In 1969, six Indian families lived in Mississippi. Rama Kaye Hart’s family, who immigrated to the U.S. when Hart was 2, was one of them. Facing discrimination against her race and culture, Hart grew up silent about her opinions or feelings of injustice.
Now an advocate for equity and inclusion at the University of St. Thomas, Hart is no longer keeping quiet.
Throughout her career, she has trained many business leaders, students, faith leaders and educators across the country on how to make equitable change in their organizations. Currently, Hart teaches Organization Development as well as Managing and Leading Change, and inclusive leadership at the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas. She is one of the core facilitators of the Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) cohort on campus.
“The wider you can spread understanding and awareness, the more likely you are to make change,” Hart said.
Hart started her career in marketing at AT&T before earning her MBA in management. After a few years of successful projects, Hart was asked to create a sweepstakes program targeting Chinese American consumers during her marketing career. While researching the demographic, she learned about concerns of gambling addictions within the community. She realized her promotion could elevate the problem and cause harm.
She went to her director to advise them about the concerns she had with this program. Despite her concerns, AT&T went ahead with the sweepstakes program. Hart had already received another role by the time the program aired.
“I realized I would rather be studying and learning about people in organizations, rather than selling and marketing the products,” she said.
To take a stand, “it felt good in my heart, and it felt scary,” Hart said. She left AT&T to pursue a doctoral program in organizational behavior.
She got her official start in the diversity, equity and inclusion sector when the Unitarian Universalist Church she attended in Maryland asked her to be a part of an anti-racism transformation team. She facilitated workshops, and conducted church diversity audits and assessments. It became a passion; Hart began to integrate her work into her teaching.
She taught at small liberal arts colleges in New York and Maryland before joining St. Thomas. In her job interview, Hart shared her interest in DEI work. On campus, Hart said, “I made sure that I committed myself to as much as I could.”
She teaches inclusive organization development classes and joined an anti-racism coalition, connecting with more people interested in DEI work each year.
In 2018, Hart had the opportunity to become a facilitator for the first SEED cohort at St. Thomas. In her role, she helps students and staff grow their understanding of identity and learn to make equitable changes. Participants come out more equipped to advocate for others, Hart said.
Currently Hart is working on piloting a SEED 2.0 program called Appleseed. In Appleseed, the alumni of previous SEED programs are welcomed back to take their learning to the next level.
“The reason we call it Appleseed is because it’s about planting change in their organizations in the areas they can influence,” Hart said.
Her classes expanded as well. After George Floyd’s death prompted national protests and scrutiny of business practices toward BIPOC communities, Hart’s inclusive leadership and diverse organizations courses in the MBA program started to gain more interest.
“It was nice to see white professionals committing to make a change in organization,” said Hart.
“Being inclusive is critical for our growth and sustainability in the community,” Hart said. Demographics are changing, Hart said. She uses her voice to prepare future leaders for a world that welcomes people of all backgrounds.
A note about the author: Maneeya Leung, a student at Eden Prairie High School, is a participant in the ThreeSixty Journalism program. A version of this article was first published by ThreeSixty Journalism, a nonprofit of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas that uses the principles of strong writing and reporting to help diverse Minnesota youth tell the stories of their lives and communities.