David M. Davis joins Penn State’s Board of Trustees

David M. Davis, a Penn State alumni who served as president of the school’s Black Caucus in the early 2000s, was appointed to the university’s Board of Trustees. 

“When I was a student, I remember hearing about the Board of Trustees and wondering who they were and what the function was,” he said, laughing as he remembered that the group felt a bit like the Supreme Court — an assembly somewhat removed from daily happenings but mysteriously involved in decision-making.

Davis now understands that the role is a combination of fiduciary responsibilities to the university and commitments to the people who seek community and resources there.

“I hope to be an advocate for the students — Black and Brown students, gay students, and all students,” he explained, adding that he also aims to look after teachers and faculty, “making sure it’s a place for all people to thrive and grow.”

He’s currently concerned about the rising cost of tuition — and the importance of Penn State’s role in increasing accessibility as a land-grant university. Davis is also passionate about participating in what he describes as an ongoing shift in the school’s culture. While he agreed that it’s fair for people to perceive the university as synonymous with parties, football, and fraternities, he noted that there’s more to its identity.

“While I think Penn State offers all that, I think it’s also a prestigious university, and I want us to be a place where everyone feels included and feels a sense of belonging,” he said.

He realizes there are not many visibly queer people or people of color serving as leaders in the middle of the state. Still, he felt at home on campus when he attended — and he wants other people to feel the same way.

 “Penn State was the first place that I felt comfortable coming out,” he added.

“We’re at a critical point with the university to bring about a culture of change,” he said, underlining that the school’s president, Neeli Bendapudi who was appointed in 2022, is a transformational leader who has the skills to make this happen.

Scandals have plagued Penn State and its leaders over the years, including more recent concerns about crime and safety, sexual assault and other transparency issues.

“I think the challenge with leaders and sometimes with boards is that we feel the need to preserve the reputation and brand of the organization,” he said. “But we need to be honest, candid, and transparent about the values of the organization and what will and won’t be tolerated based on that.” Davis hopes to contribute to efforts that ensure decisions consistently reflect the school’s intentions — and he brings years of experience as a change agent to his position as a trustee.

“When I was a student at Penn State, it was a time of racial contention,” he said, explaining that hate groups were sending people of color and gay students death threats and troubling letters. He and other student leaders presented the school with a scorecard that publicly tracked how well the university was meeting their demands and addressing their concerns. He said the collaboration was largely successful but that issues persist today.

“It wasn’t a silver bullet, and it didn’t end with me,” he said, recognizing that leaders at the school continue to build on that work. “I’m excited in this appointment to help with a cultural change that I think has been ongoing for the last 20 years.”

Davis wasn’t new to public service as a college student. He was the Black Student Union president of his high school in West Chester, PA. His work is continually inspired by his mother, an Afro-Latina immigrant who is deeply involved in public service as an advocate for women and children.

Her example led him to seek opportunities for service. In addition to his emerging work with Penn State, Davis is also a trustee and the governance chair at the Please Touch Museum and he serves with the governor on the Team Pennsylvania Foundation — an economic development nonprofit. He previously sat on the board of the Mazzoni Center and is the former vice president for the Pennsylvania Prison Society.

“I think there’s intersectionality between all of that,” Davis said about this array of interests. “There’s a common denominator — which is vulnerable populations, Black and Brown populations, queer populations.”

Davis has worked with Accenture as a consultant for 20 years. This used to feel conflicting. 

“Here I am passionate about the public sector and I’m working for a large corporation,” he said. But he now oversees the company’s public sector initiatives.

For most of his career, Davis traveled across North America working with state and local governments. He’s helped schools navigate pandemic re-entry processes, assisted government agencies distributing benefits to vulnerable populations, and otherwise guided organizations serving the public.

During the height of COVID, his focus at work narrowed. He now supports agencies in Pennsylvania. This gave him more time to explore a new volunteer opportunity — walking dogs at a nearby shelter. That’s where he met Hermes, a pit mix. When he asked why no one had adopted him, a worker told Davis, “We’ve been saving him for you!”

“So it worked out,” he said. “Now I travel to Harrisburg with the dog.” In February, Penn State’s Board of Trustees will gather for its first meeting of the year — giving the pair another reason for a road trip.

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