“I still have the email from 2007,” said Davis, a founding member of the college’s Gender Resource Center. “The school simply wasn’t there yet, in terms of social justice issues, when I was a student, but these opportunities for improvement gave me a chance to lead. After I got that email from President Vagt, I could see the institution was working to change and progress, and I decided to make my first financial gift to Davidson.”
In addition to saving that one special email, Davis has hung onto books from courses that had a lasting impact on her life… courses about feminism and theatre, political science and civil rights history.
“These particular courses and professors—like Ann Fox, Susan Roberts and Peter Ahrensdorf—pushed me, and we had meaningful, thought-provoking conversations,” she said. “The need to serve others as part of my profession took root at Davidson, even if I wasn’t sure how it would translate into my career.”
As a student, Davis fought for social justice—a role often met with resistance and hurdles—and today, she remains a passionate advocate for women’s issues, health and equality. Davis is the chief mission officer for Prevention Partners, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that focuses on the prevention of obesity and tobacco use, which lead to 70 percent of early death and disabilities.
“We try to help people make the default choice the healthy choice,” she explained. “By bringing together multiple employers in a community, and encouraging them to become “healthy places,” we are creating a culture shift around building and maintaining healthy lives.”
By assisting workplace, school and clinic organizations with step-by-step benchmarking, recommendations and guidance, leaders are able to establish healthy environments, policies, benefits and programs that change lives.
“Knowing I’m making a real difference is what makes the work rewarding,” said Davis. “Once an employee emailed to tell me that he was so inspired by the changes in his workplace, that he hitched up a trailer to his bike for the first time and rode around with his kids, and he emailed us pictures. He was really proud of this positive step in his journey to a healthier lifestyle. Our work had an impact on this dad’s relationship with his family, and that’s why we do it.”
Prevention Partners currently reaches 33 states and 41 global sites. The nonprofit has grown from being a well-respected, high-impact state leader in prevention to an organization with global impact, thanks in large part to Davis’ approach to collaboration, innovation and leadership.
“I try to lead with honesty and integrity,” she said. “My goal is to be a source of strength to those around me, and to stick to my values even when that’s difficult to do. Davidson prepared me to lead in the face of adversity, and that helps me every day.”
Davis would choose Davidson again if given the option, and she recalls how she decided on it in the first place.
“It was the first of nine schools I visited, and I’ll never forget it,” she said. “I took one look as we drove up to the campus and thought this is college. This is what college looks like.” Davis is married to Ben Mathews, whom she met through Davidson friends, and the couple are parents to son Rory.
How are we cultivating more game changers like Whitney Davis?
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Recommend a Game Changer
Do you know a member of the Davidson community — alumnus or alumna, faculty or staff member, current student — who has championed positive change — in family, community or world? If so, we invite you to nominate a game changer. Davidson will follow up to tell the story.