The Interview USA
Rhode Island College
Associate Vice President for Student Services

Ducha Hang

In recent years, our campuses have faced many issues that have divided students. To heal these divisons, we need to bring students together and create an open dialogue where all voices can be heard. No one knows this better than Ducha Hang, Associate Vice President for Student Services at Rhode Island College, who has unique expertise in student and academic affairs.

Ducha met with Kira Matthews, GoodCourse’s Community Engagement Lead, to discuss her journey into Higher Education (HE), the challenges faced by first-generation students, and how to encourage open discussions on campus. 

Ducha’s Journey

Kira: Can you tell me a little bit about your current role?

Absolutely! I oversee the academic support division, which is a subgroup within our wider Student Success Division. As part of my role, I am responsible for advising, group development, and student programs. I’m also part of a leadership team within the division of Student Success which includes the academic support services team, enrolment management, and campus life. 

Kira: Your role seems to bridge student and academic affairs. What brought you to specialize in this field?

I’ve moved between the two fields, but now student affairs is at the heart of what I do. I was a first-generation student: my family came to this country as refugees. At first, I struggled with my career path, but I’ve always been passionate about education. When I was in college, I wanted to be a third-grade teacher, although that was before I really knew what third-graders were like! After I got my Masters in Counseling, I took an internship working as a coach for students on academic probation, which really sparked my passion for HE. From there, I started working with first-year students, helping them to make the transition to campus life.

Kira: I can empathize with your experience of being a first-generation student; it’s a unique challenge. I’d love to hear about how you can help students to settle in.

A lot of it is individual, working with students according to their specific needs. It’s important to really spend time with students to find out who they are. They need to be encouraged to articulate their goals — especially for students with strong family expectations. Helping students to reflect on their passions and goals can help them to choose their own paths. We should identify and remove the barriers to student success to help them thrive. 

Kira: What kind of barriers are faced by first-generation and other marginalized students?

Staff should be informed about the diverse backgrounds and needs of students. We must check our own assumptions about students’ experiences. It’s critical to support them during their first year — the earlier we engage them, the better. We can ensure they attend orientation events, meet with advisers, and plan their schedules. If students are having problems, we can catch that right away and offer help. At a human level, we need to train staff to be more sensitive to students’ needs. 

Kira: Many guests on The Interview have talked about cultural competence and building an inclusive atmosphere on campus. What steps are you taking to encourage inclusivity?

It’s a continuous project that requires daily advocacy. We must remember that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are about three different things. Diversity involves representation, not only at the student level but also among staff. Equity is about bringing different voices to the table, listening to students, and advocating for them. Inclusion is the hardest step — it asks us to break down barriers and end discrimination on campus. We can achieve that through conversations between students and staff, hearing students’ experiences, and building a sense of belonging. 

We can achieve that through conversations between students and staff, hearing students’ experiences, and building a sense of belonging. 
Kira: Freedom of speech is a hot topic on college campuses, especially with the divided political landscape. How can we encourage students to have an open dialogue?

As an academic institution, we want to ensure students can think critically and have productive conversations. It’s part of the purpose of education. We should always affirm student perspectives — we have a diverse student body with different backgrounds, upbringings, and values. When they go to college, those beliefs often get tested, which can lead to hard conversations. To have those open discussions, we want to cultivate civil discourse inside and outside the classroom — it’s about listening as much as speaking. 

Kira: Lots of these tensions have been magnified by the pandemic: many students have arrived at college after two years of social isolation. How can we manage those rising tensions?

I think the current generation is very passionate about social issues, and they want to take action. But that’s easier said than done, and part of our role is to show students how to advocate for change. It’s great that students are expressing their values, and we can encourage them to work with groups to have those difficult conversations and create meaningful change. I believe the first purpose of education is to create change within our communities — it’s our responsibility to show students how to do that. 

3 Quick-fire Questions

Kira: What advice do you have for anyone getting into HE?

I often share two things with my colleagues. First, combine your purpose with your passion, and you will love what you do. Second, you need to learn alongside your students: have an open mind and be ready to adapt. 

Kira: Who do you admire most in the HE space?

I admire the students the most. I’ve stayed in touch with many former students, especially student leaders and advisers, and it’s just amazing to see them grow and develop. They are the reason we are all here, after all. 

Kira: Which book has had the most influence on your work?

One book which has inspired me is Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities, which looks at the disparities in the American school system. Even though it was written years ago, it is still very applicable to many of the challenges we face in HE today. I’d recommend it to anyone. 

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kira Matthews
Community Engagement Lead
Kira leads our community outreach team working hand-in-hand with changemakers on both sides of the pond. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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