Making a Difference: Meet Our DEI Fellows

Kha Yang
Kha Yang, Associate Vice President for Inclusive Excellence.

With 297 strategic priorities on the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to-do list, ODEI Associate Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Kha Yang can’t check them all off alone.

“To be more inclusive happens at all levels and includes everyone – faculty, staff, as well as students,” she said.

Approximately 40 ODEI Fellows and Ambassadors across the university have served terms for one or two years to help move the needle. Meet some of the fellows.

Opus College of Business Professor and DEI Fellow Rama Hart (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

DR. RAMA KAYE HART’S family immigrated to the U.S. when Hart was 3. Growing up, she felt discrimination due to her race and culture, but she remained silent about the injustice. Today, an advocate for equity and inclusion, this DEI Fellow is no longer keeping quiet.

She trains business leaders, students, faith leaders and educators across the country on how to make equitable change in their organizations.

“The wider you can spread understanding and awareness, the more likely you are to make change,”she said.

Hart teaches inclusive leadership, Organization Development, as well as Managing and Leading Change at the Opus College of Business. She is one of the facilitators of the Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) cohort on campus.

“Being inclusive is critical for our growth and sustainability,” Hart said.

Emerging Media Professor and DEI Fellow Xiaowen Guan (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

DR. XIAOWEN GUAN, professor of communication in the Department of Emerging Media, teaches intercultural communication, including white privilege.

She cites a study that compared the scores students give white and nonwhite faculty on their teaching evaluations. The study concluded nonwhite (BIPOC) faculty receive lower scores.

Guan explains that if we don’t understand the cause of the score difference fully, we will easily attribute that BIPOC faculty are less competent than white faculty.

“That is systemic racism because you continue to evaluate one group of people lower without taking into consideration the context,” Guan said.

Opus College of Business faculty member and DEI Fellow Kevin Henderson (Mike Ekern/University of St. Thomas)

DR. KEVIN HENDERSON, a management professor in the Opus College, initiates change and promotes inclusivity through the SEED program, as well as through training sessions on dismantling whiteness and addressing critical incidents.

He says one thing faculty can do is update their syllabi to add activities and materials that are more diverse and inclusive.

“The culture needs to change,” Henderson said. “I’m trying to help make that change happen to eliminate all the ‘isms’ that exist out there, so we can make sure everyone can bring their full selves to their classroom, to their work.”

Justice and Peace Studies Professor and DEI Fellow Ann Finnegan (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

DR. AMY FINNEGAN, a sociologist, teaches Justice and Peace Studies and American Culture & Difference courses pertaining to conflict transformation, social movements, active nonviolence, qualitative research methods, sociological perspectives on health, and social justice broadly.

She is on the leadership team of EqualHealth, a global grassroots health justice collective that strives to build critical consciousness and collective action in pursuit of health equity for all.

Her scholarly interests pertain to the white savior complex, critical race theory, degrowth, abolition, dialogue and transformative pedagogies.

“Our social world today was built to meet the interests of a few at the cost of many,” she said. “Together, we can dismantle it, reimagine and build relationships rooted in solidarity and love.”

Students from ThreeSixty Journalism contributed to this story. They are Maneeya Leung, Michael Rosas Ceronio and Abdihalim Mohamed.

Meet DEI Fellow Dr. Ernie Owens