-third of undergrads are underrepresented minorities. Many more students are veterans. The diversity of his students’ experiences makes it easy for Davon to connect classroom learning to real-world applications.

“Every student brings something unique to the discussion,” Davon said. “Every class is a little different.”

Settling in

Having spent some time with family in Michigan over the summer, Davon is feeling refreshed and energized for another academic year. He’ll be traveling to Toronto in November for his first academic conference as a professor—a milestone about which he is particularly excited.

He’s also stoked about his next research projects. Through the first, he hopes to replicate the dataset he created during his time in Johannesburg—this time, in Tacoma’s Black communities. The second uses the lens of Afrofuturism, the intersection of culture, science and technology within the African diaspora, in reimagining the urban.

“Afrofuturism is possibility,” Davon said. “As a visioning tool, I hope to use it as a way of reimagining and co-creating a new shared vision of the future.”

Continue reading…

By Meaghan Wood (She/Her)
Meaghan Wood (She/Her) Career Coach