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Neomi De Anda, Ph.D.

Neomi De Anda, Ph.D.

Written by Julio A. Quintero, Ph.D, Associate Director for Inclusive Excellence Education and Initiatives, Office of Diversity and Inclusion

“I would not be me and do what I do without the people who support me, pray for me and me dan ánimo (‘and motivate me’),” says Dr. Neomi De Anda, intermixing English and Spanish, the two languages she was immersed in growing up. For almost seven years, Dr. De Anda has been part of the University of Dayton. She currently works as an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies. Dr. De Anda believes that community is essential, particularly her Marianist community, a space in which she along with many others perseveres in mission. She describes it as “people coming together and reading what is going on around them, locally, broadly, globally, and then understanding what needs to be addressed and how.” In passing, she mentions that Ohio Magazine has selected her as one of the top university professors of Ohio for 2020. However, she continues, “I like lifting up the many people and communities who inspire me to do my work.”

Neomi’s journey began in El Paso and Corpus Christi in Texas, on the border between México and the United States. That explains why for Dr. De Anda, la frontera (the border) is not just a metaphor. “Since I grew up there, the border is very real. Differences are real, but we coexist in complicated ways. Humans deal with systems that are contradictory, but exist together within us.” She recalls that from very early on she understood the difference between a pound from a kilo of apples just by crossing the line that divides México and the United States.

Dr. De Anda graduated from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX, one of the three Marianist Universities in the United States, with a degree in English and psychology. She was also a student leader in service learning. Her role included conducting reflection groups with students. She realized that questions about faith—especially about Catholic teaching—were very important for students and that sometimes they struggled to reconcile them. Feeling that her path was student development, Dr. De Anda thought that helping students negotiate their faith questions was going to be her professional path and accepted a position as campus minister. 

“I am an accidental theologian,” Dr. De Anda says as she recalls the moment she received a phone call offering her a scholarship to study a masters in theology thanks to a paper that she wrote that caught the attention of St. Mary’s University. Furthering her education became one of Dr. De Anda’s priorities. Since she worked full time, she reserved nights and weekends to do her coursework and complete a MA in theology. She quickly realized that there were not many books written by Latinx peoples on this subject. However, one in particular made an impact on her, titled The Heart of Our People: Latino/a Explorations in Catholic Systematic Theology.

Dr. De Anda realized that she could combine her passion for community engagement and social justice with questions about faith and Catholic teaching. Theology became for her a field of interdisciplinary work. She accepted the opportunity and continued to do everything possible to include Latina experiences in her exploration of theology. With great support from the Hispanic Theological Initiative, she eventually earned her doctorate in theology from Loyola University Chicago. Dr. De Anda utilizes the theme and methodology of Latina theology and includes questions related to social justice through daily lived experience. “Justice is about building better relationships with God, the environment, ourselves, and the greater world. This is my ideal framework. It does not work every day. We are all human”, she adds.

Besides her many courses, administrative work, and a myriad of projects, conferences and community engagement opportunities, Dr. De Anda’s current focus is the Mexico/USA border in partnership with the Hope Border Institute and the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative Immigrant Justice Team. Part of this work includes a partnership between the Marianist Universities in the United States (St. Mary’s University and the University of Dayton, presently with hopes and plans to include Chaminade University in this ongoing partnership) to create an educational experience with a course and a trip designed to build understanding around the experiences of people around the border in El Paso, TX. As part of the course, her students are also working on an exhibit with the Marian Library about representations of Mary and borders.