Helping the WFU Community Feel at Home in Her Hometown: Dr. Ashlee Canty
Winston-Salem native Dr. Ashlee Canty will soon finish her second year at Wake Forest University (WFU) as the Inclusive Practice Manager in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. She holds a big title and has big aspirations for helping faculty, staff, and students at WFU feel like they belong at their small university in her small hometown. Dr. Canty grew up in a loving family on the south side of Winston, where she attended First Waughtown Baptist Church and participated in choir and flag core at Parkland High School. This may sound like a typical upbringing in a small town, but Ashlee is not a typical small-town girl. Dr. Ashlee Canty is part of a rare group of Americans who have earned a doctoral degree (less than 1.2% of all Americans have a Ph.D.). Even more special is that she recently joined an even smaller percentage of African American females with a Ph.D. Dr. Canty’s life journey took her from Winston-Salem, across 40 states, and to faraway places like Istanbul and Tokyo, and finally back home last year to her hometown, where she plans to make a difference at WFU and in her community.
After graduating from Parkland High School, Ashlee attended North Carolina State University and became active in the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, and several other campus organizations. Mentors, who became her lifelong friends, supported her as she changed her focus from a major in biology and minor in genetics to a master’s in the area of student affairs and a doctorate in curriculum studies. Mentors have and continue to connect Dr. Canty to career opportunities, from her job as a graduate assistant for Fraternity and Sorority Life to her current position at Wake Forest. As the only African American female in her graduate school cohort, Dr. Canty experienced firsthand how important it is for universities to implement intentional programs that promote student feelings of inclusion and belonging. While in school in Mccomb, IL, she could not find a hairstylist that could do her hair. “There was nothing there for black folk.” She felt the pressure as an African American female in academics to “do more with less” and to expect to work twice as hard as other majority students to get ahead. She learned to set healthy boundaries to avoid burnout while working full-time and completing doctoral studies at DePaul University in Chicago. She met her future business partner while attending North Carolina State, and they started a consulting firm, A to Z Consulting, providing guidance and strategic planning for companies earnest about building an inclusive work culture.
Dr. Canty’s journey brought her back to her hometown in 2016 to work remotely, and soon after, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She secured her current position at WFU in July 2020 and completed her Ph.D. in December 2020. In her role, Dr. Canty will help the WFU Office of Diversity and Inclusion to implement the newly created framework for inclusive excellence, Realizing, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (R.I.D.E.) across the WFU campus. She will assist with curriculum development that aligns with the framework initiatives and will assess its effectiveness. She especially enjoys working one-on-one with departments ready to recognize opportunities for growth and willing to implement change. She also understands what students need to feel like they belong. She can help students find what they need to feel “at home” as she knows our community so well. While the current city of Winston-Salem is not exactly like the Winston she grew up in, the community needs are very much the same. Disparities still exist in healthcare access, affordable housing, need for school lunches and laptops, making a living wage, resources for Veterans, and treatment for addiction and mental health. “We miss the mark as a small town when it comes to creating equitable spaces and living circumstances.” As a small, caring community, she calls us to connect with each other and live as humans. Dr. Canty’s journey back home will undoubtedly connect students, faculty, and staff on the WFU campus to our Winston-Salem community, where we all can feel like we belong.