Liberal arts degree gave alumnus 'space to find my voice,' help others

January 12, 2021

Liberal Arts alumnus Brian Davis continues to be a shining example to Penn State students and alumni for his social justice efforts.


Brian Davis ('18, African American studies) is currently associate director for diversity and inclusion at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, California.

IMAGE: Provided by Brian Davis

Davis, who received his bachelor’s degree in African American studies in 2018, was known on campus for his involvement and activism in social justice and continuous work for the betterment of others. He was president of the Social Justice Coalition, a coalition of State College and Penn State social justice organizations dedicated to ending racism and marginalization at Penn State; he also served as the community/faculty outreach director and evening celebration director for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration.

Several study and volunteer abroad experiences in places like Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Willemstad, Curacao, enabled him to serve as a peer adviser for Penn State’s Education Abroad Office. He also coordinated an initiative to collect water for Flint, Michigan in 2016, organizing trips from State College to Flint to deliver water and distributing over 5,000 bottles of water to Flint residents.

Davis was recognized several times for his extraordinary efforts while a Penn State student. He received the Rock Ethics Institute’s Stand Up Award, Penn State’s Jackson Lethbridge Tolerance Award, and the University’s Eric A. Walker Award, which is given annually to the student who has contributed most to enhancing the reputation of the University through extracurricular activities. He also gave a TEDTalk at TEDxPsu in 2017, “Dismantling Contemporary Police Brutality Through the Lens of Basketball,” which explored issues surrounding inequality, racism, and the criminal justice system.

Davis says his liberal arts education greatly influenced his social justice work; he credits the Department of African American Studies for equipping him with skills that allowed him to grow and succeed as an educator, human rights activist, and scholar. “The department curriculum and professors gave me a space to find my voice and how I related to the world, and the critical lens to examine the issues affecting society,” he explained. “The program was so holistic, professors often invited students over to their homes to discuss books, life, and build a strong student community. The classroom conversations were so transformative, I used to hate when class was over.”

It was also through the program that Davis met one of his closest mentors: Nan Woodruff, Penn State professor of African American studies and modern U.S. history. “Dr. Woodruff taught me to read critically, how to engage with the text, how to write like a scholar, and how to ask critical and theoretical questions,” he said. “She helped me with my own racial identity formation with texts that helped me find myself within historical and contemporary contexts. And after taking me under her wing, she gave me more than 200 books to start my own personal library at the start of my junior year.”

Davis is currently the associate director of equity and inclusion at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, California. In this role, he helps shape diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives, including the Magis High School Program – a program that ensures underrepresented students in higher education, first-generation college-bound students, and students of color at St. Ignatius have access to all resources, cultural support and education during their four years of high school. Davis is also currently pursuing a master’s degree in human rights education at the University of San Francisco, providing him with the opportunity to build off his work while a student at Penn State and continue to fight for social justice.

“My liberal arts education and skills prepared me for life after graduation by giving me the tools and leadership experience needed to create systematic change in every role I've held,” Davis said. “Having a liberal arts degree from Penn State sets you apart from other college graduates because the degree program is designed strategically to help you critically think about the ways in which you want to show up for the world, for others, and for yourself.  It allowed me to travel to different countries to study governments, education systems, and ways of life and examine the ways I can bring those things back into my career; it also helped me become a better thinker and writer, and helped me shape and mold myself for the inclusive and equitable world I imagine.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2021