Racial Equity Fellows

We are pleased to introduce our 2023-2024 Educational Leadership Racial Equity Fellows (REFs) -  Jason Lu, Johnathon Davis, Leslie Saito, Erica Brenes, Janelle Harmon, Dr. Noemi Villegas, and Dr. Vanessa Monterosa. 

The REFs help the department prepare all students to advance racial justice and equity in their institutions.  To learn more about them please visit their bios below.

This year we are excited to announce the return of the Race, Racism &... dialogue series, where the REFs and guest speakers will tackle different topics and offer space specifically to come together and discuss how race, racism, and white supremacy are manifested in myriad ways and how those in education can respond to those challenges.


Race, Racism &

Session 1: Race, Racism & Mental Health - Monday, March 4th on Zoom

Our discussion will highlight the importance of access for all. Leave with practical tips on how to apply universal design. socioemotional
learning, and healing-centered pedagogy in the classroom and


Session 2: Race, Racism & Mental Health - Monday, March 25th at 6pm on Zoom

High school students engage in meaningful discussions about race and racism, offering their unique perspective. The original founders of a middle school anti-racism club, these teens have transformed their group into a dynamic high school organization. This transformational session promises to be eye-opening, engaging, and inspiring as these young scholars share their passion for improving the  classroom environment, while actively bridging the gap between teachers and students.

Jason Lu
Jason Lu

Jason M. Lu (pronouns: he/him/his) was born and raised in Southern California.  In 2008 he completed his BS in Computer Science from the University of California Irvine, and in 2010 he earned his MA in Higher Education from New York University.  Currently, Jason is a 1st year doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program.  

Since 2010 Jason has worked at Cal Poly Pomona in various roles in Student Affairs.  He has worked in housing, orientation, at the Office of the VP of Student Affairs, as the Business Process and Technology Specialist, as a case manager for the brand-new Care Center, and is currently Interim Director of Student Engagement, Leadership and Success.

Jason loves going on food adventures with his partner.  He enjoys video games, movies, and TV shows (particularly Sci-Fi).  He is passionate about computer technology, and loves building computers.

Janelle Harmon

Janelle began her teaching career in 2000, teaching high school science in LAUSD for three years before moving to LBUSD, where she taught middle and high school science until 2013. She then served as a Teacher on Special Assignment in the district’s Leadership Development program (now, Equity Leadership and Talent Development). Before becoming an educator, she studied Physiological Science at UCLA (1999) and earned a Master’s Degree in Education and Single Subject credential at Pepperdine University (2000).

In 2015, Janelle was promoted to an administrator in Human Resource Services, where she has worked in various roles, most recently in recruiting and hiring teachers for the district’s 50+ elementary schools. In this role, her interest and passion for diversifying the overall teaching workforce was borne. Janelle is currently in her third year of the Ed.D program at CSULB, where she is looking forward to researching experiences of teacher candidates and graduating in Spring 2024!

In addition to being an educator, Janelle is also a daughter, wife, dog-mom, and mom of three amazing kids.

Dr. Noemi Villegas, Ed.D.
ProNouns: She/Her/Ella

Granddaughter, Wife, Sister, Friend, Tia, Mexicana, Colleague, Researcher, Doctor in Ed., Equity Co-Conspirator, Systems Driven, Community Member, Ecosystem-People Centered, Ecologist & Naturalist

Dr. Noemi Villegas is a Latinx educator with over 20 years of experience. Her expertise includes the implementation of equity-based policies and systems that identify and address inherent disproportionalities and inequities in school systems. As a Student Services Administrator, Dr. Villegas advocates for and supports the implementation of programs that address systemic inequalities within school communities. In partnership with diverse school and community stakeholders, she has supported the implementation of transformative systems in PK-12 settings that serve Latinx, Black, Indigenous and LGBTQIA2S+ youth. Dr. Villegas has led the implementation of student programs serving young people who are living in foster care, transitional settings or unhoused, immigrant-migrant settings, refugee, and military-connected environments. As a Director of Research & Leadership Development for SWIFT Education Center, she leads the development of Equity driven school systems that are humanizing young people’s lived experiences.  In her work, she leads with a commitment to re-envision and change the conditions that harm young people and perpetuate marginalization and disproportionate outcomes for youth of color.

