Navigating the unknown: Antwione Haywood
Laura Gates Jun 04, 2021
IU School of Medicine assistant dean draws from life experiences to help medical students solve problems, see personal assets
Although Antwione Haywood, PhD, MEd, holds two graduate degrees and could rightly be called an expert in the area of student affairs, he walks through life with a “beginner’s mindset.”
“An expert enters the room assuming there’s nothing to learn, and with that, you have plenty of blind spots. The beginner approaches every situation with curiosity,” said Haywood, assistant dean for medical student education at Indiana University School of Medicine.
This approach to his life and work serves as an inspiration to medical students as Haywood helps them navigate not just their educational path, but all aspects of their lives, encouraging holistic growth. He recently received the Outstanding Faculty or Staff Advocate award from the IU School of Medicine Excellence in Leadership Awards Committee, supported by multiple nominations from colleagues and student mentees.
“He advocates for student desires and cares in administrative meetings, provides new insight and developments in medical education, assessments, diversity, equity and inclusion, and leadership arenas, and continues to model what being successful and compassionate means,” wrote Matthew Wilcox, Medical Student Council vice president of curriculum. “He is the definition of commitment to excellence in a more holistic understanding than I believe I've ever seen from a faculty or staff member.”
Rolando Gabriel Gerena, MD, IU School of Medicine Class of 2021 president, first met Haywood at a diversity brunch during his first-year orientation. As a minority student from out of state, Gerena immediately felt a kinship.
“He organically became a big brother to me,” Gerena said. “I felt comfortable enough to approach him with any concerns my classmates and I had. I was able to talk to him about personal issues without feeling like I was being judged. That is a rare quality to find within an administrator.”
When Haywood sees medical students struggling—socially, emotionally or academically—he often sees a bit of himself. He remembers feeling particularly lost when he first arrived at the University of Kansas to start his master’s program in higher education. The program was recommended by his mentor at Old Dominion University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business and worked as a resident assistant.
Haywood arranged for pickup at the Kansas City airport through a Phi Beta Sigma fraternity connection. He had never stepped foot in Kansas before and says he felt as out of place as Dorothy when she stepped into the Land of Oz.
“I seriously showed up to Kansas on an airplane with two suitcases,” Haywood recalled. The experience taught him valuable lessons that would enhance his future mentorship of students. “When you go to places outside your comfort zone, it helps you build this form of capital of how to navigate the unknown. That’s a useful skill as you advance in your career.”
His life experiences have been all about adapting. After completing his master’s, Haywood took a job at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Again feeling alone in a new place, Haywood took up hobbies—piano and dancing. He joined a salsa dance company and taught salsa lessons before heading to Indiana to start his PhD program.
Overcoming educational obstacles
So how did the son of an immigrant who grew up in the Los Angeles metro area’s “Inland Empire” end up with a doctorate in higher education and student affairs and serving as a dean in IU School of Medicine’s Office of Medical Student Education?
To understand Haywood’s journey and his unconventional path to leadership, he points way back to the beginning—his name: Antwione.
“The first question people often ask me is how do you say your name because that’s the first sign of my story,” he said. “If you don’t know how to say someone’s name, you avoid calling on them. I’ve just been conscious of that as a person who cringes whenever I have to give my name at Starbucks.”
Haywood’s mother spelled his name phonetically rather than using the typical French spelling: Antoine. Having come to the United States as an undocumented immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago, her formal education ended at middle school.
“Starting in elementary, you get homework that you’re supposed to do with your parents. I think about that as the first sort of disadvantage people face,” Haywood said. “I remember distinctly one time, a teacher accused me of forging my mom’s signature because they couldn’t believe her handwriting was the way she wrote it.”
Adding to the obstacles Haywood faced, he lost his father at a young age.
“It’s a great testament to how far you can come,” Haywood said. “No matter what achievements and accolades I receive, it’s always a reminder of where I come from and my humble beginnings.”
Despite the obstacles, Haywood became a good student. One of his early lessons in adaptability came his senior year, when his family moved to Woodbridge, Virginia, where he played football and was given the nickname “Hollywood.” Although a tough time for a kid to move, Haywood now sees it as fortunate; for the first time, he encountered a culture where college was the expected next step.
His mom, however, advocated for trade school, so Haywood took an autobody class. The result: “I said, ‘There’s no way I’m doing that!’”
Haywood and all of his siblings would go on to earn college degrees, including a brother with a law degree.
Inspiring marginalized students
In his role as assistant dean for student affairs, Haywood now empathizes when he sees a student struggling with “imposter syndrome,” referring to feeling like they don’t belong in medical school.
“You have to account for your perceived and real barriers. I like to reframe them as assets,” he said. “These students have things that add perspective and knowledge and, ultimately, contribute to a better health care system.”
Haywood is recognized by his colleagues as a master of seeing from differing perspectives.
“Dr. Haywood has an incredibly curious mind and a true growth mindset, is always seeking to learn more and understand things from different angles,” said Emily Walvoord, MD, associate dean for student affairs. “He helps to think of solutions that are win-win and is not afraid to be the dissenting voice in order to shift conversations into new and more student-centered directions.”
Acting as a liaison between students and leadership at IU School of Medicine, Haywood has amplified student voices on issues ranging from parking and housing to curricular improvements, wellness initiatives, the Honor Code and equity issues.
“As a result of his involvement, student leaders feel empowered and can effect changes that greatly shape and change IU School of Medicine for the better,” said Medical Student Council Representative Faith Roberts. “I would say that everyone needs a Dr. Haywood in their corner. He is supportive, passionate, empathetic, and he leads by example. Dr. Haywood is very obviously, genuinely interested in student success, and it shows.”
Not only does Haywood advocate for and empower students, but he also inspires colleagues to innovate, said Niki Messmore, MS, program director of community and civic engagement on the Student Affairs team.
“Dr. Haywood has an effortless cool and calm demeanor,” she said. “When projects become chaotic and complicated, he talks through the problem and helps his staff and students to consider alternative pathways to success.”
Haywood at home
Haywood’s calm demeanor and problem-solving prowess don’t just benefit the IU School of Medicine community. They also extend to family life.
Haywood was nearing the end of his PhD program when he met his wife, Jasmine, at an IU football tailgate organized by the Black Graduate Student Association. She was working to finish her master’s degree in the same program, but on the Indianapolis campus.
At the end of the night, he asked for Jasmine’s number, “so I can make sure you finish your program.”
Antwione defended his PhD dissertation a month before they were married, and Jasmine began her PhD program immediately after. They soon had a child, and at one point, Jasmine wasn’t sure she could see her PhD to completion.
“I absolutely would not have finished my PhD if not for Antwione’s support,” she said. “He was fully committed to taking our son every weekend so I could have time to write and finish my degree. At one point, I thought it was too hard to juggle the mom thing and the PhD thing. He was like, ‘No, you’re going to finish.’”
Jasmine became a member of what was known as the “Great Eight”—the largest group of Black women to receive PhDs from IU’s School of Education together in 2016. That started an unexpected year-long media blitz.
“I was still finishing my dissertation and at the same time, I had to interview with media outlets every week. We got an award from Ebony magazine—Beyoncé and John Legend were there for Ebony’s Power 100 Awards. I would not have been able to participate in spreading our story if it weren’t for Antwione’s support,” Jasmine said. “His genuine commitment to my academic and professional career is something that has always been present throughout our relationship and marriage—and it was his pickup line when we first met. He kept his promise.”
Today, Jasmine Haywood is a strategy director for student success at Lumina Foundation, leading a portfolio focused on four-year post-secondary institutions, aimed at increasing equity and degree completion for adult learners and students of color.
It’s a passion she shares with Antwione, although their styles of advocacy differ.
“Antwione has a more collective buy-in approach, being the strong and silent but confident leader. Professionally for me, I’ve been more of the ‘let’s blaze a trail and go for it’ and be bold and outspoken and unapologetic in how we’re going to do the work,” Jasmine said. “He has this unrelenting sense of optimism and hope about him, and that works in our relationship because I’m extremely pessimistic. We are very much yin and yang.”
Now a father of two, Antwione is engaged in whatever his children’s current passions are. He spends lunch breaks playing basketball with his 8-year-old son and takes his 1 ½-year-old daughter, who’s into animals, on visits to the zoo every Saturday, just the two of them.
“Because he didn’t have his biological father there at this age, he doesn’t take this experience of being a father for granted,” Jasmine said.
Wellness and the power of being present
Haywood’s work is enhanced by his study of wellness and mindfulness. It’s a personal passion that grew out of necessity when Jasmine developed an autoimmune illness early in their marriage. Together, they made needed lifestyle changes.
At IU School of Medicine, Haywood teaches Mind Body Medicine and conducts unconscious bias training for faculty and students, leading tough conversations around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. He helped develop the school’s wellness curriculum, and he’s currently collaborating on development of a scholarly concentration program in lifestyle and culinary medicine.
He recently petitioned to sit for the American College of Lifestyle Medicine board exam to become certified as a lifestyle medicine professional.
“Dr. Haywood has taught me so much about life, a lot which was not covered in my medical school curriculum,” said Gerena. “He taught me the importance of balance, wellness, mental and physical health.”
For Haywood, mindfulness means being fully present, whether he’s with a student, colleagues or his family.
“Having awareness in the present moment is a superpower I really believe in. I think it makes me a better colleague, husband and supporter of students,” he said. “I really live by two ideas: One, people may not remember what you say or what you did, but they will always remember the way you made them feel. Also, I have a strong idea that beliefs are not facts, but they’re our closest truth.
“If you tell a student they can do it and you believe in them, I think it means something. There are enough people telling students about their chief concern and their deficiencies, so I try to tell them their strengths.”