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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,

In February we celebrate Black History Month. We take time to pause and recognize, highlight and amplify the achievements, culture, and contributions of the Black community. It is an opportunity to restate our commitment for racial justice and dismantling systemic racism. However, it is vital that work doesn’t end, or only happens in February, and that we are charting a path forward for our current and future generations. It is the responsibility of all of us, especially those who hold privilege and power, to make sure we are investing and engaging in the success and well-being of our young Black people. As the NAACP stated in 2020, “… Black history is made every day, and we all should remember that year-round.”

Who better to take the message of engagement and liberation than poet Langston Hughes with I look at the world.

I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face —
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.

I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face —
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!

I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.

Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.

Black History Month Event: To Repair: An Introduction
Join Assistant Professor of Music Tesfa Wondemagegnehu as he introduces his “To Repair” project. “To Repair” was a 60-day, 40-stop research pilgrimage across the eastern half of the United States, collecting narratives from Black community members, activists, artists, clergy, and politicians whose work focuses on repairing the Black community.

To Repair: An Introduction

February 15, 2022, at 5:30 p.m.

Virtual Event 

Add Event to the Calendar!

Martin Luther King Jr. Day
I want to give special thanks to the MLK Day Committee, led by Taylor Center Director Martin Olague, for organizing opportunities for members of our community to engage in reflection and discussion around this year’s holiday. In case you missed it, Assistant Professor of Religion Timothy Rainey II  was the featured speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Chapel Service. Watch it here!

Moving forward. The MLK Day Committee also submitted a proposal earlier this academic year to honor, recognize, and celebrate MLK Day as a campus holiday. This means students would not have classes on MLK Day, and faculty and staff would have the day off. The proposal was approved by the President’s Leadership Team this fall. The next steps are for the faculty Curriculum Committee to take up the proposal and submit it to a faculty vote. I thank everyone who worked on the proposal, and I look forward to updating you on the outcome.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism (DEIA) Work Lessons Learned
Did you know that our students, staff, and faculty are rock stars? I would love to share some of the great successes of our campus community. If you know of accomplishments by students, staff, and faculty, please send them my way. Celebrating each other is important to do as often and as loudly as possible!

Congratulations, Samirah Tunks! Samirah Tunks ’23 is a TRIO McNair Scholar and Posse 6 Scholar who worked with Visiting Assistant Professor of Social Work and Family Studies Erica Kanewischer and a team of students, including Claire Mueller and Mia Pylkkanen, last summer in McNair-funded research. They recently published Hardships and Resilience: Families in a Pandemic. I asked Samirah how would she describe the importance of her work:

“As the pandemic continues, it is important to recognize the experiences of families with school-aged children. Our work adds to the limited research on the impacts of COVID-19 on these families, but we included BIPOC families who experience a pile-up of unique stressors and whose voices are often not represented in research. As a woman of color and a BIPOC student, I have a passion and commitment to assist in improving the lives of young children and their families through education and involvement. We hope that our research will aid communities in helping families cope and remain resilient during the pandemic and beyond.”

Congratulations, Chang Dao Vang! Chang Dao Vang ’11 is the director of Student Support Services for Students with Disabilities (SSSD). This year, he worked with the SEAD Project to translate social justice terms into Hmong, and it has officially been published. The SEA Alphabet of Social Justice is a free resource available to all in the community. Check this resource and many others to support the Black Lives Matter movement.  I asked Chang Dao how would he describe the importance of his work:

“Translating social justice terms in Hmong recognizes that the Hmong people’s voices matter in the fight for social justice. It bridges the communication gap between the youth and their elders who are passionate about social justice to empower conversations of change within the Hmong diaspora and greater community.”

Congratulations, Sequoia Nagamatsu! Associate Professor of English Sequoia Nagamatsu’s publication of How High We Go in the Dark has generated national attention from the New York Times, the Star Tribune, and Minnesota Public Radio. His novel, although written before the COVID pandemic, is an opportunity to offer hope and possibility. I already ordered my copy!

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Symposium
Save the Date: May 6-7, 2022: Join us for our inaugural St. Olaf Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Symposium, where we will recognize and share the excellence, challenges, and work ahead in higher education and beyond.

Call for Proposals: The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office and the Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion invite students, staff, faculty, and alumni to submit proposals for presentations, posters, or roundtables for our inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Symposium: Recognizing Excellence, Challenges, and the Work Ahead. We seek proposals that address ongoing and emerging areas of social justice, representation, equity, access, inclusion, and psychological safety pertaining to communities in higher education and society at large. For more information and to submit proposals, go here.

Opportunities for Development on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism
As part of our membership in the Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance (LACRELA), we have started to get access to the monthly convening/training live and recordings for faculty and staff. See below the recording for one of the latest LACRELA workshops.

Bias Report Update
As part of continuing to educate and inform the community about our bias reporting process, this week I will highlight some of the most common practices to address incidents. When the Bias Response Team recommends next steps after an incident, it is based on the desire, preference, and community standards to support the person or community who was harmed.

Most Common Practices. 

  • One of the most common requests we receive from individuals who have been harmed is that we talk to the person(s) who did the harming to increase awareness and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  • Another option is to participate in restorative justice. The purpose of this practice is to repair the harm by providing an opportunity to have mediated and guided conversations about the impact of an action.
  • Investigations are one of the least used options, and many times this option is used when the person harmed wants an outside perspective.
Total Reports* Intakes** Restorative Justice Process Investigations
29 27 1 1

*Reports are from Sept 2021-Jan 2022
**Intakes are not done when a report is anonymous or the reporting party requests to not be contacted
***Reporting Parties: 20 students, 7 staff members, 0 Anonymous, 2 Faculty
****Responding Parties: 5 students, 1 staff members, 8 Unknown, 15 Faculty
*****Targeted parties: 22 students, 0 staff members, 6 Unknown, 1 Faculty


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