Dr. Vanessa Monterosa

Dr. Vanessa Monterosa is a Senior Associate Partner at NewSchools Venture Fund -- a venture philanthropy nonprofit dedicated to reimagining public education. In this capacity, Dr. Monterosa leads efforts to build a diverse pipeline of educators and innovators developing content, tools, and models that benefit Black, Latino, and low-income students.

Prior to joining NewSchools, her career spanned both higher education and K-12 spaces. Most recently, she served as a district administrator in the Los Angeles Unified School District where she designed a nationally recognized digital citizenship program, developed high-profile district-wide policies, and built the digital literacy capacity of more than 14,000 educators. Her thought leadership work has been featured in Common Sense Media, Edutopia, EdSurge, Latinos for Education, and other publications. Dr. Monterosa is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar, Education Pioneers alum, and a proud first-generation Latina. 

She holds an Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation, and Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from California State University, Long Beach. She recently turned her dissertation into a forthcoming book entitled, "Deepening Digital Citizenship: A guide to Systemwide Policy and Practice."


Johnathon Davis
Johnathon Davis

My name is Johnathon M. Davis, and I am elated to have been granted the opportunity to be a Racial Equity Fellow (REF). Being a REF has allowed me the opportunity to advance racial justice along with an amazing group of positive change makers in our world today.

Born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana (LA) not far from Grambling State University a Historical Black College and University (HBCU), in Grambling, LA is where I began my quest for higher education. Amidst challenging situations on and off campus I remained resilient in the pursuit of earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication with a concentration in Public Relations. I also participated in the university study abroad program receiving a Diploma in Spanish studies “with honors distinction” from the Autonomous University of Coahuila in Saltillo, Mexico. Through hard work and dedication, I was the recipient of both academic and marching band scholarships. Driven by education, collaboration, advocacy, racial equity, inclusion, and innovation, I take great pride in providing the best version of myself to consumers, stakeholders, and partners. I have obtained a Master of Science degree with academic recognition in 2017 as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor from California State University of Los Angeles with an emphasis in higher education and career counseling. Lastly, as a Federal Employee in 2018 serving in the role as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor I was quickly appointed the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) Coordinator. I am an adjunct faculty member within the California Community Colleges Districts.

Update LSaito
Leslie Saito

Leslie is a veteran teacher who began her career as a Spanish teacher in México City, México. While living in México, she attended the Universidad Iberoamericana and obtained her bilingual teaching credential. Upon returning to the states, she taught a wide range of subjects, including Spanish for Spanish speakers, English Language Development, marketing, and reading. 

She holds a multiple subject bilingual credential, a single subject English credential, and most recently, she earned her CTE (Career Technical Education) credential. Her M.A. in educational administration prepared her to serve in various leadership positions ranging from department head, reading intervention specialist, and currently, she is the pathway academy lead at LBUSD’s flagship high school, Long Beach Polytechnic. Prior to the pandemic, Leslie was a nominee for teacher of the year in LBUSD, and in October 2022, she was awarded teacher of the year by the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. 

Currently a second-year doctoral student at CSULB, Leslie’s primary interest centers on teachers of color and how they navigate systemic racism both in and out of the classroom. As a mama of three multiracial children, she remains steadfast in valuing and honoring their diverse identities and needs. This same passion extends into her own classroom as she encourages her students to be change-makers by amplifying and uplifting their diverse voices.

 Session 1: Race, Racism & Language

Come discuss how prioritizing "standard academic English" gatekeeps raciolinguistically diverse students from success in the classroom. See instead how linguistic justice can be a powerful and effective way to increase inclusivity and protect all students' rights to their own language. We will explore how instructors can shift their approach to writing assignments, challenge their own linguistic biases, and expand their understanding of what makes good writing in a multi-ethnic, polyvocal academic space.


