Emory Campus Life welcomes four new directors for Belonging and Community Justice (BCJ) student identity spaces as part of a continuing dedication to help students find community that supports their flourishing.

During the ribbon cutting ceremony in October 2023 for the new identity spaces at Cox Hall, Campus Life announced its expanded commitment to add staff resources to support student engagement.

Following a national search, the four new team members have joined BCJ’s two existing directors, with each director leading one of the six identity spaces. These spaces include the Asian Student Center, Emory Black Student Union (EBSU), Center for Women, Centro Latinx, Emory First, and LGBT Life. Together, the team will create opportunities for students to explore, engage and find community.

“I am thrilled to welcome our new team members and for their expertise, skills, and shared commitment to supporting students,” said Ashley L. Brown, associate dean of students. As part of her portfolio, Brown oversees BCJ. “Each director will create and execute the vision for their respective identity space, developing strategic planning and programming and collaborating closely with other identity space directors to facilitate the advancement of Emory’s Student Flourishing initiative.”

The four new directors will report directly to Brown, along with the two existing directors. “I am so grateful for our current team and the leadership of Danielle Bruce-Steele, director of LGBT Life, and Tia Williams, interim director of the Center for Women. They are doing outstanding work and have been an invaluable support for the larger BCJ team during this transition,” said Brown.

“Together, our BCJ directors will be instrumental in enhancing student success and fostering a strong sense of belonging at Emory,” Brown said. “We are confident their positive impact will resonate throughout our university community.”

 

Meet the newest BCJ directors

 

Dionica Bell, director of the Black Student Union 

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With 15 years of professional experience in higher education, Dionica Bell will lead the identity space for the Emory Black Student Union (EBSU). Bell joins Emory from the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), where she served as director of the Center for African Diaspora Student Success. In that role, she managed administrative operations and directed visioning, strategic planning, and organizational development for the Black Student Center, among a range of other leadership responsibilities. Bell’s first day with Emory was June 4.

“I am absolutely elated to be joining the Campus Life team and the Emory family,” said Bell. “Supporting students on their developmental journeys to becoming engaged, socially just global citizens is paramount in my professional priorities, and I'm excited to do this work with the Emory student community.”

Bell’s expertise includes developing and implementing programs to empower Black students, cultivating environments that create community, and increasing a sense of belonging among students that leads to their academic success. She previously served as a student affairs officer with UC Davis, constituent relations manager with the University of Houston, and program coordinator for educational opportunity program and ethnic affairs at San Diego State University.

Bell holds a master’s degree in postsecondary educational leadership from San Diego State and a bachelor’s in science communications from Texas A&M University. You can welcome Dionica at dionica.britte.bell@emory.edu.

 

Justin Hua, director of the Asian Student Center

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As director of the Asian Student Center, Justin Hua, rejoins the Emory Campus Life team that he previously worked with as conference coordinator during summer 2015. Hua brings more than a decade of experience in admissions and financial aid, multicultural affairs, and housing and residence life to this new role. His first day with Campus Life was June 4.

“I am honored by the incredible opportunity to join Emory’s diverse and vigorously engaged community of students, faculty, staff and alumni,” Hua said. “In my role as director of the Asian Student Center, I will purposefully align the center’s vision, mission and programs with Emory’s Student Flourishing initiative and cultivate a sense of belonging and community among all our students.”

Most recently, Hua served as assistant director for residential student success at Georgia State University (GSU), where his responsibilities included department academic initiatives management, professional staff recruitment and development, and residential curriculum strategy and oversight. As a residence hall director at GSU, he managed operations and programming for a 600-bed, first-year residence hall. Earlier in his career, Hua gained experience at Vanderbilt University with inclusion initiatives and cultural competence programs, as well as housing and residential education. He also served at Davidson College as assistant dean of admissions.

Hua holds a master’s in higher education administration from Vanderbilt and a bachelor’s in psychology from Davidson. He is pursuing a PhD in counselor education and supervision from the University of Georgia. You can welcome Justin at justin.hua@emory.edu.

 

Mike Jones, director of Emory First

As director of Emory First, the central hub for support and engagement for first-generation college students and students from low-and-limited-income backgrounds, Mike Jones brings nearly a decade of experience in higher education and student affairs. Jones served for the past several years at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as director of first-generation programs and enrichment in the Center for Inclusion and Social Change. His many responsibilities included managing a scholarship program of 900 first-generation low-income students and providing holistic support during their collegiate career. His first day with Campus Life is June 17.

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"I am honored to join the Emory University community and the Campus Life team to help build on the university’s years of purposeful support for first-generation and low-and-limited income students,” said Jones. “I’m deeply impressed with the intentionality and care that Emory devotes to helping all students flourish and find belonging and meaning in their lives.”

Jones’ previous experience also include working in residence life and college success programming in Georgia and New York. He has extensive experience volunteering with NASPA’s Center for First-generation Student Success and is currently serving on the Conference Advisory Committee for the 2024 NASPA Conferences on Student Success in Higher Education.

 

Jones holds a master’s in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University and a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in social and economic justice and African American studies from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. You can welcome Mike at allen.michael.jones@emory.edu.

 

Denise Ocasio Thomas, director of Centro Latinx

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As the new director of Central Latinx, Denise Ocasio Thomas brings higher education and student affairs experience spanning more than a decade. Thomas served most recently as associate director for equity, engagement and retention at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her responsibilities included managing the Office of Minority Educational Development (OMED) Edge peer mentoring program, the internal Women of Color Initiative, and leading activities to inform student progression and retention initiatives for underrepresented students in the institute. Her start date with Emory was June 4.

"I am elated to join the Emory community and the Campus Life family. My passion for fostering inclusive environments and my experience in supporting students align with Campus Life’s work and vision,” Thomas said. “I look forward to helping to further enhance Emory’s vibrant and inclusive community through the work of Centro Latinx."

Earlier in her tenure with Georgia Tech, Thomas was the assistant director for OMED’s Edge peer mentorship program. At Georgia State University, she served as retention coordinator for Latino recruitment and worked in university housing.

Thomas holds a master’s in education in professional counseling from the University of West Georgia and a bachelor’s in political science from Florida International University. She is currently working on her PhD (anticipated in May 2025) in educational policy from Georgia State University. You can welcome Denise at denise.ocasio.thomas@emory.edu.