The last in a series of stories about what’s new for the 2019-20 academic year
Dominique Vargas wants to tell students — every one of them, no matter their background — at UW-Stout that she and the university are here for them.
“There’s space for every single, unique human being. That’s why I’m here,” she said.
Vargas is the new — and first — associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion, charged with the task of seeing that all UW-Stout students have access to resources for a successful education and are treated respectfully.
Coming from Sul Ross State University in southwestern Texas, where minority students make up the majority, she’s excited about the different type of challenge at UW-Stout, where minority students made up 13.6% of students in 2018-19.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to work with and support our students,” she said.
While her role is focused on ensuring an equitable experience for students from various identity groups, including those with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ and from various racial and ethnic identities to name just a few, she is also focused on assisting majority students in understanding their role in creating a campus climate in which all students feel safe, welcome and valued.
Serving students is the reason she can be found holding “office hours” from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays where they congregate, in the busy Fireside Lounge next to the Terrace café, on the second floor of the Memorial Student Center. She’s available to speak with any student who might need support or have a question.
“My goal is to make a safe and inclusive environment, and I want to help close achievement gaps (for various groups of students),” she said.
Since starting the position in June, she has been chairing the campus bias response team and developing a retention plan for minority students. On Tuesday, Oct. 22, on campus Vargas will be a panelist for a discussion about hate speech during Free Speech Week.
“Dominique has been a wonderful addition to the Dean of Students staff team,” said Sandi Scott, dean of students. “She has hit the ground running in getting to know students, and I’m confident that students, and ultimately our campus, will benefit from having someone with Dominique’s background who can focus on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion with a degree of intentionality.”
Finding her calling in student services
Vargas came to UW-Stout with about 10 years of experience working with student support services.
She graduated in 2005 from Sul Ross with a degree in communications then earned a master’s degree in 2007 in print journalism from the University of Southern California. She worked as a production assistant for a Sirius XM radio show and for an independent film and TV studio.
Seeking more impact with her career, she returned to Sul Ross as the coordinator of recruiting, a first-year experience adviser and lecturer, then as McNair Scholars Program director for three years. She also earned a second master’s, in counseling, from Sul Ross in 2018.
She realized, having been a first-generation, low-income, minority student, that the student services area of higher education is her calling. “I could pour my heart and soul into it. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun at work in my life. I was helping McNair students attain goals they didn’t even know they could,” Vargas said.
Vargas moved to Menomonie despite never having lived in a northern state — only Florida, California and Texas — and never having been to Wisconsin. She interviewed for the position in February, immediately following the polar vortex when record snow was piled high.
Despite the snow and cold, “I felt good about the job, the people, the students and the room for growth. I felt I could relate to students easily and do good work with them,” she said.
Vargas enjoys running. She completed the Twin Cities Marathon in early October and plans to run Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., next June. She’s running an even longer, and more important, race at UW-Stout.
“Students are looking to be heard. I want to advocate for them,” she said. “I want this to be a community of inclusivity, and it’s partly my responsibility to help build those bridges.”
Dominique Vargas talks with a student, right, and Darren Ward, left, a first-year student adviser, at the UW-Stout student center.