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Inaugural VPIEC Dina Zavala talks future of IDE at Carleton

Dina Zavala was recently announced as the inaugural Vice President for Inclusion, Equity, and Community (VPIEC). Zavala, the current Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse will be tasked with implementing Carleton’s community plan for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (IDE), which was formulated in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in the summer of 2020.

Zavala sat down with the Carletonian and discussed the circumstances that drew her to Carleton, the experience she brings to the table and her visions for IDE at the college. She began by hearkening back to the summer of 2020 and how institutions reacted to newly-invigorated calls for racial justice.

“After 2020, everyone had to respond. We had an obligation to respond, especially for our Black communities. We could not be silent,” said Zavala. “The problem was that many organizations and institutions wrote statements or made promises without infrastructure. And people don’t forget, you know? They promised these things without resources, so how are they
going to move the needle forward now?”

Carleton itself ramped up its IDE efforts after the summer of 2020, creating an IDE steering committee in the fall of that year. The committee’s work came to fruition about two years later, when, in April of 2022, the college announced the completed plan.

Though some students criticized the plan, Zavala herself mentioned the IDE plan as a draw to the VPEIC position.

“The IDE plan was very attractive to me. That’s one of the biggest hurdles institutions have — creating a plan,” said Zavala. “When I was told about the position, the first thing I did was look at the plan. I remember reading about all the things they were working on and all the things
they wanted to do. It takes a lot of work to engage everyone in the conversation, so that plan was very important for me to see.”

Zavala will be leaving a similar position at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse as she starts at Carleton. She noted the difficulties of working in public and private institutions and the freedom working at a school like Carleton can provide.

“I know that Carleton has been doing great work with DEI; I am looking forward to getting more familiar with the specifics of the IDE Plan,” said Zavala. “You have had this CEDI [Community, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion] committee, which outlines everything that has been happening at Carleton. In private institutions, the people you have to respond to are very different than at public institutions. You have to respond to the board of trustees and alumni, but there is more
autonomy at a private institution because the accountability is different.”

Although Zavala will be moving from a public to private institution when she starts at Carleton next year, there are similarities between the two schools. For one, both institutions are predominantly white — as are all the institutions Zavala has worked at across the Midwest.

“I’ve always worked at predominantly white institutions. And that is difficult for many students. But even though we are predominantly white institutions, we surround ourselves with pockets of communities that are diverse, that we can build relationships with,” said Zavala. “In the end, it doesn’t matter what cultural background people have: everyone just wants to have a space to thrive. The context might be different in different places, but I have to make sure I provide that space for people to thrive regardless of their backgrounds.”

At UWL, about 90% of the student body is white, whereas at Carleton, that number is around 55%. Zavala expressed her excitement about a more diverse student body and the opportunities it provides the entire college.

“If many more of your peers are diverse, the chances of you having diverse classmates are much higher. I think that’s gorgeous,” said Zavala. “At my current institution the percentage of BIPOC students is smaller than Carleton’s. It’s very small. So it doesn’t give that peer-to-peer opportunity, and that’s a big missed opportunity for students.”

Zavala ended her interview by talking about the first steps she would take in her role as VPEIC, including a strong emphasis on communicating with the community.

“When you look at the macro level, there is so much to get done, and I don’t want to get
overwhelmed yet, because I want to get to know everyone,” said Zavala. “DEI is about relationship building. Building those relationships is what I want to accomplish first — and then after that, I know we have a plan.”

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