Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee

A lot of the obstacles that I faced growing up were based upon things that I can’t change, the fact that I’m a minority and a female. When you grow up as a poor, black female in this society, certainly at that time, you’re never that confident that you will achieve your dreams. You just want to be successful at whatever direction you take. And you tend to run a broken-field course. There’s no straight path to where you want to get to, because the opportunities were never there in kind of a laid-out fashion for you. It was quite an experience to live in the segregated South. You’d go to movie theaters and you had to sit in the balcony, you couldn’t sit downstairs. We could not utilize the library, so I couldn’t read, and I was already an avid reader. But the worst part I think about it was the way in which you were demeaned when you went into public facilities. That you couldn’t drink out of faucets, and you couldn’t go to bathrooms, and the kind of stern, controlled training that my mother and my aunt at the time gave us—to never allow yourself to be so vulnerable that you have to demean yourself to utilize these facilities. And I saw a lot of things happen to people that could have been prevented. And I saw a lot of hopelessness as it related to health care that should not be allowed to exist. And so to a large extent, when I got the opportunity to go back to medical school, it was this population that I wanted to address. The ones that I can make a difference with. I think that experience in the South began to formulate this resolve, this personal resolve that I would never let the external environment define who I was. When I became the dean of Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine the media notified me that I was the first African American dean of an American medical school. It caught me off guard. I had no idea. To think that in the late 90s, that we’re still looking at women and at minorities as being “first,” it caused me to pause, and to be somewhat disappointed. But it also immediately then meant that I had to take the position seriously, and really utilize it to keep the doors open for other women, and for other minorities. Because clearly there weren’t enough of us, if I happened to be the first.