St. Thomas today welcomed Kha Yang as its first Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence, a crucial leadership role that will guide the university’s ongoing journey to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive.
Yang is a first-generation Hmong American and a former refugee from Laos with a commitment for social justice work. She brings more than 20 years of experience as a campaign organizer, human rights investigator, equal employment opportunity consultant, and inclusive program developer. After getting to know St. Thomas, she aims to collaborate with individuals and groups across the university to develop a shared vision and further implement St. Thomas’ Action Plan to Combat Racism.
Yang begins today in the new position, which reports directly to President Julie Sullivan.
“Kha brings an outstanding range of experience and knowledge in mobilizing individuals and organizations,” Sullivan said. “As St. Thomas continues on its journey to becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive university, we welcome Kha’s leadership and look forward to her contributions in supporting our collective development.”
Yang comes most recently from the position of Inclusion Programs and Workforce Reporting Manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, where she managed the Bank’s inclusion programs and initiatives.
“I’m very excited to take on this new role,” Yang said, citing the university’s clear articulation and commitment to becoming more diverse, equitable and inclusive as what drew her to St. Thomas. “There are many great vehicles here and a lot of opportunity for impact. With President Sullivan’s support behind inclusive excellence, it opens the door for us to move to that next level.”
Mobilizing individuals toward a shared vision
The first Hmong American member on a St. Thomas president’s cabinet, Yang will develop a vision and strategy that champions the importance and value of a diverse, equitable and inclusive university. To do that, Yang emphasized understanding St. Thomas’ growth as an ongoing journey, and that culture change is not achieved by a few, but many. That means spending time learning the university’s history, current climate and experiences of individuals across campus; that knowledge will inform the overall vision.
“It really is from the beginning about grassroots initiatives,” she said. “You listen, learn and understand what’s important to individuals, and then try to tie that to the overall mission of what you’re trying to accomplish. People need to have hope that they’re part of shaping the movement. If they don’t have that buy-in of where you are and where you can be, it’s hard to obtain authentic support to achieve that end goal.”
Along with articulating a shared vision, Yang underscored the importance of everyone on campus sharing a common language and meanings.
“Creating space to discuss the meanings and values of diversity, equity and inclusion is essential. If we’re not speaking the same language, then that creates barriers for change,” she said. “My goal is to articulate this journey as not just about a specific group. This is about development and opportunity for all.”
Getting to know individuals also helps determine what they need to feel empowered to lead change, Yang said.
Working at St. Thomas also brings Yang closer to home where she lives in St. Paul with her husband and their two girls, ages 5 and 7. Yang enjoys running and recently completed the Great Wall of China Marathon.