New assistant director of wellness joins Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion

Jenny Ortiz ’15 was hired by St. Olaf this summer as the new assistant director of wellness in the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion. Jon Mergens, who previously held the position, will take over as assistant director for gender and sexuality.

Mergens began at St. Olaf as assistant director of student activities for wellness, overseeing the Wellness Center. When the Taylor Center was opened last spring, Mergens transitioned over, leading to the hiring of Ortiz and Mergens moving to work in gender and sexuality programming full time.

Mergens said he has been passionate about student well-being for a long time, working four years in housing as a student and helping peers with mental health concerns.

Mergens was also an on-call adovcate for a local rape and abuse crisis center. His interests in violence prevention work, holistic well-being, self-care strategies and mindfulness led him to apply to St. Olaf.

“What I’ve kind of come to know over the last four or five years of working in higher education is that my passion really lies with equity and inclusion work,” Mergens said.

Mergens believes this work has a strong home in the Taylor Center, whose mission is to engage students across various identities.

“To say we have a center for equity and inclusion but then not have a position on gender and sexuality wouldn’t make sense,” Mergens said. “Students don’t have to pick and choose which identity they’re coming to this office for — they can be their whole self.”

Mergens is also launching “Out for Lunch,” a monthly series centered on the experiences of LGBTQIA+ people with the intention to make the entire campus a more inclusive space.

The first lunch will be on Sept. 24 and open to all students, faculty and staff. An increase in staff made this and other upcoming programs possible, Mergens said.
Ortiz was involved in TRIO, Student Support Services (SSS) and Student Activities Committee (SAC) during her time as a St. Olaf student. After graduating, Ortiz worked in residential mental health, serving youth 12 to 18 years old as a primary counselor at Northwest Passage. Ortiz then spent two years working at Carleton College under the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant.

Ortiz approaches her new role at the Wellness Center with both a preventative and a proactive framework. She is focused on engaging all different areas on campus, utilizing data and assessing current programs to support all demographics.

By integrating all dimensions of wellness and creating accessible programming, Ortiz hopes there is something for everyone in the work that they’re doing.

According to Ortiz, her goal is to “create a campus environment where people are leaving and have that toolbox of skills that they’re going to use for the rest of their life.”