Ty-Ron Douglas, Ph.D., is the University of California, Berkeley’s (Cal) inaugural associate athletic director for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB).
During the last year, the development of such roles at D11 campuses across the United States has grown as much of the country has become convinced of the need for these programs on college campuses. So, how did Douglas find himself spearheading this new initiative at one of the top public universities in America and the world? What brought him to a campus known as much for its history as the birthplace of the free-speech movement in the 1960s as for its rigorous academics and champion-producing athletics programs?
“I was born and raised in Bermuda,” Douglas says. “My biological father is actually from St. Louis, and my mom was a 19-year-old college freshman when she got pregnant with me at Oakwood College (now Oakwood University). She finished up her freshman year and went home with me [growing] inside of her.”
Douglas’s mother somehow concealed her pregnancy and returned to campus for her sophomore year, intending to terminate it in Huntsville (Alabama). “I don't know if it was a hot summer or not, or if she just didn’t go to the beach or whatever, but she concealed it, and went back to school, back to Huntsville in the fall,” says Douglas. “She went to an abortion clinic but felt me move for the very first time while she was at the clinic in Huntsville and decided to keep me.”
“That’s my beginning,” he adds. “I think about my story, and when I think about my life I think about DEIB, inclusion. I think it’s important to ground it there because I believe how we begin matters. I just know that God has always had His hand on me, and as I lean into that reality of how I began, I think it’s sort of etched deep within my soul; this knowledge that my life has a purpose, and I’m here by design to influence other lives.”
A God-led Trajectory
Douglas was born on a Sabbath to a mother determined to bring her baby into a world where she would love and raise him to be something wonderful. “So, my mom, when she had me on that Sabbath morning, she lifts me to God and says, ‘Lord, I need You to give me wisdom. I need You to give me a village to raise my son.’ And that’s been my experience. When I think about DEIB, when I think about my journey, my educational journey, and the journey and experiences I’ve had in my community, God gave her that.”
The circumstances surrounding his birth to a young single mother led to her being ostracized by her local Adventist church. For example, Douglas’s baby dedication did not occur during the divine worship service. Church leaders chose to do that after the service so members of the congregation could choose to leave. Douglas’s mother also lost her scholarship at Oakwood and could not continue her education there. Naturally, she soon withdrew from that Adventist community and initially chose to raise her son away from it.
Yet during Douglas’s adolescent years, even as Adventism wasn’t pressed upon him, he chose to attend church with extended family. In school, Douglas showed great talent not only in academics but athletics. Cricket—a game regarded with great passion among Bermudians—was one in which he excelled. “At that age I was one of the best, if not the best, cricketer in my age group. I remember thinking at a young age—even though Adventism wasn’t forced on me; I attended church by choice—that I wanted to be so good in cricket that I would be chosen to play a cup match in Bermuda.” That match—a national event—extended over a two-day period, which included Sabbath.
“I wanted to play in that match, and I wanted to do so good that I would never have to play in a trial on Sabbath. That was my heart’s desire—to be selected. Typically, you have to play on Saturday. But I wanted to change policy,” Douglas says.
An injury brought his cricketing days to an early end, which led to a frustrating time. Douglas played soccer as well, but it wasn’t what he wanted it to do.
“I played a pretty high level of soccer in Bermuda, but even in that space I never really thrived. I played for the top team on the island. We won a championship and stuff, but my training time wasn’t the best. I never scored a goal in a game for that team. I scored for some other teams, but I prayed for a goal. Like, who does that? And I was annoyed at God.” Douglas's love of sport began to wane.
After a stint at community college, Douglas transitioned to Oakwood University and enjoyed a life of popularity and involvement, singing in the choir and with acclaimed group Dynamic Praise, and getting back into sports. He even coached the women’s soccer team and was instrumental in creating a tournament league to compete against other colleges.
“I had this passion for sport as a young person, so I just did what I could in college to use whatever gifts I had and connect people.”
After Oakwood, Douglas earned a master’s degree and returned to Bermuda to teach. “After five years, I wanted to try to address some of the issues I was seeing in our community. At the time, there was a proliferation of gang violence and shootings, in particular of Black men, and I just felt like I wanted to find solutions to problems beyond my classroom and address them,” Douglas says.
Using God-given Gifts
Douglas soon applied to doctoral programs, in particular to two in North Carolina. One at UNC Greensboro and the other at UNC-Chapel Hill—the latter being the more well-known campus. Naturally, Chapel Hill was quite a draw for Douglas. But plans were ordered in ways he could not see.