Leadership & Community - Overview: Entrepreneurship, Racism & Philanthrophy

Ideas Wanted: Philanthropy as a Pathway to Change

To advance equity in philanthropy, we must start by elevating the voices of those most impacted. Philanthropy is in dire need of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity just to name a few. Be a part of the change and explore what it might mean to have a career in philanthropy or consider pursuing philanthropic dollars to make your vision for an equitable future for all learners a reality. Join this session to explore what it means to leverage the philanthropic space for innovation, equity, and making a difference.

Am I an Entrepreneur?: Innovating for Equity

As a graduate student, your work is often tied to not only impact but research. You are among a small community actively connecting theory to practice. And most likely even part of a smaller collective if you center equity in your work. Oftentimes, we run into barriers and obstacles preventing us from fully realizing the impact and influence we want to have on teaching, learning, and leadership. What if there was another pathway to making a difference for our educators, students, and families?

This session will provide actionable steps to consider your research and work from an entrepreneurial perspective. Leading this session is Dr. Monterosa, who currently serves as a Senior Associate Partner at NewSchools Venture Fund -- a venture philanthropy non-profit looking for education leaders like you passionate about innovating for equity. This session is designed with a specific focus on EdD students and alumni, but all are welcome.

Healing & Restorative Communities -Overview: Building Restorative Community to Humanize experiences of folx in schools

Healing & Growing Together: The Power of Restorative Communities in Schools

Healing and restorative communities create the ideal conditions for all members to thrive, belong, be seen, heard and valued. Now more than ever, the prioritization of the human experience must be at the center of our work. Building communities where we welcome each other, affirm one another, our values, authentic communication and sharing of perspectives bring healing to all members of the community. Designing spaces where folx are humanized, valued and seen have the power to transform and heal. 

In this workshop, we will provide strategies to co-create restorative communities, working toward the humanization of all members and providing resources that could support you as you continue to build spaces that respect each individual and the lived experiences they bring to enrich and expand the experiences of each other. 

Identity - Overview: Lifting identity of folx as we collective enhance allyship in school communities

Student Forum - Middle School

Allyship stems from knowledge and awareness, and local middle school students will lead us towards being more mindful educators/administrators. These young scholars have formed an anti-racism club on campus, and their weekly meetings are an open forum for deep, difficult conversations centered on race and racism. Join us as these equity-minded citizens share their passion for improving the classroom environment into one that not only acknowledges race/racism, but one that actively works towards bridging the gap between teachers and students. 

Allyship in Action

Allyship in Action is an opportunity to focus on the true essence of allyship in our personal and professional lives. We will embark upon meaningful dialogues to discover creative ways to practice allyship. Furthermore, while identifying ways to galvanize communities that are often negatively impacted by systematic mechanisms of various oppressions. As Ally’s we shall leave this workshop with tools of action needed to create inclusion, accountability and equity in the communities that we live and work in.

Leadership & Learning - Overview: Leadership Actions that will enhance Equity Driven approaches in schools

Part 1: Action Driven Leadership: Advancing Equity Systems centered in Justice

Educational equity leaders are committed to advancing school systems that humanize young people and the adults around them. This commitment must include a reflection of our own privilege/power/bias, the uncovering/dismantling of injustices and the intentional redesign of systems that denounce racism and promote equity. In this workshop, Part 1, we will focus on the understanding of our own positionality, power and privilege, as a beginning step to understanding our role in advancing equity.

Part 2: Action Driven Leadership: Advancing Equity Systems in Schools (Practice, Initiatives & People)

Educational equity leaders are committed to advancing school systems that humanize young people and the adults around them. This commitment must include a reflection of our own privilege/power/bias (critical consciousness), the uncovering/dismantling of injustices and the intentional redesign of systems that denounce racism, are biased and promote equity. 

