María Pabón Gautier named Vice President for Equity and Inclusion
St. Olaf College President David R. Anderson ’74 has announced the appointment of María Pabón Gautier as the college’s vice president for equity and inclusion.
Pabón came to St. Olaf in 2019 to serve as the inaugural director of the Glenn and Myretta Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion. She has served as the interim vice president for equity and inclusion since the beginning of spring semester, leading a campus-wide initiative to create a more inclusive community and partnering with programs and offices across campus. She will assume her role as vice president for equity and inclusion on June 1.
“María is an exceptional leader who is passionate about the work of creating an equitable and inclusive campus,” Anderson says. “She is held in high regard by students, faculty, and staff who have seen her knowledgeable and thoughtful work in the Taylor Center. I’m delighted to welcome her to this new position and to the President’s Leadership Team.”
“I am honored and humbled. I have said before that this work is personal for me not just because I am Puerto Rican, Latina, a woman of color, but because I want to leave a legacy for my daughters to be proud of,” Pabón says. “I love our community and know we have the capacity and passion to do this work. Sometimes, we just need the ‘how.’ My main goal this next year is to work with our students, staff, and faculty on the ‘how’ while acknowledging the hard work already happening. We are re-establishing trust among each other, and I believe in us.”
As director of the Taylor Center, Pabón developed collaborative programs exploring identity, with an emphasis on race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. She created structures that uplifted a culture of inclusiveness and openness at every level of the college, and worked with campus partners to develop opportunities to support the enrollment and persistence of underrepresented students. In doing this, Pabón restructured the Taylor Center to focus on the intersection of students’ identities. Her mantra “Come in as you are — you don’t need to pick or choose what identity you bring into the space” is represented in every corner of the Taylor Center and its initiatives, from the student mural at the center’s lounge to the new identity-based first-year programs and senior celebrations. Pabón recognized that for this work to be authentic, the voices of those impacted by it needed to take center stage. Therefore, she worked with her team to create multiple advisory committees to inform and lead various aspects of the work.
Pabón led the college’s work to launch a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity March and oversaw the launch of the George Floyd Fellowship for Social Change. She also redesigned the physical space that houses the Taylor Center to provide increased support for student engagement, organization, and programming. Pabón increased and enhanced the nature of the Taylor Center’s equity, inclusion, and social justice work by creating programs that intentionally partnered with other offices, departments, and specific faculty.
“This work should never live in a silo. The only way we dismantle racism is by making racism everyone’s issue — not just Black, Indigenous, and People of Color,” Pabón says.
While serving as the interim vice president for equity and inclusion, Pabón has co-led the launch of the Co-Creating an Inclusive Community initiative with Vice President for Mission Jo Beld. This 18-month project brings students, faculty, staff, and leadership together to work on creating a place where everyone, regardless of identity, can find a sense of belonging, connectedness, and agency in our community. Pabón leads the college’s Bias Response Team and chairs the Council on Equity and Inclusion. She also started a series of Equity and Inclusion Updates that she shares regularly with the St. Olaf community.
“I recognize that in order to do the work of inclusion and anti-racism, we need to come at it from multiple angles,” Pabón says. “We have to work as leaders to recognize racist, sexist, homophobic structures and dismantle them. We have to work as staff and faculty in our teams and spaces and ask ourselves ‘Who are we missing and why?’ We have to work with students to help them use their knowledge to make not just a better St. Olaf, but a better world for those who live on the margins.”
Pabón earned her Ph.D. in educational psychology at the University of Minnesota and her B.S. at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. Her teaching and scholarship have focused in areas of ethnic identity, microaggressions, anti-bias education, social justice, and issues of diversity and equity. She has served on the faculties of St. Catherine University and the University of Minnesota, and in the nonprofit field.
Pabón has more than 15 years of experience working and applying skills to advance social justice, equity, and the representation of marginalized communities, and more than 15 years of experience in research, assessment, and evaluation in nonprofit, higher education, government, and K-12 settings. Originally from Puerto Rico, Pabón is passionate about integrating her cultural background, identity, and traditions into everything she does.