St. Olaf College | News

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Update

This is part of a new series of regular updates that Vice President for Equity and Inclusion María Pabón Gautier sends to the campus community.

Dear St. Olaf Community,

This week we begin the celebration of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month. As a proud Puerto Rican Latina, I take a special interest in connecting across Latinx communities and traditions. Did you know? Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month started in 1968 and the dates are significant because on September 15 it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively. We close our celebration with the last few days honoring Día de la Raza starting on October 12. 

I would like to dedicate this week’s message to celebrating all the Latinx/Latino/Hispanic members of our St. Olaf community. Many of our luchas have been defined by the strength of our familias, tradiciones, and the sense of si se puede. No one can put this Spanglish love better than Richard Blanco in Como Tú / Like You / Like Me.

Como tú, I question history’s blur in my eyes
each time I face a mirror. Like a mirror, I gaze
into my palm a wrinkled map I still can’t read,
my lifeline an unnamed road I can’t find, can’t
trace back to the fork in my parents’ trek
that cradled me here. Como tú, I woke up to
this dream of a country I didn’t choose, that
didn’t choose me — trapped in the nightmare
of its hateful glares. Como tú, I’m also from
the lakes and farms, waterfalls and prairies
of another country I can’t fully claim either.
Como tú, I am either a mirage living among
these faces and streets that raised me here,
or I’m nothing, a memory forgotten by all
I was taken from and can’t return to again.

Like memory, at times I wish I could erase
the music of my name in Spanish, at times
I cherish it, and despise my other syllables
clashing in English. Como tú, I want to speak
of myself in two languages at once. Despite
my tongues, no word defines me. Like words,
I read my footprints like my past, erased by
waves of circumstance, my future uncertain
as wind. Like the wind, como tú, I carry songs,
howls, whispers, thunder’s growl. Like thunder,
I’m a foreign-borne cloud that’s drifted here,
I’m lightning, and the balm of rain. Como tú,
our blood rains for the dirty thirst of this land.
Like thirst, like hunger, we ache with the need
to save ourselves, and our country from itself.

Student Highlight
Working with students is always fun, energizing, and one of my favorite parts of the work. Therefore, starting this year I will be working closely with two students on all things diversity, equity, and inclusion. I would like to give a special thank you to the Pedersons’ family for their endowment, which supports these new roles. It was very humbling to receive so many applications for these positions. It is always hard to choose from a pool of outstanding and passionate students, but I am excited to introduce the two Oles I will be working with. Drumroll please … I would like to welcome our inaugurating students, A.D. Banse and Anja Dulin. A.D. is a junior majoring in Political Science with concentrations in Statistics and Data Science and Management Studies. He will be the Student Research Assistant for Equity and Inclusion. Anja is a senior majoring in Biology and Race and Ethnic Studies. She will be the Student Administrative and Special Project Assistant for Equity and Inclusion. Welcome to the team! I am beyond excited for our work together this year. 

¡Presente! I had the chance to interview ¡Presente!’s new co-chair, Andrea Diaz ’22. Andrea was always a ray of light when I was working at the Taylor Center, and I’m excited to connect with her once again. Here’s what she shared:

Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am a senior majoring in Social Work with a concentration in Family Studies. I am originally from the south side of Chicago. This year, I am one of Presente’s co-chairs. ¡Presente! is a multicultural organization that strives to promote awareness about Latin American culture on the St. Olaf campus. 

Why did you choose to be part of ¡Presente!’s leadership?
The reason why I decided to be part of ¡Presente!’s leadership team is because the organization has been a huge part of my journey while at St. Olaf. I have met some of the most amazing people while being part of this organization. I decided since it was going to be my last year, I would like to be more involved in the planning process of events. The rest of the executive team has also made this process very easy. We cannot wait to see everyone at the events. 

Why is it important to have a month dedicated to Latinx history and heritage?
Having a month dedicated to LatinX history and heritage is important because it gives students who identify as LatinX an opportunity to reflect and celebrate their cultural roots. This month is not only for individuals that identify as LatinX but for those who do not identify, it gives them the opportunity to learn about the culture and ways individuals have contributed to society. Anyone is welcome to come to Presente events; we want to share our culture with everyone. 

