St. Olaf College | News

Equity and Inclusion Update

A yellow "Equity and Inclusion Update" image with black and white lettering.

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,

What a difference two weeks make! This week the campus has been hustling and bustling as we welcome our TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) Summer Bridge students. Since I started at St. Olaf, I’ve always had a chance to connect with these students, and their excitement is real and palpable. As one of our Council on Equity and Inclusion members said yesterday, “They are ready to be on campus and connect with faculty and staff!”

Do you know what TRIO SSS Summer Bridge is? I spoke to TRIO SSS Director Brian Greening and asked him a few questions to help explain this wonderful program.

What is the TRIO SSS Summer Bridge Program?
The TRIO SSS Summer Bridge program is a four-week residential program that provides 40 first-generation, income-eligible students an introduction to the rigor and pace of the St. Olaf curriculum, all while connecting students to the departments, programs, and other vital stakeholders who will help them be successful during their time on the Hill.

When did this year’s Bridge students arrive and what are they doing?
Students arrived on campus last Saturday, July 31. Shortly after moving in, these new SSS students, who came from all over the country, began a robust college orientation led by SSS professional staff and Summer Bridge student staff. Over the next four weeks students will earn 1.25 St. Olaf credits. They also have a lot of fun! Students enjoy tubing, rock climbing, movies, a Twins game, Mall of America visits, and other social activities to help them get connected.

What should our community know about these awesome students?
Participants do not incur any fees connected to Summer Bridge. Finally, from all that I’ve seen in my six years as the director of SSS, our students enrich the St. Olaf campus through their cumulative experiences and perspectives, along with their individual stories. St. Olaf is an infinitely better and more diverse place on account of our students.

Co-Creating an Inclusive Community
Since my last update, we have made great efforts in completing the synthesis of the co-creating sessions. On August 19, I will be meeting with Associate Professor of Practice in Sociology/Anthropology Ryan Sheppard and her student research assistants to go over the final report. They did an incredible amount of work this summer, and I am extremely thankful for their energy and passion for this work.

On September 9 from 4-5 p.m., I will hold a Virtual Community Forum to present the executive summary of the findings from the co-creating sessions. The community forum will be the official launch of the third phase of the Co-Creating an Inclusive Community Initiative. Professor Sheppard and her research assistants will join me in presenting and answering questions. After the community forum, I will update the campus community once a month about the progress and action steps taken to address the recommendations that surfaced through the co-creating sessions.

Council on Equity and Inclusion
The purpose of the Council on Equity and Inclusion is to “develop and sustain an inclusive, culturally competent community that intentionally engages, uplifts, and celebrates all diversity; removes barriers to full participation in the St. Olaf community and to a St. Olaf education; provides opportunities for students and faculty and staff members to thrive at St. Olaf; and holds all members of the St. Olaf community accountable for the realization of this plan.”

This spring and summer the Council met every other week to revise our charge and update the work. We have made some changes that build upon the great work the previous chairs did and reflect the needs and wants of our community. One of the first changes focuses on increased transparency and regular communication:

  • An updated version of the Council charge has been published on the website. The charge reflects the original purpose of the Working Group Report 2018 and has been updated to address the work that we need to do now.
  • Beginning next week the agendas and minutes of the Council meetings will be published on the Council on Equity and Inclusion website.
  • Do you know our Council members? Every month starting in September, I will highlight one of our members and their vision for the work of equity and inclusion at the College.

The Council on Equity and Inclusion is excited to continue to be part of the change, and our members welcome ideas, topics, and concerns for the group to discuss.

Student Highlight
Student View: One physicist’s reflections on her experience with imposter syndrome. In this powerful personal piece, Kavya Devgun ’21 shares the uncertainty she felt as a woman of color pursuing a STEM career — and how the St. Olaf Society of Women in Physics served as a source of support and mentorship that helped launch her toward a graduate program in aerospace engineering. Kavya, thank you for sharing your story with us!

Opportunities for Development on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism
I would like to share another opportunity to continue learning. This time the focus of the resource is in the intersections of disability rights and equity and inclusion. Our fight for disability rights — and why we’re not done yet. Four decades ago, Judith Heumann helped to lead a groundbreaking protest called the Section 504 sit-in — in which disabled-rights activists occupied a federal building for almost a month, demanding greater accessibility for all. In this personal, inspiring talk, Heumann tells the stories behind the protest — and reminds us that, 40 years on, there’s still work left to do.



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