The former University of Virginia women’s basketball star transitioned from commanding the court to guiding future trailblazers who champion equity and justice
By Megan Tillotson | Photography by John-Michael Simpson
Deborah Stroman’s mantra, “seek joy, and fight for justice,” has been a common theme throughout her life. Originally from the Philadelphia area, she mastered leadership at an early age. Throughout elementary school, she would often be given access to the teacher’s manual to help instruct fellow students and could be found running the kickball games during recess. “As someone who likes to build and create, I’ve been able to do a lot of different things,” Deborah says. “My overall umbrella is leadership. I am a racial equity educator and strategist, and then the other bucket is for business because, as you know, race and sports can oftentimes connect.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in history and social studies education from the University of Virginia in 1982, Deborah moved to Chapel Hill in the fall of 1983 for her master’s degree in sport administration. (She’d later obtain her Ph.D. in business leadership and organizational behavior from Capella University.) Then Deborah worked in financial services for 17 years, primarily with Prudential Financial and GE Capital.
She returned to UNC to teach in 2007. “As a professor, I’m always teaching, formally and informally,” Deborah says. “The two biggest things I do at UNC right now are providing racial education, but also the strategy.” Deborah gives insight to numerous departments across campus in her role as education director for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and to the
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Research Certificate Program.
Nine years ago, Deborah and Geni Eng co-designed the “Leading for Racial Equity” semester-long course for graduate students in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. “The idea behind the course is to give students an introductory look in terms of racial inequities and how they come about, giving students a space to talk about their experiences, create best practices and then have them actually work in the field,” Deborah says. Although she is no longer the instructor of this course, she continues to work to help others become aware of racial inequities and consider the next steps.
Basketball remains her first love, as she played at UVA all four years and held the role of captain her senior year. For two years during graduate school, Deborah was an assistant coach for the UNC women’s basketball team. “Athletics is home for me,” she says. “Any way that I can give back I’m always counseling athletes in terms of decision-making.” She founded the Center of Sport Business and Analytics in 2019, to connect people and organizations creating equity in the sport industry.
A piece of advice Deborah offers to her students is “it’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you on a favorable basis.” She seeks joy and fights for justice every day. “I wake up with joy, wondering what’s going to unfold that day,” Deborah says. As a woman involved in many things, when she does find any amount of free time, she enjoys riding her bike, reading, traveling and having deep-hearted conversations.
“Especially right now, we have so many things that are bringing us anguish, pain and frustration,” Deborah says. “I think now more than ever, we need good people to step up to use their voice and their platform.”