“I knew I wanted to be in charge”
From a young age, Joan knew she wanted to be in medicine; however, it wasn’t until the 7th grade, when she saw doctors on TV, that she realized she wanted to be a doctor. “It never occurred to me that they were male or that they were white. I realized they were in charge, and I knew that I wanted to be in charge.”
When met with challenges, Joan takes things for what they are. Instead of being intimidated by the issue at hand, she takes a step back and brainstorms how she can rework the situation. As a black woman in America, she knew she would encounter racism, sexism, discrimination and bias, and while those things can and do have a negative impact, she has tried to use it to her advantage. “People underestimated what I was capable of,” but while they were busy discrediting her or not taking her actions seriously, she was working hard behind the scenes to achieve her goals.
“No” is just a two letter word
While powerful positions are becoming more diversified, it’s not enough to just have a seat at the table, “you need to take the next step and make sure your voice is heard.” Although making your thoughts heard could be met with rejection, unless you try, you’ll never know what’s possible. The worst thing someone could say to you is “no”. To that, Joan responds, “Who cares? ‘No’ is just a two letter word.”
Whenever she faces rejection, Joan has been able to find alternative avenues and leverage points to achieve her goals. If people tell her she can’t do something or that they won’t support her, she thinks, “Can’t doesn’t mean ‘no’. It just means that it can’t be done in that particular way.”
God, Family, and Purpose
“God, Family, and Purpose” was Joan’s response to giving what she does meaning; it’s what drives her. She has always had faith in God to put her on the right path. She prays to him to guide her where she needs to be. Even if it’s just a small prayer to make it through the day or to have patience with a specific person, taking a moment to pray gives her the fuel and support to overcome obstacles. “I walk in faith…you’re coming at something so much more powerful than me. It’s my drive, my purpose.”
“You’re assuming I’ve found balance”
While finding room for self care has been difficult, Joan has always been sure to put her family first. She schedules them into her day – actually adding them to her calendar – and no matter how busy work may get it, she makes sure to follow through on her promises to spend that time with them. “The future isn’t guaranteed; cherish the people you love while they’re here.”
Joan’s role as Dean for Diversity and Community Partnership at Harvard Medical School focuses on diversifying the community and bringing in new perspectives. At times, she is met with comments that the faculty is not diverse enough or that the correct groups aren’t being focused on, and what she’s found is that it needs to be a community effort. Until diversity has been embedded into the infrastructure of a system, they will never fully achieve that goal.
A variety of experiences have led Joan to realize that we think of diversity too narrowly. People focus too much on putting everyone into neat little boxes. She herself isn’t just black or female or a doctor, she is all of those things combined. We need to learn how to react to and interact with people for everything they are.