This Part 2 workshop will be focused on the believe that leaders need to have safe and brave spaces, where they can increase their critical consciousness, have access to tools that will support them in uncovering/dismantling oppressive systems and engage in a process for individual/collective reflection that leads to actively leading for justice and results in a true sense of belonging

Race, Racism, & Education

Moderated by: Racial Equity Fellows
Autumn Cunningham
Ryan Howard
Oluwatosin Williams

During this session, we will analyze the myriad of ways race impacts individual and group experiences within the American educational system, from transitional kindergarten to postsecondary education. A brief historical account will be given at the outset to provide foundational knowledge for participants; encapsulating the longstanding inequities within the educational system. A conceptualization of key terms such as: race, anti-Blackness, systemic racism, and microaggressions will also occur. These terms are commonly used yet rarely understood, and the mechanisms that attribute to their impact are oftentimes overlooked. Furthermore, we aim to provide a safe space for dialogue that will examine the personal experiences of historically marginalized and oppressed groups when interacting with various components of the educational system. Facilitators will also discuss funding inequalities, curriculum structure, and psychological impacts experienced by communities of color, using an intersectional framework to highlight the unique perspectives and challenges scholars may encounter at various points of their academic career. Although personal experiences will contribute to connecting race and educational on the micro level, we will simultaneously connect these individualized experiences to the systemic inequities that occur on the macro level. The ultimate goal is to provide tools to assist individuals in the comprehension and analysis of the deleterious effects an individual’s racial identity has on their educational journey, and how racialized outcomes are indicative of the American educational system.

Race, Racism, & Mental Health

Moderated by: Racial Equity Fellows
Aimee Vaquera
Louis Williams
Miguel Reyna

During this session, we will discuss the impact racism has on the mental health of Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC). We will provide an overview of concepts, such as: anti-Blackness, microaggressions, racism, mental health, and systemic oppression. Our nation’s civil unrest has placed a strain on communities of color with actions deeply rooted in racism. Unfortunately, many do not have the tools or understanding of how to process emotional turmoil. Racism affects an individual’s physical well-being; however, the mental and emotional impact has not been deeply explored to understand its long-term effects. Long-term effects can range from impostor syndrome, stress, anxiety, and oppression. Although mental health has become more accepted in recent years, disparities remain prevalent in mental health access for BIPOC. We aim to provide context on how racism and mental health intersect, spotlight persistent challenges present in Black and Brown communities and explore possible strategies to ameliorate these challenges.

Race, Racism & Economics

Moderated by: Racial Equity Fellows
Autumn Cunningham
Ryan Howard
Miguel Reyna

During this session, we will analyze the myriad of ways race impacts individual and group experiences connected the United States economy. A brief historical account will be given at the outset to provide foundational knowledge for participants; encapsulating the longstanding inequities associated with a capitalist system and the evolution of the economy at large. A conceptualization of key terms such as: race, anti-Blackness, systemic racism, and microaggressions will also occur. These terms are commonly used, yet rarely understood, and the mechanisms that attribute to their impact are oftentimes overlooked. Furthermore, we aim to provide a safe space for dialogue that will examine the personal experiences of historically marginalized and oppressed groups when interacting with various components of wealth, wage gaps, income, and transformative assets. Facilitators will also discuss funding inequalities, capitalist structures and systems, and psychological impacts experienced by communities of color, using an intersectional framework to highlight the unique perspectives and challenges BIPOC may encounter at various points in their lives. Although personal experiences will contribute to connecting race and economics on the micro level, we will simultaneously connect these individualized experiences to the systemic inequities that occur on the macro level. The ultimate goal is to provide tools to assist individuals in the comprehension and analysis of the deleterious effects an individual’s racial identity has on their participation in the United States economy.

