Mailee Kue, Ph.D., remembers the first time she felt she didn’t belong. Kue, who immigrated to the United States with her family in 1976 as a refugee, was ten when another child in her South Providence neighborhood began targeting her family. The boy would chase her and her siblings from school to home, taunting them along the way.
Kue’s father, who experienced persecution as a member of the Hmong minority in Laos, was intimately familiar with exclusion, as well. But, instead of deepening the divide of racism and bullying by intervening in a forceful way, he brought the boy into their home and developed a bond of friendship — a formative example of belonging that has influenced Kue’s work in the diversity sphere over the last two decades.
“My father saw that maybe this young man wasn’t angry or violent. Maybe he was just looking for attention,” Kue, Bryant’s new associate vice president for institutional diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, says. “Bringing in that boy took more effort and investment on my dad's part. He was saying: ‘We're going to pull you in, so you can't other us.’ ”
“That’s my commitment. I will invest more. I will do what it takes to help people understand the greater benefit. It requires more work, but the payoff changes lives.”
From her first institutional diversity role at the University of Wisconsin to her tenure at the University of Rhode Island and, now, at Bryant, Kue says she aims to put that lesson into practice every day.
“That’s my commitment,” she says. “I will invest more. I will do what it takes to help people understand the greater benefit. It requires more work, but the payoff changes lives.”
Kue came to Bryant in 2014 when the institution’s affinity groups and centers still operated as separate offices. It was Kue’s job, alongside her recruits Kevin Martins and Kelly Boutin, to bring together these efforts under one roof. Today, Bryant’s Pride Center, Intercultural Center, and Women’s Center sit within the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, which is sponsored by PwC Boston.
Students will always need well-formed advocacy spaces, Kue says. But, for a structural shift to occur, the university required leaders at the cabinet level who could champion policies and practices that not only elevate the student experience, but that of faculty and staff. A reporting structure to the president, through Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Student Affairs/Dean of Students Inge-Lise Ameer, Ed.D., both meets the needs of students and elevates this work to the institutional level, Kue says.
In addition to her new associate vice president role, Kue spearheads several diversity-related initiatives at Bryant including the Bias Incident Committee, where community members who may have experienced bias or microaggressions can seek support. The committee, in partnership with the ADL, has sponsored various trainings for faculty and staff to explore ways to challenge bias within themselves and in the Bryant community. Attendance for these three-week courses has doubled since its implementation.
“In institutional diversity, equity, and inclusion, there's a lot of preventive, proactive work that we can do: around skills development, around training, around creating supportive and affirming spaces for individuals. That's the work we see within the Vision 2030 strategic plan that we’re committed to as a university more broadly,” she says. “The work of the Bias Incident Committee is really focused on creating a resilient community: that we're going to be aware of it, learn from it, and then be a better community afterwards.”
Kue, who also serves as the university’s Title IX coordinator, helmed the Bryant Women’s Summit in March of 2023; she also offered input on the new general education curriculum, launching with the Class of 2027, which is informed by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and includes diversity, equity, and inclusion coursework.
“The new curriculum offers many pathways into the conversation of justice, impact, and social change. And to me, I think that's another great way to help folks find that inlet into those inclusive spaces,” she says, whether those spaces support diversity in gender, sexuality, race, physical ability, neurodivergence, and more.
“I've spent my entire professional career doing this work and not realizing that my impact was not only as a Hmong woman bringing a rich perspective but also as a DEI leader who now had the opportunity to open doors for others and shape future change."
Looking ahead, Kue says she’s “strategically hopeful” about Bryant’s future.
“I think Bryant’s going in the right direction and in a positive direction. I do think there's a lot work ahead of us,” she says, adding that she’s hyper-focused on expanding the existing diversity, equity, and inclusion work into a greater scope of belonging. She points to Bryant’s annual Day of Understanding, a university-wide event that promotes discussions surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion, as a poignant example.
“The work of belonging and inclusion belongs to all of us,” she says. “We're creating a stronger sense of community by giving folks more opportunities to share, informally or formally, and to connect and to really just come together as a community.”
The idea that there’s space and need for all members of the community — whether they belong to a minoritized group or they’re an ally – hits home for Kue. During her fourteen years at the University of Rhode Island, she worked closely with Melvin Wade, then-director of the institution’s multicultural center, who Kue says helped her understand her place, as an Asian American woman, in the diversity conversation.
“At the time, at URI, my focus was primarily on race and cultural diversity. And he validated for me that there was space and need for Asian American voices at the table. And that was so powerful to me,” she says. “I've spent my entire professional career doing this work and not realizing that my impact was not only as a Hmong woman bringing a rich perspective but also as a DEI leader who now had the opportunity to open doors for others and shape future change. In that moment, I learned that inclusion means everyone is part of the change towards a stronger community.”