Since María Pabón began her role as director of the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion Jan. 21, the Center has worked to implement a number of initiatives. These include the formation of a general student advisory team for the Center called Represent, which will work to address issues faced by LGBTQ students of color. The Center also created an allies program and sponsored the Diversity Awareness House, the International House and the Gender and Sexuality House.
“We want students to be at the center of everything we do, so we have created different advisory groups to inform the work that we do.” Pabón said. “We meet every other week and it is about having discussions and conversations about new programs, new initiatives, how should we go about this.” Pabón said.
Pabón selected students for both advisory teams who are members of underrepresented groups on campus and are natural leaders.
Represent, which formed in March, aims to “talk about a more intersectional view of the LGBTQ community on campus,” member of Represent Guadalupe Romero ’20 said.
“We felt like a lot of students still didn’t really feel like they had a position on campus, specifically students of color,” Romero said. “We decided to try to be a voice for those students and create a space for them in the Taylor Center.”
Represent is planning to become an official student organization in the near future, Romero said.
The new allies program, which will begin next academic year, will include a comprehensive training program for St. Olaf community members of privileged identities to learn how to make positive change on campus for marginalized members of the St. Olaf community. The program will push trainees to consider their identity and its implications in terms of race, gender, sexual identity, income and other categories.
“We all have a responsibility to be a part of the change and not wait for someone else to do it for us.” – María Pabón
“We all have a responsibility to be a part of the change and not wait for someone else to do it for us,” Pabón said. “The hope is to provide more intentional training, so if you’re in this bucket, then this is the route that you should take.”
The Taylor Center became the sponsor of the Diversity Awareness House, the International House and the Gender and Sexuality House in part because it removes the burden of logistical work from students interested in living in them, Pabón said.
“Normally when students apply to honor houses they have to be responsible for recruiting people to be there, also to do fundraising to put programming out there,” Pabón said. “Our houses don’t have to do that, we’ll be in charge of interviewing students and we’ll make sure they [the houses] will always be present.”
The houses will also give students the opportunity to “put that passion that they have for equity and inclusion into programming that reaches the broader audience” and “look at the intersectionalities between race, nationality, gender and sexual identity,” Pabón said.
Pabón wants to implement a more comprehensive first-year program for international students.
“A lot of the work right now focuses on Week Zero and continuing orientation and everything that we do in between has to do with immigration,” Pabón said. “We should keep doing that, but also add to improve student experience that is beyond your immigration status.”
Pabón also wants to develop a support program for first-year students of color. This program will collaborate with the Academic Support Center, TRIO McNair and the Piper Center. Following its implementation, first-year students of color will be mentored by upperclass students of color called Multicultural Ambassadors, Pabón said.
The Taylor Center will host an open house May 3 to discuss its goals. It will feature performances, collaborations between faculty and students and food, Pabón said.
Dea Brown ’21, a member of the general advisory group, said the wide scope of the Taylor Center’s work is a new challenge the advisory group is dealing with. Before the center was renamed, it was known as the Center for Multicultural and International Engagement (CMIE) and did not work to address issues faced by members of the LGBTQ community.
“Since we’re combining the gender and sexuality office and CMIE into one area, where do we have the space for everyone?” Brown said.
Although the wider scope is a challenge, it is a positive one due to the new intersectional approach, Pabón said.
“I don’t like to see it as a drawback, I see it as a positive because students are starting to have the conversation,” Pabón said. “How do we create spaces where you can come in and don’t have to pick or choose?”