“Something shifted in 2020, and there’s a new dispensation that I believe is upon us with 2021, and so that was the context that led to them [Berkeley] looking for the position.”
“It was like some God stuff. I had full-ride scholarships from Bermudian entities, so I could have gone anywhere I wanted based on money, resources, and scholarships I had access to. But my acceptance letter from UNC-Chapel Hill got sent to Malaysia, and in the interim I accepted UNCG’s offer. I’m a loyal guy. Chapel Hill reached out asking, ‘Hey, what are you going to do?’ They’re thinking like, yeah, you got into Chapel Hill. Surely, you’re coming here.” But that’s not how it went.
“I went to UNCG, and I had an amazing experience. I earned dissertation awards. I had many publications, etc. And from UNCG I got a job as a tenure track faculty member at the University of Missouri,” he adds. While at Missouri, Douglas was not only busy with teaching, writing (Border Crossing Brothas and Campus Uprising), and public speaking, he also managed to plant a church—Salt City Church in Columbia—and earned a second master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry from Andrews University.
DEIB at Berkeley
The murder of George Floyd served as the impetus for many academic spaces to make serious changes in their approach to caring for their students of color. UC Berkeley’s creation of a new role in DEIB in athletics was one such major change on campus. How did Douglas find his way to the Bay Area in the midst of all he was accomplishing at the University of Missouri?
“Most people are either academics or they are practitioners. I’m a border crosser; so I’m an academic, I’m a scholar, I’m an author, but I’m also a practitioner, and Berkeley is the space for all that. I’m not sure that they fully knew what they were looking for, but people know what the
y need when they see it, and they feel it. And so I got the job, I believe, in part as a result of the unfortunate, tragic murder of George Floyd,” says Douglas.
“I think many people have [accessed new] opportunities in response to the tragic loss of a man who should be alive, and I think about that when I say his name and remember May 25,, 2020. There was no denying, when folks saw that video, that it was wrong. And for many of us, it was obviously not just that individual’s reality, but systematically it’s what’s been happening to Black people for generations,” he adds. “Something shifted in 2020, and there’s a new dispensation that I believe is upon us with 2021, and so that was the context that led to them [Berkeley] looking for the position.”
But nothing went right during the interview process. A miscommunication led to Douglas missing his first interview. When they came back to him for a new one, the audio would not work during the Zoom appointment. But through all that, Douglas felt the hand of God leading him, and when the position was offered, he knew it was the right move.
“I got the job in part because I believe preparation met opportunity. I’ve had some pretty blessed moments where God has allowed me to go where people get a glimpse of what I believe God has called me to do.”
What I Do
The acronym DEIB is the crux of the difference Douglas is making in Cal Athletics as well as throughout Berkeley’s entire campus. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion and belonging. Each one of those words has its meaning. You talk about diversity; you’re talking about difference. Equity, you’re talking about fairness, which is different from equality, right? Like, things being equal is not necessarily the same as things being fair. We talk about inclusion; we talk about the reality of having a place, being a part,” Douglas says.
“But belonging says you have a place and it’s secure, and it’s not because of something that you’ve necessarily done. You’re part of Cal. You’re an athlete. You’re accepted,” he adds. “So, I tell my student athletes: ‘You have all the rights and privileges whether you hit the home run or not, whether you hit the game-winning shot or not, whether you run your best time or not.’ I believe that this work—the diversity and inclusion work—is the work of Christianity.”
Adventism and athletics has always been a hot-button topic.2 But Douglas asserts there’s a place for this faith movement and the athletic talents that exist within it. And the presence of believers in these spaces can lead to positive change.
“Some people wonder: ‘Like, how do you do that as a Christian?’ And, I’m like, ‘How do you not do that as a Christian?’ It’s so easy for me because I see the intersections. It’s amazing to be able to live authentically and to love all people. That’s where I’m at in my journey; so when you ask what it is I do, I love people. I create policies. I build systems of healing. I help to influence policy and procedures and sensitivities and understanding. I get to teach. And I get to do all that as a scholar administrator.”
To learn more about Dr. Douglas and his passion for people, love for Christ, and commitment to the athletic talents God gifts people with, visit his website at https://drtydouglas.com, or find him on social media @DrTyDouglas.
Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor for Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines.
1 D1 is Division 1. In the U.S., it’s the highest level of college and university athletic competition.
2 Regarding Adventists and athletics, see this article: https://adventistreview.org/1707-19.