The Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion is currently hiring for the position of Associate Director for Multicultural Gender and Sexuality after former Associate Director Jessica Cameron left the College in mid-January. The Taylor Center hopes to fill the vacant position by the end of this school year, and in the meantime current Director Martin Olague ’04 will assist in filling the gap left after Cameron’s departure.
Olague detailed Cameron’s departure in an email to partners of the Taylor Center on Jan. 19, explaining that Cameron would be leaving St. Olaf for a position with the President’s Emerging Scholars Program at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, a program focused on educational opportunity for University undergraduates who have demonstrated “evidence of having overcome social, economic, or physical barriers to educational achievement,” according to the program’s website.
Cameron occupied a new position in the Taylor Center after coming to St. Olaf in Aug. 2020, fulfilling a role Olague described as focused on LGBT+ programming. At St. Olaf, Cameron oversaw two Taylor Center peer mentor programs, Connect for Success and Heritage Scholars, each focused on connecting first-year and first-generation students with existing St. Olaf students to build a support network and to facilitate the transition to college life.
According ot Olague, Cameron’s role as Associate Director of Multicultural Gender and Sexuality also aimed to better understand the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality. They saw this as important to ensuring first-year first-generation students felt welcomed at the College and in the Taylor Center in particular.
“All our students have different needs and there’s different programming that we could be doing and should be doing,” Olague said. “So this position was definitely to help us do that.”
“She did a very good job of doing [programming], helping contribute to the Rainbow Run and other things like that,” Olague said. “So our goal in the future is to build off of that and to expand more into different programming which helps the campus feel inclusive and helps the Taylor Center live its message of equity and inclusion.”
In Cameron’s absence Olague has taken over many responsibilities and has started to work with Cameron’s former intern, but he noted that busy schedules and other responsibilities have made meeting the full demands of the open position difficult.
“We definitely want to get the position filled by the end of the school year,” Olague said. “And we really want to help whoever comes in get off to a good start so that they could hit the floor running next year.”
Cameron’s departure marks the third staff member of color to leave the College in the past three years, after former Boe House counselor Nina Mattson ’95 was fired in Oct. 2019, and former Research and Instruction Librarian for Music and the Fine Arts Ellen Ogihara left the College in late Jan. 2021, citing bias and discrimination in the library and information technology services department.
Neither Olague nor Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and former Director of the Taylor Center, María Pabón Gautier, could provide specific details on Cameron’s departure due to reasons of personnel privacy. Cameron could not be reached for comment at the time of this article’s publishing.
Pabón noted that she and her colleagues are aware of the trend of staff of color leaving the College and are taking steps to increase both retention and recruitment of BIPOC staff.
Some actions Pabón and Vice President for Human Resources Leslie Moore ’77 are taking to help the retention of staff of color are expanding the current staff onboarding process — which Pabón said “falls short of what it needs to be” — alongside restarting a BIPOC affinity group to help build community among new staff and holding conversations with different College departments to ensure the messages of BIPOC staff are being heard at all different levels.
For Pabón, a primary goal of these efforts is to make staff of color feel more welcome when they come into their role at a predominantly white institution (PWI), which Pabón said can often feel isolating when new staff may see themselves as “outsiders.”
“I think inherently just entering predominantly white spaces creates a level of stress and hypervigilance for folks,” Pabón said. “If there’s no psychological safety created by institutions and an intentional sense of belonging and connectedness, then folks have a harder time trying to be part of the community.”