Race, Racism & Racial Battle Fatigue 

Moderated by: Racial Equity Fellows
Aimee Vaquera
Louis Williams
Oluwatosin Williams

Racial Battle Fatigue is the physical and psychological toll taken due to constant and unceasing discrimination, microaggressions, and actions based on racial stereotypes. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in racial battle fatigue within higher education as equity practitioners fight for equity within the educational systems.  This workshop will be an unabashed conversation with real higher education employees on how racial battle fatigue creates hindrances for employees and students and practical strategies to boost individual and employee effectiveness and morale in supporting student success. 

Race, Racism & Social Media

Moderated by: Racial Equity Fellows

There are currently approximately 4.4 Billion social media users worldwide. The interconnectivity, ability to network, entrepreneurial opportunities, and other advantages of social media platforms are countless. Conversely, this cyberspace, that is largely unregulated and unmonitored, is also an ideal space for racist remarks and racism at large to thrive. The lack of accountability and secrecy provided by private groups cultivate an environment where racist rhetoric and ideology are fomented. Since social media is such a large part of society today, and will continue to be in future generations, this session will be used to examine and analyze the impact social media has in perpetuating racism, racial hostility, and racist attacks in contemporary American society. We look to have a lively discussion concerning how issues of race play out on social media platforms.

Race, Racism & Family Dynamics

Moderated by: Racial Equity Fellows

Family can sometimes be difficult to navigate. However, As we  learn how to reconcile with our own feelings surrounding social justice, race, and bias, it can make connecting with family far more nuanced. Please join us as we discuss ways to navigate tough family dynamics while still maintaining your position as a social justice leader.

Race, Racism & The Workplace

Moderated by: Racial Equity Fellows

Educational practitioners spend most of their time in their workplace in a potential office than they do at home and yet, the workplace tends to be a space where challenging, questioning and promoting psychological safety is unheard of. In this session, we will delve into the racism experienced in the workplace and how the system has pushed us to conceptualize it as the norm. Although we hope to engage in dialogue rooted from personal anecdotes, we will connect back to the system issues that have resulted in the experiences shared.

Race, Racism & Allyship

Moderated by: Racial Equity Fellows

 Does Allyship Perpetuate the Structures of White Supremacy?

  1. - What is Allyship
  2. - What assigns allyship
  3. - Allyship in Action
  4. - Questioning the broader paradigm of allyship

Race, Racism & The Criminal Justice System

Moderated by: Racial Equity Fellows

Please join us as we discuss how injustice and prejudice embedded in the criminal justice system impacts BIPOC students in their aca­demic spaces. We will explore trends and highlight the recent social reckoning this past year sparked by the murders of Black and Brown men and women. Please bring your thoughts and experience as we examine ways to guide and teach our students in this difficult cli­mate.


basti 3

Basti Lopez De La Luz

Basti Lopez currently serves as a Student Service Coordinator for the Dual Enrollment program at Santa Ana College. Before that, she was a High School & Community Outreach Specialist and because of this she is familiar with working with a diverse pool of students, families, and school districts. Her knowledge and understanding of the community and college system have been instrumental in developing programs and multiple pathways at various high schools. Ms. Lopez received her Associate of Arts from Santa Ana College and obtained her Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of California, Irvine, and in 2020 she earned her Master’s in Leadership Development at Chapman University. Her interests and passion include working and serving undocumented and underrepresented students and their families.




Ryan Howard Portrait

Ryan Howard

My name is Ryan Howard and my passion for helping others – especially traditionally marginalized groups – is my motivation for working in education. I see my struggles in disadvantaged students plight as they try to successfully navigate our educational system. While trying to find my way professionally, I have worked at various levels within education. This includes working for the Los Angeles Unified School District as a teacher’s assistant with inner city elementary students, and as a high school history teacher. Following graduate school, I taught adult school students and worked as an Instructional Division Coordinator at Compton College. Currently, I am an adjunct Sociology instructor within the Los Angeles Community College District and here at CSU Long Beach.


