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Meet Ryan Sutton, Dell Med’s New Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

April 4, 2022

At Dell Medical School, diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are aimed at making sure everyone — especially people who have been historically marginalized — can fully participate in decision-making and equally benefit from and contribute to the school.

Portrait of Ryan Sutton.

As Dell Med’s new assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, Ryan M. Sutton, Ph.D., is heading up this work. A graduate of Howard University, where he earned a Ph.D. in counseling psychology, Sutton comes to Dell Med from the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin, where he was director of the Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males and the Community Integrated Health Initiatives.

Here, he talks about his vision for diversity, equity and inclusion at Dell Med, why the work matters and what it means for medicine.

Defining the Work

A lot of people understand DEI work to be focused on racial justice. Others recognize it as a shorthand for pathway programs like those you built earlier in your career. But it’s also about women’s empowerment, disability rights, sexual orientation …

What’s your definition of diversity, equity and inclusion?

Diversity, equity and inclusion are elements we aim to incorporate into the cultural fabric of our institutions. They exist beyond mere programs, residing within the policies, practices and values we explicitly and implicitly imbue. They address how we are promoting representation across an array of groups, working to eliminate the barriers that impede on the success of those within these groups and creating avenues to ensure that these groups’ voices are influencing the decisions, policies, practices and programs that are implemented and executed.

This work reaches across the individual, structural and systems levels. It seeks to address the fair and just treatment of underrepresented and historically marginalized groups. It includes race and gender, but also involves sexual orientation, religion, disability, socioeconomic status, geographic location (e.g., rural communities), ethnicity, immigration status and more.

Although diversity, equity and inclusion are three distinct elements, it is important to note that you need all three to truly see the changes we hope for.

Why is diversity, equity and inclusion important to medicine and to Dell Med’s mission of revolutionizing how people get and stay healthy?

Health equity (or lack thereof) has been a major issue for a long time now. These past two years, we have watched COVID-19 exacerbate health inequities.

When we think about disrupting the status quo to bring about health equity, I believe diversity, equity and inclusion will serve as the vehicle to take us there. In other words, to reach health equity, we must have diversity, equity and inclusion, AND if we do diversity, equity and inclusion correctly, we will move closer to health equity.

If we are going to change health outcomes in this country, we are going to have to change the methods that create those outcomes. Until we are able to acknowledge the strength of diversity and the importance of creating cultures that truly seek the benefits of diversity, we are prone to more of the same.

We must create diversity at the tables making decisions, include the voices and lived experiences of all those we seek to impact, and create equitable access and opportunities that eliminate the barriers preventing communities to be as healthy as possible.

A Pathway Forward

In UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, you were focused on helping underrepresented students throughout the educational pipeline, or “pathway.” What will you bring to Dell Med from that work?

I have found that building partnerships and coalitions is important to promoting and expanding impact. They permit us to break down the silos that may be comfortable, but that are limiting us. They can offer the groups we intend to support an active voice in what is built and how it is accessed. And they save us from “reinventing the wheel,” allowing us to focus on filling gaps.

We have a huge opportunity to bring organizations and individuals to the table to help expand the great work that is already being done within Dell Med, as well as develop new impact. These partnerships, especially with community, will also help us identify and adjust for the blind spots we all have, making sure what we do is truly inclusive and equitable.

Opportunities for Growth

What excites you most about joining Dell Med’s team in the position of assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion?

There are two things that stand out to me when I think about this opportunity. The first is Dell Med’s commitment to revolutionizing people’s experience of health in Central Texas. With a team of individuals who are enthusiastic about transforming systems and practices, I believe there is great opportunity to envision “what could be” without being stuck in “what has been.” Joining Dell Med’s team provides a great opportunity to re-envision what diversity, equity and inclusion means within a budding, innovative health culture.

The second part is the position itself, which affords me the opportunity to bring together various stakeholders and systems, break down silos and assist in creating avenues for collaborative work. It’s my goal to combine my acquired knowledge, skills and experiences to impact a culture and system, while providing support for the dynamic professionals around me.

What contributions to a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment do you hope to see from people across Dell Med?

Although I was trained as a psychologist, I learned the most about presence, empathy and challenging your mindset from my three daughters, ages 6, 4 and 1. It is through my various social, personal and professional identities that I come to truly understand myself, others and the world around me.

Allowing myself to be stretched is something I strongly value. I believe everyone can participate in this growth process, which has the power to change the way we establish, interpret and understand our roles and impact within the Dell Med community and beyond. When we become active change agents in our own lives, we then transition into change agents in the other environments we’re a part of.