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“Diversity is Disruption.” Dr. Louis Macias takes on new role as Associate Dean for DEI at UW College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

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Nearly 30 years ago, when tracking was in vogue in education, young Louis Macias was placed in the track for kids not expected to graduate from high school. 

And just last month, Dr. Louis Macias, 39, took on the new role as the associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Wisconsin College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

“It was essentially a dropout prevention program,” he said of that track he found himself in all those years ago. “As a fifth grader, you had your normal curriculum and they were already starting to talk about tracking you with trades and essentially tracking you away from a high standard or a high impact educational experience at 10 years old, which was wild.”

He doesn’t feel he was tracked that way because he’s Latino – he grew up in Miami, where many of his teachers were also people of color. But it was a lesson in judging people unfairly.

“I’m fascinated with this idea that we get people wrong, and in doing so we miss on this universe of talent and potential. That’s just very tragic,” he said. “The DEI angle becomes, who is most likely to be adversely impacted by that? Well, it tends to be your underrepresented folks, whether it’s people of color, women, as LGBTQ people, disabled folks. These are the people that tend to bear the brunt when we get it wrong.”

While it wasn’t a straight path, he said that experience of being judged wrong ultimately led him to doing DEI work.

“I think most folks that do this work, at least most of the good ones, all had that sort of origin story of where what motivated them to do this,” he said.

A first-generation college graduate, he knew he wanted to work with youth and started his career as a middle school and high school social studies teacher. After six years teaching, Macias moved into higher education, where he worked in student support roles at Florida State and Florida International while earning a doctorate. 

“I started every day (working) with the students. I was doing advising work, pre-college program work, kind of really that in-the-weeds support directly with students,” he said. “And over time, I was an assistant director for a campus multicultural affairs office at Florida International University, which is in Miami. And then from there finished my doctorate and came up to Wisconsin back in 2015 after a national search. At that point in my career, I had been really open to just searching nationally and finding the best fit, and incidentally, that was here.”

That first Wisconsin job was to oversee admissions and a pre-college preparation program in the Business School. From there, he moved to the Law School and then to the University of Wisconsin Police Department, where he took on his first job with “diversity” in the job title.

Macias became Executive Director of Recruitment, Diversity and Inclusion for UWPD in September 2019, helping the department recruit more diverse candidates for jobs as well as measure and evaluate policing practices. 

He also initiated the Equity Dashboard, which he called the “signature piece” of his tenure, and which allows the UWPD to not only measure policing practices but make them public. The dashboard categorizes police calls by type as well as by the race and gender of the community members involved.

He noted that the dashboard was designed with community input, allowing the community to inform which data it wanted to see. He said too often, it’s the white-led institutions deciding what “equity” means.

He also said his time at UWPD taught him that wanting equity is never enough.

“The will wasn’t the problem,” he said. “The real barrier, the real obstacle is the how. How do we actually move from point A to point B in a way that actually makes a positive difference for people?”

Macias said he intends to bring what he learned in that process to his new role at CALS.

“We’re throwing around ‘equity’ and ‘justice’ and all of these buzzwords that you hear about policing. Okay, how about we all just assume that we all want the same things?” he said. “And I think very quickly folks realize that it wasn’t enough, that we needed to actually define, what does equity in policing mean? And I think some of the work I’m doing now and how it translates is asking the same question. What is equity in the context of a university?”

He just started his current job on January 18, so he’s still working on helping CALS define that. One policy measure already in place, though, is that all CALS faculty and staff will need to undergo DEI training.

“I think that’s a big deal. I think it’s really a way that CALS is leading, because that’s not something that is sort of the case of campus-wide just yet,” Macias said. “I think other units are definitely talking about it, but this is something that CALS has committed to. I see it as my responsibility to make sure that (goes well). There’s a lot of pitfalls. If you do it the wrong way, it could really go sideways. I want to make sure that the wisdom of that decision is honored.”

Macias said he intends to hold CALS leadership accountable for actually doing the work for equity, not just diversity.

“There’s this sense of, well, if we get enough people of color in the room, if we get enough women in the room, if we get enough pick your identity group in the room, then there’s going to be this magic fairy dust that they bring. And we’ll somehow all be transformed. No,” he said. “Diversity doesn’t preclude us from work. I’ve often said that diversity is disruption and if we’re not prepared for that disruption, then we aren’t prepared to capitalize on all of the benefits that come with it. That disruption is a good thing, it’s a positive thing, but we have to be prepared … to capitalize on that.”

This content was originally published here.

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