Gatepost Interview: Constanza “Connie” Cabello, Vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement

Courtesy of Framingham State University

What is your educational and professional background?

I feel like if you know me for five minutes, you’ll know that I was born in Chile. But I moved to the Boston area when I was a baby – my family immigrated here. … I went to college, was a first-generation college student, didn’t know anything about what I was doing. I was watching March Madness and I thought those were probably really good schools to apply to. So, I ended up going to UConn for my bachelor’s, and I got my bachelor’s in human development and family studies with a concentration in social policy and planning. When I was at UConn … one of the things I was doing was a work-study job in our student activities office. When I was there, everyone was like, “You should really consider going into higher education as a profession.” … I got my master’s at Central Connecticut State University, and my master’s was in counseling with a focus in student development in higher education. When I was there, I did graduate internships. My first year was in student activities, but my focus was really on the multicultural center. That’s when I really developed my passion for social justice, diversity, and inclusion. … Fast forward, I’ve pretty much worked in New England in different student affairs professional areas, but most recently, I worked at UMass Lowell for four years in their multicultural center, and then transitioned to Stonehill College … and worked there in their intercultural affairs office. When I left, I was actually functioning as the assistant to the president for institutional diversity, which has kind of set me up for this role. I have also recently completed my doctorate at Northeastern. It’s an Ed.D. in organizational leadership studies. 

How did you become interested in your field of study?

I always grew up in communities where there was rich racial and ethnic diversity, but also religious diversity, sexuality diversity, ability [diversity]. College was actually the first space in which I felt completely othered. That was when I really became aware of social problems, justice issues, and I think that happens for a lot of college students. You finally get to this space where you’re out of your comfort zone a little bit, and you’re like, “Whoa, there’s all these things that I’m now noticing.” College is when I really started to develop that passion. And I would say it was when I was in grad school. I started to say, “I can do something about this through education.” I’ve always kind of considered myself a social justice advocate who works in higher education. I’m not sure there’s any other job in higher education I could have. I don’t think there’s any other space I could work in other than diversity, inclusion, and community engagement. … I oftentimes say the best career advice I give people is, “This idea of vocation is not only what you enjoy and what you’re good at, but also what the world needs you to do, too.” … I really wanted to get back to the Massachusetts public school system. I just feel like that’s where equity work really happens. It was exciting to have the opportunity to come back to … particularly the students and families that public state education serves, and that’s very important to me, because that’s who I feel connected to. In terms of the level of the work, knowing that Framingham State has had a lot of racist incidents on campus and a lot of social justice issues … I was like, “You know what? This is a real opportunity.” We know there are real issues. We know there is work to be done. And even though there have been some really negative experiences, I feel the campus is ready to do some work.

What kind of initiatives are you planning and how do you think they’re going to make your time here stand out?

For me, the number one thing I’m doing – I’ve been here 10 weeks – is to listen. It’s the best thing I can do right now. I’m getting a sense of people’s experiences and building relationships, because for me, you can’t do equity work if you don’t have relationships. I’m doing my listening tour. I’m drinking a lot of coffee – I feel like I have coffee with people all day. … My sense of Framingham State is that there are a lot of these pockets of really good equity and diversity and inclusion work happening, but there’s not really this overarching plan that makes it come together. So, longer term, that’s something I really want to work through – how do we coordinate our efforts so we’re working toward something much bigger? The other things I’m really hoping to focus more on … I have this diversity and inclusion piece, which is focused more internally on our community and making sure it’s safe and welcoming and inclusive. The other half of my job is the community engagement piece, so working with the MetroWest area, working with good neighbors and good partners – not just inviting people here, but also getting people out in the community. Some initiatives are taking a good look at our bias education and response protocols and programs, and doing more work around prevention, rather than responding. That’s also really important to me. … Other initiatives I’m thinking through, as we become more diverse in terms of our student body, is the capacity-building of our faculty, staff, and students. That means trainings, workshops, educational opportunities we’re offering to people so that folks are prepared for that. 

What are you looking forward to in particular?

I’m looking forward to learning about FSU traditions and meeting more students. The students I have met with have just been awesome and so gracious with their stories. I think I’m looking forward to being part of this community and becoming aware of our traditions and what makes us special. … I am serious when I say I don’t want people to think that just because I’m “part of the administration” they can’t come to me. I grew up in this field through student affairs, I’m very student-centered, and I want to be meeting with students. I hope folks know that I’m here and I’m visible. I’m on Twitter and Instagram – people can follow me on that. 

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