St. Olaf College | News

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,

To all of you who are new to campus this fall, welcome! To those of you who are returning as we begin our academic year, welcome back! This week our colleagues in Residence Life, Student Activities, and the Taylor Center are getting geared up for the semester and starting to welcome our students. I have loved seeing our first-year international Oles walk around campus with their International Student Counselors and take in their new home. A shout-out to the staff and student workers who are our students’ first point of welcome! Thank you!

Yesterday St. Olaf faculty and staff had an opportunity to be back in community together, and it was great to engage with each other. I knew I missed this but didn’t know how much. I had the opportunity to greet some of our first and second year staff and faculty in person. Many of them I had only met and interacted with on Zoom. I found myself at the end of the day looking back at how I had laughed, listened to concerns, and learned, and realized those interactions really energized me. We have a lot of work to do this year to make sure we truly live into our values and continue to build a community where everyone — regardless of identity — belongs, has agency, and finds meaningful connections. But I know we can do it. We got this!    

Co-Creating an Inclusive Community
I will be changing the Co-Creating an Inclusive Virtual Community Forum from September 9 from 4-5 p.m. to September 16 from 4-5 p.m. During this forum, we will share the executive summary of the co-creating sessions report. We will highlight major themes and next steps to continue to build an inclusive community. I look forward to connecting with all of you then!

Places to Be!
On September 9 from 4-5 p.m. the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion will be having its Opening Reception at their lounge (BC111). I will be there and encourage our community to attend and meet (if you haven’t already) new Taylor Center Director Martin Olague and connect with the TC team. 

Bias Response Team (BRT) Update
Last semester, members of the Bias Response Team received feedback during our community workshop about the need to increase staff and faculty representation on the team and racially/ethnically diversify its membership. We completely agree! Therefore, we have added several new members to our team. We would like to welcome Associate Professor of Music David Castro, Assistant Football Coach Joe Troche, and Taylor Center Director Martin Olague to the Bias Response Team. We are very excited about the added expertise and points of views that our new members will bring. 

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism (DEIA) Work Lessons Learned
This week I want to highlight The Acquisitions Project, which a staff member brought to my attention. (Please continue to bring this type of work to my attention and celebrate each other!) 

What is The Acquisitions Project?
In the Art Now course she led last spring, Assistant Professor of Art and Art History Hannah Ryan worked closely with Flaten Art Museum Director Jane Becker Nelson to address a lack of diversity in the college’s art collections, which contributes to a homogenous visual culture for our community members. The ultimate goal of The Acquisitions Project was to better represent the diversity of our community by acquiring works of art by BIPOC artists from BIPOC-owned galleries. The project received $15,000 from the Gronlund family. It was fully integrated into the course curriculum, as the students explored artwork on campus, learned about contemporary art, became acquainted with Flaten Art Museum’s collection priorities, researched BIPOC artists, and, in teams, formally pitched groupings of artwork of up to $15,000. As a class, the students voted and ultimately acquired four works by Georgette Baker, Charly Palmer, and M. Florine Démosthène. Each artist visited the class to discuss their work. 

Why is this project important?
We understand that in order to feel comfortable and welcome in communities, people need to see themselves reflected and represented. The students found that white supremacy extends to the visual culture of the environment and had an opportunity to make real change, and they took their roles very seriously. 

What did success look like in this project?
By partnering early on with Atlanta-based, Black-owned ZuCot Gallery, the students learned about the institutional racism of the collecting and gallery worlds, and committed to making these acquisitions from BIPOC-owned galleries. As an instructor, Hannah found the experience to be a real success of experiential learning; they learned by doing, enjoyed it, and ultimately made a difference. Working with the Flaten Art Museum was a tremendous experience! 

What now? What are the next steps?
These works will initially be displayed together prominently on campus and will then likely be moved to spaces proposed by the students. The project recently received an additional $15,000 to run a DEI-rooted Acquisitions Project this spring semester, which is wonderful because they can apply the lessons learned from the first project to address other gaps in the collection, and fulfill other collecting and display goals rooted in identity and representation. 

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 recordings. See below the recording for one of the latest workshops. In my June Equity and Inclusion Update, you have access to the previous recordings. 



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