Donna Maeda retires, cites inconsistent support of multiculturalism

Donna Maeda retires, cites inconsistent support of multiculturalism

Estelle Timar-Wilcox, News Editor

On Nov. 1, Donna Maeda retired from her position as dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship (IGC). Since starting the position in 2017, Maeda has worked to strengthen and connect Macalester’s commitments to internationalism and multiculturalism. 

She called the work “exciting” and found others at the college who were enthusiastic about it. But ultimately, she said, a lack of institutional understanding of her work — and the exhaustion that came with it — led her to leave. 

Maeda worked to strengthen Macalester’s commitments to both internationalism and multiculturalism by incorporating each into each others’ definitions. Internationalism by itself, she said, is often treated as purely academic — not as something grounded in students’ experiences. 

“In many colleges and universities, multiculturalism is tied to these difficult histories of race and exclusion and dispossession,” Maeda said. “Some versions of internationalism that are disconnected from multiculturalism may not address or deal with those issues … without dealing with some of those difficult dynamics.”

Day-to-day, Maeda worked with offices like the Center for Study Away, International Student Programs and the Civic Engagement Center. Maeda also helped shape the annual international roundtable and other student and faculty programs, such as the Mellon Mays fellowship and Bonner Community Scholars.

A major challenge in her work, Maeda said, was a lack of consensus at the college about what “multiculturalism” and “internationalism” meant. While they are both core values that Macalester advertises, she found that different people had different definitions of these values in mind. 

“People were using these terms in lots of different ways,” Maeda said. “And, as in any institution, some approaches to any kind of work are supported institutionally and others are not as well supported or can become marginalized.”

These two values developed at Macalester at different times. Internationalism at Macalester dates back to the 1940s and 50s, when the college increased its recruitment of international students and its study abroad opportunities. 

While definitions of it vary, internationalism as a value has been widely accepted at Macalester. It’s a popular concept in higher education — the IGC recently looked at 40 colleges similar to Macalester and found that 20 of them advertised a commitment to internationalism.

Those who have worked with internationalism Macalester note that it has long been seen as intellectual and cosmopolitan. Assistant Dean for College Access and Retention Sedric McClure described that perception of internationalism to The Mac Weekly in 2019.

“Internationalism is sexy, to be quite frank with you,” McClure said at the time. “As a value, it has always had a strong presence, a visible presence at Macalester.” 

Historically, multiculturalism has not enjoyed the same popularity. Macalester began a commitment to multiculturalism in the 1960s with its Expanded Educational Opportunities program, which set aside 75 full scholarships that went mostly to Black, Mexican-American and Puerto Rican students. However, due to budget cuts, the program ended in the 1970s. 

Multiculturalism took a backseat in the following decades, when affirmative action and attempts to emphasize diversity were subjects of lawsuits and political controversy. The college officially cemented it as a pillar of its academics in 1992. 

“Multiculturalism has not been so well supported,” Maeda said. “It doesn’t have the same kind of institutional structures and support [as internationalism].”

Now, Macalester does advertise its commitment to multiculturalism, alongside its other core values of internationalism and service to society. But definitions and understandings of multiculturalism still differ across individuals, departments and administrators.

“Multiculturalism can, for some people, get attached to something that’s more like, ‘how do we help the poor minorities?’” Maeda said. 

After her departure, Maeda described the consequences she’s seen this lack of understanding have on students’ experiences.

“International students have said [to me], ‘we feel like window dressing,’” Maeda said. “A U.S. student of color said to me once, ‘international students are seen as stars, and we are seen as people who need help.’

“That’s really — for students who get treated that way — demoralizing and demeaning,” Maeda continued. 

Students, too, have been vocal about the drawbacks they’ve seen with Macalester’s work around internationalism and multiculturalism. Days after Maeda’s retirement, students staged a sit-in at a listening session with college administration, during which they named several of the same issues that Maeda noticed in her time at Macalester. 

Sudanese international student Rayan Abubaker Ahmed Hamid ’22 organized the sit-in to demand better resources for international students at the college, particularly BIPOC international students, among other things.

With the complexity of the issues at hand came a heavy workload, Maeda said. 

“The work itself gets really magnified, and the work is also not distributed evenly across all areas of the campus,” Maeda said. 

Maeda is not the first staff member to note a heavy workload that comes with working in multiculturalism. When Jason Jackson suddenly left his position at the Department of Multicultural Life (DML) in 2019, several of his coworkers noted how busy the job was. 

The DML has seen several departures and arrivals in the last few years, and a re-shuffling of responsibilities last year.

Maeda said that the workload has grown especially in the last year, with the renewed institutional attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, the arrival of a new president and a “signaling of new directions for the college.” 

Now, she said, more people are getting involved in antiracism and multiculturalism work — but not always in a helpful way. 

“When people who haven’t been engaged in these efforts decide to do something, it’s not clear what analysis grounds what they do,” Maeda wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “This can be problematic and make it difficult for people who have been doing the work for a long time, especially given the racial dynamics.” 

The work continues to fall on the same people who are always asked to do it, Maeda said. 

“BIPOC faculty, staff and students who have taken on extra labor over and over are called on again, often without the voice, power or status to shape the direction of the work,” Maeda wrote. 

Maeda considered retiring earlier, but said she stayed because she wanted to see the IGC through the instability of the pandemic. Then, with the arrival of a new provost and planning for this year’s International Roundtable, she decided to stay through the beginning of November. 

For now, Vice Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty Paul Overvoorde is serving as the interim dean of the IGC. He will hold this position through next semester. Overvoorde previously served as the interim dean in 2016 and 2017, just before Maeda took on the job. 

Provost Lisa Anderson-Levy is overseeing the future of the position. In an email to The Mac Weekly, she said she hopes to start the search for a new dean next semester. 

“Dr. Maeda’s retirement is recent and took place in the middle of the semester,” Anderson-Levy wrote. “Much of the intentional planning regarding this position will be initiated over the winter break.”

The college has a number of opportunities to alter its practices and structures in the near future, with the strategic planning process underway, student critiques of the school and several new administrators and vacant positions. In October, Provost Anderson-Levy wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly that “all existing practices and structures are on the table to be re-imagined” in the strategic planning process. 

Anderson-Levy did not say whether the dean position — or the IGC itself — could look different at the end of the hiring process for a new dean. She did express a commitment to internationalism as a value. 

“As a long-standing and defining asset of the college, internationalism remains something that I am committed to supporting,” Anderson-Levy wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “Our international general education requirement, the scholarship of many of our faculty, and the fact that many members of our community are from various global contexts — both within and outside the US — provides unique learning opportunities and points of distinction.” 

Anderson-Levy indicated that she would be considering the position and the hiring process more over winter break and during the spring semester. 

Maeda hopes that Macalester can make progress on its work in multiculturalism and internationalism — but not while relying on the same people who have been doing this work without support from the college. 

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to work at Macalester because of the people who have been taking on these difficult questions,” Maeda said. “I really think that Macalester is in a moment where it could move in this direction in a really great way … it’s just a really critical moment for everyone to figure out what direction it’s going to take.” 

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