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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,

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” — the Talmud

As we approach the close of 2021, I found myself reflecting on all the work we did this year and all the exciting work we have ahead of us. We started the year full of hope and caution as we grappled with our current realities and engaged in the change we wanted to see. As a college, this year showed us that we are stronger together. I was humbled by the hands that helped hold the work up and pushed it with the strength that only people who care and are invested have.

I decided to dedicate this update to highlighting some of the great work that happened this last year. This is just a big-picture highlight of some of the DEI work. It does not include the individual work happening in departments, offices, centers, and student organizations. I will continue to highlight that work in the updates to come, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to thank you for your support and engagement. You did justly, loved mercifully, and walked humbly.

2021: A Year of Change and Connection
Co-Creating an Inclusive Community Initiative. This year we launched the Co-Creating an Inclusive Community Initiative that aims to engage students, staff, and faculty in working together to envision and create a more inclusive St. Olaf: one in which people of all identities experience connection, belonging, and agency.

Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94). Our students launched the HT94 exhibition after spending more than a year working on filling out toe tags and educating the community. Hostile Terrain 94 is a participatory art project sponsored and organized by the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a nonprofit research-art-education-media collective directed by anthropologist Jason De León.

Pop-Up Barbershop. The barbershop made its debut in October. A group of student-athletes from Oles Against Inequality, or OAI, came up with the idea. The students, many of whom are students of color, saw the need for barbers who know how to cut different hair textures. The project has already gained outside attention, including a feature story on Minnesota Public Radio.

Professional Development and Learning Opportunities. At the beginning of the year we heard loud and clear that we needed more targeted and intentional opportunities to develop as well as opportunities to have dialogue about areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism (DEIA). Therefore, we provided different opportunities to learn and exchange ideas. Below are a few of those opportunities.

  1. Understanding the Bias Reporting System
  2. Restorative Justice Training
  3. Understanding the Trial and Verdict of Derek Chauvin
  4. Cultural Humility Workshop
  5. Critical Dialogue Strategies Workshop
  6. Outward Inclusion and Outward Leadership Workshop
  7. Latinx: To Be or Not to Be?

Improvements to Communication. One of the biggest challenges of doing DEIA work is to make sure that we do it authentically, timely, and we communicate throughout the process. This year we made several changes to increase transparency and improve how we communicate around areas of DEIA with our campus community. Among some of the changes are:

  1. Communications audit — The Marketing and Communications Office partnered with external auditors Anitra Cottledge and Minerva Muñoz to review how St. Olaf’s communication practices can better promote and support a more inclusive culture. The MarCom team has used this audit to develop guidelines and next steps that they will be sharing with the community this year.
  2. DEI updates — Last spring I began sending bi-weekly updates to keep the work at the forefront and inform our community on the current DEIA efforts.
  3. Crisis communications plan — This spring we developed a crisis communications plan that helps us respond and acknowledge local and national incidents while providing resources for students, staff, and faculty.
  4. Bias incident reports — We heard during an all-campus meeting about the need and desire for more transparency around bias incidents. We now provide monthly bias incident summaries and continue to educate the campus on the process.

George Floyd Fellowship for Social Change. The George Floyd Fellowship directly supports the advancement of Black American students. Students participating in the fellowship will work toward improving the collective experience of marginalized communities, with a focus on advancement of social justice and equity. This year the first George Floyd cohort graduated, advancing a diverse array of social issues.

Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The Council worked arduously this year to refresh their mission, outcomes, and engagement with the work of inclusion at the College. We welcomed new members and actively worked in improving transparency about the meetings and efforts.

Climate Surveys and Studies. Understanding the campus climate is a crucial part of engaging in change. Our students participated for the first time in the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates (NACCC) survey. The survey was administered as part of our membership in LACRELA and measures the racial climate on our campus.  In addition to measuring student climate, we conducted a BIPOC staff study to understand the racial climate that our BIPOC staff were experiencing at the College (a junior BIPOC faculty study was done in 2020).

To Include is To Excel.  This year To Include is To Excel, a four-year, $800,000 initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, came to a close and we celebrated the accomplishments, work done, and excitement for the work that needs to be done.

Diversity in the Workplace — Student Workers Training. This is a new DEI initiative sponsored by the Taylor Center, the Piper Center, the Vice President for Human Resources, and the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion. This initiative supports St. Olaf’s commitment to create an equitable and inclusive community, and gives students perspectives and skills that they can use both on campus and in their work after graduation.

Review of Review Working Groups. The Faculty Governance Committee and the Provost’s Office invited faculty this summer to address both external and internal recommendations of the college’s tenure and promotion process, with special emphasis on its effect on early career BIPOC faculty members. Three working groups were formed (Assessments of Teaching, Statements of Significant Scholarship and Artistic Work, and Advocacy), and each group developed a report of areas that need to be addressed during 2021-22 academic year.

Social Justice Award. This year we established the inaugural Social Justice Award to recognize an individual faculty member or group who has made an outstanding contribution to diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism at St. Olaf.

Academic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. In consultation with the faculty, the Academic DEI Task Force will:

  • Advise on setting goals (for 2022-23 and beyond) for departments and interdisciplinary programs
  • Identify ways to streamline and support our shared work
  • Advise on how the work of departments and interdisciplinary programs can be coordinated with college-wide goals
  • Report these recommendations to me and to the faculty by the end of this academic year

Ole Core. First-year students engaged for the first time this fall with the new Ole Core Curriculum. This new Ole Core responds to the request of students and faculty to be more intentional about integrating discussions and conversations around DEIA. One of the many changes of the new Ole Core is adding a power and race requirement where students gain knowledge of how race and ethnicity can contribute to inequality in contemporary U.S. society, and how these forms of inequality intersect with other social characteristics and institutions such as gender, religion, sexual orientation, social class, and the environment.

Student Support Services for Students with Disabilities (SSSD). SSSD is a brand new, federally funded TRIO college retention program serving 100 students per year. SSSD helps students with disabilities develop the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue and successfully complete a college education by helping them focus on academic and personal development.

Assistant Director of Retention and Success. Although our student retention numbers are strong, we know that we can do better. This year we created a new position, Assistant Director of Retention and Success, to help us think more intentionally about retention, especially across students with marginalized identities.

St. Olaf Orientation to Academics and Resources (SOAR). SOAR was launched for all first-year students in the fall of 2021. SOAR provides an extended orientation for all students in their first year to equip them with the knowledge and tools to be successful at St. Olaf. Students learn key skills like how to utilize campus resources and implement techniques for success with college-level reading and studying through small group conversation, reflection, and the practice of successful academic habits.

TimelyCare. This year we launched TimelyCare, a 24/7, no-cost telehealth service for students to address common conditions that can be safely diagnosed and treated remotely. This service provides students with additional services for medical care, mental health care, health coaching, and psychiatric care.

Thank you to our community who worked to make progress and change happen this year. I am energized and looking forward to building on our dedication and partnership to continue this important work.


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