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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Update

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

Dear St. Olaf Community,

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” — Albert Camus

These past weeks I’ve had multiple opportunities to spend time with higher education professionals from outside St. Olaf, as well as with colleagues from our college. In these groups I have encountered people who have been doing DEIA work since before I was born and others whose journey had just started. These spaces and conversations can be enlightening and inspiring. But I also noticed something: when I lost the intentionality with regard to whom I surrounded myself with, I allowed other people to burn my light. This could be due to code switching, sexism, racism, or just plain pessimism. My light guides my work and pushes me to do it with care, love, and patience. So … I have learned to readjust, retrieve, feed my spirit, and tap into my own self-care.

This time of year can be an adjustment because the weather is getting colder, our energy tank is half full (or ⅓ full), and we still have work to do. Then, you add the extra pressure for those members of our community who do inclusion, anti-racism, and social justice work. Each one of us brings our own backgrounds, experiences, ideas, and feelings to DEIA. Although fulfilling, it can be difficult and demanding. The combination of deep commitment, constantly thinking about taking action, and creating change adds stress to our lives and taxes our spirits. The impact of this work is real! Therefore, for you and for your community it is vital that we all practice self care so we can find the pleasure in activism, take back control of our own well-being, and avoid burnout. My advice: Take time every day to find something that gives you joy, feeds your soul, and helps you find balance. Be intentional about saying yes, and give yourself permission to say no. If you are not used to it, it will feel awkward at first and you may be fighting your own negative messages. But with time you will learn to better care for every part of your being, and celebrate small wins.

Rethinking Thanksgiving Celebrations: Native American Perspectives
For many members of our community, Thanksgiving is a time to be with family and friends and, especially this year, be thankful. However, this is not true for everyone — especially Native American people in and outside our community. It’s important to learn and understand that for many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of loss, mourning, and resistance. This day that is celebrated with love across our country commemorates colonization in North America and centuries of oppression. When celebrating and discussing the history of Thanksgiving, it is important that we not misrepresent the cultures and perspectives of the Native American people. Below are some resources that can help you engage in critical discourse for all ages (taken from National Museum of the American Indian):

Co-Creating an Inclusive Community Action Steps
This week our 10 Co-Creating leaders received training and opportunities to enhance their facilitation and difficult dialogue skills. Starting this month, we will be meeting with departments and divisions to discuss the findings and next steps of the Co-Creating sessions for each of their areas. During these conversations each department will have their own targeted report with feedback and questions. They will also have the opportunity to co-create action steps for the next year. Stay tuned to learn more about each department and office’s next steps.

Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Get to Know the Members!
The Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion members are an integral part of our community. We have students, staff, faculty, and alumni who represent the different stakeholders. They represent you and advocate for you to make sure that we continue to build a more inclusive St. Olaf. Last month we met Ezra C Plemons, Instructional Technologist for Digital Media – Staff Representative, and Rev. Kathy J. McDow ’78 – Alumni Representative. This week I would like for you to meet our students representatives:

Opportunities for Development on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism
I often get asked the question: How do I talk to family who either make racist, homophobic, or just plain ignorant comments? During regular times of the year, it is easier to control the length and locations of interactions. However, the holidays and special occasions can feel a little bit out of our locus of control. Here are some tips and tools for navigating these interactions:


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