When Dr. Albojay Deacon, H Sci ’11, PT ’13, first stepped on campus as a freshman, he admitted that getting acclimated and fitting in with his fellow classmates wasn’t easy.
“When I attended Marquette, it wasn’t as diverse as it is now,” Deacon says. “When I walked into a classroom, I was one of two Black people or persons of color in the room. It made it tough to relate to other students.”
To work toward ensuring that other students don’t feel the same sense of exclusion, the College of Health Sciences’ Department of Physical Therapy hired Deacon to be the department’s diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator — the first faculty position of its kind at the academic department level on campus.
Deacon — a Milwaukee native and Milwaukee Public Schools graduate — has been working in the Physical Therapy Clinic on campus for the past nine years, assisting in several graduate-level courses as well.
“Albojay has been with our department both as a student and clinician for over a decade and has shown time and time again his dedication to this university and his passion for helping students,” department chair Dr. Allison Hyngstrom says. “Now as a faculty member, he will leverage his training and expertise, to build important infrastructure within the college to help all students thrive and achieve their healthcare professional goals.”
While the university continues to make strides toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive campus, there’s still work to be done to assist those students who may feel excluded, Deacon says.
“It’s easy to diversify a population, but it’s a little bit harder to make that diverse population and all those individual identities feel included,” Deacon says. “I think that’s the real importance that this role serves. While our goals are increasing diversity, the only way you can truly harness the benefits of diversity is by inclusion.”
But Deacon’s goals aren’t just limited to making the PT program a more inclusive space — he also wants to help the profession become representative of the population it serves.
“If you look at where PT clinics are placed in Milwaukee or in Wisconsin, what you’ll notice is that a lot of the private clinics are placed in areas of low vulnerability,” Deacon says. “The areas of the highest vulnerability are void of PT clinics. It just so happens that areas with the lowest amount of vulnerability tend to be predominantly white. I think that is because of the lack of the representation in our profession as a whole.”
Further, Deacon says he wants to be a resource for students to help improve their communication skills when speaking to patients who many not look like themselves.
“Oftentimes we lose each other because we’re not speaking the same language. We say certain things but we have different definitions,” Deacon says. “I would hope that all students graduating from Marquette have a higher EQ and intercultural competence.
“I hope they can interact and talk with someone from a different race or culture while being able to communicate without offending. Because ultimately that will affect patient outcomes and you’ll be a better therapist if you can do that.”
Outside of work, Deacon says he has been volunteering on DEI initiatives and is excited to be able weave his passions for physical therapy and helping people into one role.
“There’s a reason why I have intentionally not left Milwaukee and not left Marquette,” Deacon says. “I am committed to making this university and this city a better place, and this role gives me an opportunity to leave a much bigger mark on people’s lives.”