Miguel Reyna Portrait

 Miguel Reyna

My name is Miguel Reyna. I am proud to be a Racial Equity Fellow (REF). What follows is a short history of my background:

I have been an educator for the sum of my career. After graduating from UC Berkeley, with a degree in Sociology, I was an eager ingénue ready to make a positive impact on the world, so I thought I would teach- a proven way that shapes the world for the better. I taught Kindergarten for two years in New York. I came back to sunny California after my tenure in New York. Soon after arriving in California I started working at a Vocational School where I taught adult Immigrants Vocational English. This job filled me with satisfaction as I helped vulnerable students equip themselves with the language skills needed to improve their career opportunities. I leverage this experience to a job at Marymount California University where I worked as an Academic English Instructor. Working at MCU made me realize that I loved the collegiate environment and I took steps to making that my new career trajectory. I secured a job at Compton College as a Student Services Advisor. At the same time, I worked toward a second Masters in Higher Education Guidance and Counseling, from Loyola Marymount University. Soon after graduation, I began working at California State University, Fullerton as Retention Specialist for Special Populations. Proud to be a Titan, and a Shark!


Aimee Vaquera Portrait

Aimee Vaquera

My name is Adriana Aimee Vaquera, but I prefer Aimee. As a Latina, first-generation college student and a daughter of immigrants, my parents pushed education as the pillar of hope and key to success. However, they were not aware of the challenges and barriers I would face. As I navigated higher education when earning my A.A. in Administration of Justice from LBCC and both my B.S. in Criminal Justice Administration and M.S. in College Counseling from CSU, Dominguez Hills, I learned success has different meanings and, right now, success to me is the growth I have done to reach this point in my life. 

My drive to be involved, learn, and give back wherever I go brought my passion in higher education to fruition. I have had the privilege to support an array of students with a focus on transfer and undocumented students, lead a first-year experience mentorship program, lead large initiatives geared toward equity and inclusion and support students both at the four-year and community college level navigate their educational journeys to now being at CSULB to continue my own education within the Educational Leadership department. I truly believe in leading with a social justice lens and that we must maintain integrity to truly live our lives authentically. 

I have been fortunate to meet amazing people who I am grateful to call my mentors that have believed in me and motivated me to be the best version of myself. I am always eager to challenge myself, learn, and expand my perspective to ultimately give back to students who are navigating a system they may not fully understand.


Louis Williams Portrait

Louis Williams

 I am a proud second-generation college graduate. Currently, I am a third-year Student Development in Higher Education graduate student, Vice-Chair of the University Student Union Board of Trustees, and College of Education Graduate Peer Mentor. I served as the President for the Association of Professional in Student Affairs and Homecoming King for California State University Long Beach. I work at Compton College with multicultural and marginalized students who are underserved by our current traditional educational school models. At California State University, Long Beach I am a research assistant for Nina Flores Ph.D. in the Center for Educational Evaluation and Effectiveness student scholar’s program. We are examining the issue of targeted faculty harassment by members of the public. I am passionate about helping students be successful and reach their goals.


Oluwatosin Williams Portrait

Oluwatosin Williams

My parents, who immigrated from Nigeria to California, instilled a drive for education and hard work into myself and my 5 siblings. However, despite being a high academic achiever in grade school, I felt underprepared for college. This is when I learned that college is more than the 4 walls of a classroom and the pages of the book. It is the experience and navigation skills offered by everyone on campus. 

My experience in education spans 16 years. Ever since my first job at USC tutoring students to teaching supplemental English at community colleges, I knew I was in the best field for me. However, I felt compelled to pivot from academic affairs to student services because I witnessed all too many of my students needing help navigating the educational process. I have had a wonderful time helping students of all ages, races, ethnicities, sexualities and other socio-political populations navigate the community college system. 

As someone who believes in the power of education being, and that education is a critical tool that unlocks opportunities often unavailable to those in lower-income neighborhoods, my dedication to enhancing my community is exemplified in all that I do personally and professionally. 

Some of my hobbies include painting, playing the saxophone, and hanging out with my roommate. My roommate, Harley Loretta Quinn (full name), is a bearded dragon who enjoys being waited on and given greens and fruit.