St. Olaf College | News

Equity and Inclusion Update

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

Dear St. Olaf Community,

As we close one of the most difficult and trying academic years that most of us have experienced, I want to highlight the strength that I have witnessed in our community, the injustices that continue around the world, and the opportunity to enter a time that for many is filled with conflicting feelings. I want to highlight how we have all learned to hold it all — the good, the strong, the bad, and the painful.

I have witnessed the strength of our people when we had to change everything about our day-to-day lives while being constantly worried for our health and the health of loved ones and our communities. I witnessed the support from our alumni when they answered our call during winter break and brought care packages for students who had to stay behind and were away from their families. I witnessed the love we gave each other during times when many of us just wanted to scream.

I recognize that sometimes our focus becomes U.S.-centric and we add to the invisibility that many of our students who call other countries home feel. As we come to the end of this academic year, I want to acknowledge the pain and helplessness that many of our students and colleagues from Colombia, Palestine, Israel, and India are feeling. In some cases students and colleagues are grappling with war, genocide, and a different reality of a health pandemic that has killed too many of our siblings. Several of our students have organized a fundraiser to support the people of India, where a second wave of COVID-19 is having a devastating impact; please consider donating if you can.

To our seniors, commencement is a time when conflicting feelings arise. There is hope and excitement for what is to come and your next journey. For some, you are the first one in your family to graduate from college. I see you and how your chest couldn’t fill more with pride. There is anxiousness and uncertainty for what is to come and your next journey. For some, the plans you had did not go as you wanted, but know that this is only the beginning. You will have many chances and opportunities. Who knows, maybe this detour is everything you didn’t know you needed. For some, there is sadness because you will not have the most important people in your life here to celebrate graduation with you. I can’t imagine how hard this must be and how much emotional space this is taking during this time. To my staff and faculty colleagues: if you know one of these students, connect with them by putting a card in their mailbox acknowledging that this is difficult, or maybe by attending Commencement and cheering them on. St. Olaf has been home for many of our students for the last four years, and I am sure you have gotten to know and deeply care for them.

This is my last Equity and Inclusion Update for this month. I will be celebrating our students during the last week of May. I hope you find time to celebrate each other because you have earned it and deserve to take a pause and reflect on all you have accomplished this year. We have a lot of work to do, but I am hopeful that we can do it together.

Staff of Color Review of Experiences
Last semester we conducted one-on-one interviews with faculty of color to learn about their experiences on campus, strengths, barriers, and challenges to their success. We have started conducting the same type of interviews with staff of color. I believe the experiences, challenges in the workplace, and strengths of staff are different than of faculty. I identified a sample of staff members who represent different races, ethnicities, and genders, who have served at St. Olaf for varying lengths of time, and who represent a cross-section of divisions to participate in this review. The interviews are being conducted by Kumea Shorter-Gooden from Shorter-Gooden Consulting. Kumea has been working with St. Olaf for some time now and conducted the faculty of color interviews and wrote the report on their experiences. She has taught, trained, consulted, and published on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion for more than 25 years. The staff of color interviews and report will be completed by June. Thank you to the staff who have participated in this process!

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism (DEIA) Work Lessons Learned
Get Help Page
The Marketing and Communications team, in collaboration with Vice President for Student Life Hassel Morrison and Director of Title IX and Equal Opportunity Kari Hohn, have developed a new Get Help page. Get Help is a one-stop page that houses all of the college’s reporting mechanisms. The idea is that students, staff, and faculty would turn to this page whenever they need to report anything, from bias to Title IX incidents. They are currently working on a promotion campaign to spread the word and have added a link to the site in the footer of the college website for quick access. Attached is a poster if you would like to print and display in your work space on campus.

Center for Advising and Academic Support (CAAS) Anti-Racism Initiative
Our colleagues in the Center for Advising and Academic Support (CAAS) share this about their Anti-Racism Initiative:

The purpose of the CAAS anti-racism effort was multifaceted. First, we felt compelled to go beyond our stated diversity, equity, and inclusion commitment to work toward creating an anti-racist center. After brainstorming goals and ideas, our team divided into three groups:

  • Group 1: “Official” DE&I Goals as submitted to the Council on Equity and Inclusion
    • This group focused on ensuring that the stated goals submitted to the Council on Equity and Inclusion were achieved (e.g., implicit bias in hiring student employees).
  • Group 2: Staff anti-racism development
    • This group developed a weekly and biweekly training opportunity for our team. During semester I and Interim we completed LinkedIn Learning courses. Each Friday, our team came together for an hour to discuss. During the second semester, we all contributed to the training schedule through 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, Educator Edition as well as other readings, videos, and podcasts.
  • Group 3: Student Engagement Efforts/Advisory Board
    • This group formed a CAAS Student Advisory Board. The group proactively reached out to all of the multicultural organizations on campus to seek their feedback on CAAS services. We intentionally decided that serving on the CAAS Student Advisory Board would be a paid position, a key factor in not engaging in unpaid emotional labor.

Lessons Learned:

  • Students provided honest and helpful feedback.
  • The team learned a lot during our anti-racist training staff meetings and grew closer as a group.
  • The weekly training and focused discussions served to keep equity and inclusion at the forefront of everything we do in CAAS.
  • Shared workload/teams allowed us to make more progress.
  • Weekly group sharing on our progress in staff meetings kept a continued focus on our DEIA work throughout the year.
  • We actually achieved some goals before the end of the year so we added new goals!
  • We presented our initiatives at the National College Learning Center Association conference. Here are our slides.

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. The April eConvening is titled: Accountability and Incentives for Advancing Racial Equity. Access the eConvening here.

Academics for Black Survival and Wellness (A4BL) is back! On June 1, the anti-racism training content from last year will be available. The  Black wellness content is accessible now. From Juneteenth to July 3, we will have new Black wellness and anti-racism training content, events, and workshops that will be synchronous and asynchronous. Registration for 2021 A4BL opens on May 24.



Dr. María C. Pabón Gautier
Interim Vice President for Equity and Inclusion
Director of the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion