Correction: This story has been corrected to accurately spell María Pabón’s last name. 

With a sharp focus on student leadership, intersectionality and student identity, Dr. María C. Gautier Pabón began her role as director of the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, formerly the Center for Multicultural and International Engagement (CMIE), on Jan. 21. In the past month, Pabón has worked in collaboration with students, faculty and staff to develop the trajectory of the Taylor Center as it makes its transition from CMIE.

CMIE was established with a mission to provide resources and co-curricular support for domestic multicultural and international students. Myretta and Glenn Taylor ’73 gave a $1 million grant to the College in October 2018 with the aim to expand services provided by CMIE. As director, Pabón is adamant that student ideas remain central to the goals and functionality of the Center. A student advisory committee –among other initiatives – will be created to guide Center programming in the future.

“When I sit down to talk to [students], their goals are very clear – not just for their life but they’re very clear on what they want the Center to be and look like,” Pabón said. “For me, that’s critical. I think the Center needs to be held accountable by the students and that students need to be at the center of it.”

In regards to how the Taylor Center differs from CMIE, Pabón said the grant will provide increased funding and resources that have the potential to reach more international and multicultural students across the St. Olaf community – more specifically, those students who may not have utilized the CMIE space or resources before. LGBTQ support services will also now fall under the Taylor Center umbrella, Pabón said.

“One of the biggest things we have identified is that the groups that currently are in place for LGBTQ students mostly [consist of] white students, so our multicultural students are not part of this group,” Pabón said. “[We are] trying to see how we can serve different groups in the best ways possible and with more resources.”

The intersectionality of student identities will be  emphasized in the Taylor Center moving forward, Pabón said. She wants to be sure students are not asked to “choose between their ethnic background, or their gender or their sexual orientation,” and that instead all historically marginalized identities are welcome in the Center space.

A planned mural, in combination with a wall of rotating student art is one initiative Pabón is excited about. She said the presence of student art in the Center will more accurately reflect and celebrate intersectional identities.

Many of Pabón’s ideas and practices are the result of her initial academic training as an educational psychologist and extensive research and work experience with nonprofits and educational institutions.

The majority of that work revolved around anti-bias education, communities of color and discrimination. It has also included research on educational achievement gaps in public schools and the development of a new psychology major at St. Catherine University.

Pabón wants to actively incorporate other College actors in conversations about intersectionality and equity as well. She wants to the examine College systems, policies and procedures to determine what aspects of the College environment needs improvement.

“How can we make sure that your experience – from the moment you get here to the moment you leave this place – really celebrates who you are, that it doesn’t push you to assimilate or it doesn’t push you to fit this box that you were not supposed to fit in?” Pabón said. “The hope is that students are the ones who can be our light in this journey.”

ellfel1@stolaf.edu