Experiences can take you places and shape you into who you are, says Dang Yang, a 2008 Blugold graduate and director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at UW-Eau Claire.
The Wausau native joined the Blugold family in 2004 after graduating from UW-Marathon County with his associate degree. A first-generation student, Yang knows firsthand the struggles of navigating college as a person of color, specifically as a Hmong man.
“Growing up in the 1990s, a lot of the narrative was regarding how people of color, specifically Hmong adults and teens, were portrayed as gang members," Yang says. "That narrative was instrumental in helping me understand and define my type of activism and interest in changing that narrative in such a way that would empower people of color. That was really influential in my experiences.”
Turning negative narratives into empowering messages, Yang pursued a career path in student affairs and multicultural affairs to be an advocate and voice for students with marginalized identities.
“For a long time, it was a struggle to better understand my history, my culture, my language, and, in some way, I’ve had the chance to explore that in such a way that has been uplifting and empowering for myself," Yang says. "It’s defined who I am. All of the positive and negative experiences I’ve had growing up defined why I wanted to go into working with students to better understand their own experiences and to advocate for social justice initiatives.”
Yang credits his successes to his involvement on campus while an undergraduate student at UW-Eau Claire, including in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Student Support Services, Hmong Student Association, and being part of an executive staff committee focused on equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“My involvement on campus helped me understand the complexities and intricacies of student organizations, Student Senate policies, leadership development and the intersections between different identities and different interests across campus.”
The public communication graduate is proud to be back at his alma mater, this time in a professional role to further support students and continue to build an equitable and inclusive campus community.
“I think one of the biggest lessons I continue to learn is that we can’t do it all alone," Yang says. "No person is an island even if oftentimes we feel that way. We’re constantly in need of finding that connection personally and professionally. To succeed in the work that we do that supports students, we must work across multiple departments to understand how the decisions we make impact the intersectionalities of students. It’s really important for faculty and staff to continue the conversations about the types of work they’re doing and the support they’re giving students.”