UW-Eau Claire announced on April 5 the appointment of Olga Diaz, new vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and student affairs.
Diaz is from Escondido, California, where she served as a city council member for three terms. Her previous position was at Palomar College in San Marcos, California, as director of student success and equity.
Diaz said although she didn’t expect to find herself in local government, she found her passion for EDI through her work.
After encountering racist policies, Diaz said she knew she had to try to make a difference and run for office, being the first person of color to be elected in the city.
“You don’t get to just walk past injustice and pretend like it’s not your problem,” Diaz said.
Taking over the position from Warren Anderson, Diaz said she is aware of the challenges the university has recently faced, including racist incidents on social media. Diaz said she is driven by education and conversation around difficult issues.
“I have a little bit of compassion for young people who make really bad mistakes,” Diaz said. “Add a lens of compassion, it doesn’t excuse, it doesn’t forget, but giving someone a second chance is restorative justice.”
A California native, Diaz said she has valuable connections to Eau Claire that influenced her decision to join the campus. Her husband grew up in Eau Claire and his father, James Phillip Griffin, was a philosophy professor and department chair for philosophy and religious studies.
Diaz said she is excited to continue the work that she loves in Eau Claire, a town that is already special to her.
“I’m excited to figure out where I fit in and where I can help,” Diaz said. “I’m very impressed with the progress that Eau Claire has made. The people who have come before me really set (the campus) up for success.”
Teresa O’Halloran is the university’s affirmative action director and has been serving as interim vice chancellor for EDI and student affairs during the gap between Anderson and Diaz.
O’Halloran said the position is important because it carries a voice for EDI at the “top levels of institutional administration.”
“(Diaz) understands higher education administration in its many dimensions and also has extensive political experience,” O’Halloran said. “She has a passion for serving students that will mesh well with our best practices and aspirations at UW-Eau Claire.”
Chancellor James Schmidt said there was “overwhelming support” for Diaz’s appointment, and he “has no doubt” that Diaz will be successful in her work on campus. Schmidt also pointed out the importance of working for EDI in the community as a whole.
“We can do everything right, and we haven’t, but we can do everything right on our campus to make us a positive and welcoming environment with a broad diversity spectrum,” Schmidt said. “But we also have a responsibility to help lead in our region.”
Schmidt said the EDI head is key when it comes to connecting with the community and working toward diversity. Diaz’s experience in local government will make her a very effective individual for that role, Schmidt said.
In addition to EDI on campus and in the community, Diaz said she is excited to do environmental work.
“There’s a component of equity that is based on environmental justice,” Diaz said. “It’s often the case that communities of color or lower socioeconomic status communities end up with the highest rates of air and water pollution.”
Diaz serves on the Escondido Creek Conservancy board, among other environmental advocacy pursuits, and said she is looking forward to engaging and exploring nature and the environment in Eau Claire.
Diaz begins work on June 14, 2021, and said she will be spending time finding where she can fit into the campus community, exploring coffee shops and continuing work as a doctoral student.
“You might see me in the library studying and doing homework on the weekends,” she said.
Diaz’s goal for EDI work at Eau Claire revolves around conversation, she said. It’s important to present uncomfortable topics to encourage growth. From local politics to the dinner table, she takes the same approach, Diaz said.
“Bringing difficult topics to the surface in a way that people can engage with is much more productive than everybody yelling at each other,” Diaz said. “That’s the purpose of having dialogue.”
To find out more about Diaz, visit her website.
DeLapp can be reached at [email protected]