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Using her voice

Posted 9:13 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021

Dina Zavala, UWL’s assistant vice chancellor for Diversity & Inclusion, was recently named one of Wisconsin's most influential Latino leaders. “The recognition encourages me to continue pushing forward and growing in terms of my leadership in justice, equity, diversity and inclusion," she says.

UWL’s Dina Zavala recognized for leadership in diversity, inclusion

Growing up in the mountains of rural Honduras, Dina Zavala’s grandparents had little formal education.

Their highest level of schooling was the third grade, until her grandfather attended night classes and completed sixth grade in his mid-30s.

“My grandfather was a big influence. Since I was young, he instilled the value of education in me,” says Zavala, UWL’s assistant vice chancellor for Diversity & Inclusion. “He encouraged me to pursue a career in education because he believed that education is transformative.”

Zavala has taken those lessons to heart, making a profound impact on campus and in the community. Recently, Madison 365 named Zavala one of Wisconsin’s 36 Most Influential Latino Leaders — a testament to her many contributions since arriving to La Crosse in 2019.

“It is an honor to be recognized along with other amazing leaders form Wisconsin who are doing great work in the state,” she explains. “The recognition encourages me to continue pushing forward and growing in terms of my leadership in justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. It also means that people are watching the work we are doing at UWL, and for this reason, this recognition is also for the D&I Division.”

Zavala holds a bachelor’s degree in modern languages from UW-River Falls, a master’s degree in instruction from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, and a doctorate degree in education from North Dakota State University. She was also selected to participate in Harvard University’s Women in Education Leadership Institute.

Before coming to UWL, Zavala was the director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Mayville State University in North Dakota, the director of the Spanish program at Valley City State University in North Dakota, and a teacher in elementary and high schools.

Promoting diversity and inclusion has been Zavala’s focus throughout her career. She’s especially proud of the strides UWL’s D&I Division has made in recent years.

"Our units have transformative leaders who believe in the work they do and in serving the needs of historically excluded population within our campus,” she says. “We have accomplished much and will continued to accomplish more. I am so proud of the campus community, their passion for diversity, equity and inclusion work, and their vision for the UWL campus.”

In addition to her position at UWL, Zavala sits on the advisory boards for the Women’s Fund of Greater La Crosse and the La Crosse Community Foundation.

“I appreciate the opportunity to be involved in these organizations because they give me insight into work that is being done locally outside of UWL,” she notes. “I have also learned how dedicated community members are to making the city of La Crosse a welcoming community for all.”

Zavala says those interested in becoming leaders, especially people of color, should not hesitate to make their voice heard. In fact, their leadership is key to creating lasting change.

“You can lead. You need to lead. And your voice needs to be included,” Zavala says. “Diversity, equity and inclusion work is difficult, but you are innovative and brave, and it is you who will complete the work that has been started.”


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