After a months-long selection process, Carleton announced that the new office of Inclusion, Equity and Community (IDE) will finally have a leader. On Wednesday, Feb. 22 Dina Zavala was named Carleton’s inaugural vice president for inclusion, equity and community (VPIEC).
Zavala, who is currently the interim vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse (UWL), will head the IDE office originally outlined in the IDE plan released in the spring of 2022.
The plan calls for the college to “create an IDE office that is led by a vice president-level Chief Diversity Officer who reports to the president and is a member of the president’s senior staff, and supported with the staffing necessary to ensure the office’s success.”
A news article released by the college announced that Zavala will “provide vision and strategic direction for policy and programming around all aspects of inclusion, equity and community.”
Zavala had an impressive career in primary education before transferring her focus to IDE work. Zavala was born in Honduras, where she later graduated with a degree in elementary education, and taught kindergarten . After moving to the United States, she had to go back to school to continue teaching and received her B.S. in modern languages and international studies from the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. She then taught fourth grade and high school Spanish around Wisconsin.
Zavala described how her work in education led to her involvement in DEI in a 2022 interview with the UWL “Racquet Press.”
“Teaching students about Latin America, about immigration, about racial disparities in the United States, you know… teaching them about all these really important topics kind of sparked my interest in [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)] work,” said Zavla. “Then I decided that K-12 was not my calling anymore and decided I wanted to get into higher ed.”
After deciding to switch her focus to higher education, she earned a PhD in education from North Dakota State University. She then served as a faculty member in Spanish at Valley State University in North Dakota before becoming the director of the Office of DEI at Mayville State University.
In the same interview with the Racquet Press, she discussed how her work in North Dakota prepared her for DEI work at predominantly white institutions like Carleton.
“Teaching Spanish and also directing the Spanish program at North Dakota opened my eyes a lot,” said Zaval. “One of the things I soon realized about working at a PWI is that you are maybe the only person who is ‘diverse.’”
Carleton’s creation of the office of IDE and Zavala’s hiring are part of a national trend. In 2022, LinkedIn ranked Diversity and Inclusion Officer as the second-fastest growing job in the country. Yet IDE and the increased hiring in IDE-related positions is not without controversy and has recently become a political issue.
The idea of a “DEI bureaucracy” has been the target of attacks from outside as well as inside the academy. Florida governor and likely presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis has made it a centerpiece of his political agenda, announcing in early 2023 that “We are also going to eliminate all DEI and CRT [Critical Race Theory] bureaucracies in the state of Florida…No funding, and that will wither on the vine.” DeSantis did not specify exactly what he was referring to when he spoke of IDE and CRT bureaucracies.
In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Paulette Russel, the president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, responded to DeSantis’s attack.
“It’s clear that the goal is to attack the work, attempt to dismantle the infrastructure and silence the voices across the country,” said Russell.
With the creation of the new IDE office, Carleton administration has positioned itself squarely on the side of IDE work. President Byerly hopes that Zavala will play a crucial role in the college’s IDE efforts:
“By collaborating with, and serving as a resource for, the many offices charged with advancing parts of our IDE Plan, she will expand our capacity for this important work,” wrote Byerly. “Her leadership in this area will help us to become more thoughtful, intentional and effective as an institution and as a community.”
Zavala herself is ready to get to work.
“It is an honor to have been selected as the inaugural vice president for inclusion, equity and community at an outstanding liberal arts institution like Carleton,” Zavala said. “I have been so impressed with the campus community’s investment in and commitment to this work, and I am eager to join in this journey. Our work together will advance the important goals of the IDE Plan and help foster an environment that allows every member of the community to learn, grow and flourish. I look forward to engaging students, faculty, staff and the community in intentional and meaningful conversations that will enhance our shared commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at Carleton.”
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