What are some of the biggest issues, in your opinion, you believe many Latinx youth are facing today? How can they become part of the change?
I think some issues that many LatinX youth are facing today is breaking down those barriers and stigma that have been embedded in our culture. For example, machismo, denial of mental health issues within the family setting, intergenerational poverty, immigration policies, deportation, separation, navigating white spaces, etc. For the most part, we should be doing research about the history of these issues. Youth can be part of change by having these conversations with close family and friends. LatinX youth can learn to navigate these conversations. These topics can be very difficult to discuss, but we should open the space to have difficult conversations. 

Anti-semitism in Higher Education
As we experience an uptick in anti-semitism across higher education and we are faced with our own actions, I want to recognize the impact that these incidents can have on the well-being of our students, staff, and faculty. Also, I recognize that we need to invest in more education about what anti-semitism is and how it is currently showing up on campuses. Inside Higher Ed published a very educational and powerful piece, It’s Time We Taught Anti-Semitism, that shows why if we don’t start re-educating, we will continue to see a rise in anti-semitism.

If you experience or are witness to a bias incident, please report the incident to our Bias Response Team here. Our main goal is to provide support and resources to victims and work in partnership to build accountability. If you are in need of support, below are resources you can access:

Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion would like to thank Norma Charlton for the years she served as a staff representative. Norma is the Taylor Center Assistant Director for Equity and Intercultural Engagement. She has served on the Council since 2018 and has been a valuable and powerful voice. Her wisdom and experience has been an integral part of the Council’s work. Norma, you will be deeply missed and I can’t wait for the new partnerships we will create. Thank you, Norma!

The Council would like to welcome Eric Eischens! Eric is a custodian on our campus, a Co-Creating an Inclusive Community facilitator, and an enthusiastic ally and advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Eric will join the Council this month, and we are excited to learn from him and with him. Welcome, Eric!

Places to Be!
The Northfield Public Library invites you to celebrate and show support for the Latinx/Latino/Hispanic community at the 4th Annual Hispanic Heritage Celebration on Saturday, September 18 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Central Park, 421 E 4th St. You will have the opportunity to experience the richness, vibrancy, and diversity of Hispanic heritage and learn Latin dances, create art, and discover the power of words.

The Task Force to Confront Structural Racism Update
The Task Force to Confront Structural Racism at St. Olaf College (TFCSR) will host its first meeting of the year on Tuesday, September 21, from 4–5 p.m. on Zoom. All students, staff, and faculty are invited to attend to learn more about the work of the Task Force. This group is unique in that it is not affiliated with a college department or office, and it is by design a coalition of staff, faculty, and students who have equal power to shape the group’s priorities and actions. Please take a look at the Task Force’s precepts at this link, and join them on Tuesday as they discuss plans for the upcoming year. Their draft agenda is available at this link.

Opportunities for Development on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism
In my house, we have a tradition during Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month. My oldest daughter and I choose a book written by and about Latinx authors and read it together. She is 11 years old, so it has been fun to slowly increase the complexity of culture. Last year we read Esperanza Rising. This year we chose When We Make It. The book will be released on September 21 and it is about a first-generation Puerto Rican eighth grader who can see with clarity the truth, pain, and beauty of the world both inside and outside her Bushwick apartment. 

In our Latinx community there have been discerning points of view in using the term “Latinx.” This is a great example of diversity within diversity and the power young people can have to change culture. Read about it in To Be Or Not to Be Latinx? For Some Hispanics, That Is the Question.

ACM Antiracism Training Series. Registration is open for the Fall 2021 antiracism workshop scheduled for Thursday, September 23, at 4 p.m. (CT). Participants can register for the workshop here. The title of the series is Cultures Collide. In this day and age, the ability to appreciate, accept, and maybe even internalize different cultures is vital. As individuals, we experience ‘our place’ or indeed the world around us in our own unique way. So, when cultures collide within us, each of us is equipped differently to handle the situation. Nevertheless, the options to reconcile the differences in cultures are often limited — we either fight the collisions or we find a way to be flexible. This talk will explore how and when these cultural collisions happen, the stakes of not being a culturally competent leader, and practical lessons to maintain your authentic self when working with people from different cultural backgrounds. The presenter will be Adirupa Sengupta, Group Chief Executive of Common Purpose.



Dr. María C. Pabón Gautier
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion