Raquel Arredondo: A change-maker for diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education
Raquel Arredondo is one of the 2022 AL DÍA Women of Merit honorees, in the education category.
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Growing up in what she described as “a very traditional Cuban household,” Raquel Arredondo learned very valuable lessons at a young age.
“The general sentiment within the household was: work hard, keep your head down, and don’t do anything that’s going to bring disgrace or dishonor to the family,” said Arredondo in an interview with AL DÍA.
She followed those principles throughout elementary, middle, and high school.
However, once she entered higher education and the workplace, Arredondo started to look at things a bit differently as a woman of color.
“I realized that so much of what I had been taught in the home about not drawing attention to yourself, that actually in the workplace can set you back and limit some opportunities,” she said.
That realization led her to seek out successful professionals to build a network of mentors and sponsors who were making an impact.
“That was a big part of my development as a professional, specific to the work that I do,” said Arredondo.
It became a catalyst for her to pursue her passions, and become the strong voice she is today for historically marginalized and underrepresented groups.
Promoting DE&I in Higher Education
Arredondo earned her undergraduate degree in psychology, before later going into higher education as a grad student.
She began her professional career in higher ed before switching to consulting and human resources, but the pull to return grew strong.
“Just about everything about being in higher ed, the opportunity for learning and to be around that energy of constantly wanting to grow and learn, that was something that spoke to me,” said Arredondo.
She found working in the corporate world quite rewarding, but as she started her family and became a mother, the decision to return to higher ed became a no-brainer.
After a handful of years at Rutgers University, she moved to Drexel University, where she worked for a decade.
During her later years at Drexel, she led DE&I efforts, even co-chairing the Anti-Racism Task Force and the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Action Group during her final year with the university.
“I took advantage of the opportunity to really put into practice the things I had been learning throughout the years in my own professional development,” she noted.
In each role, Arredondo has taken a common approach: looking out for those who have potential and just need an opportunity.
A First in Penn Grad School History
In July 2021, Arredondo was named the inaugural Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.
She was brought into the role to create a framework to help evolve the DE&I work the university had done in the past, but also to create a pipeline of diverse talent within the university.
Her first eight months in the role so far can be boiled down into a single endeavor.
“The DEI principles are pretty much the same anywhere you go, but in order to really do this work effectively and to make an impact, you really need to understand the culture,” Arredondo said.
Through conversations, discussions and dialogue, Arredondo has turned her task-driven, project-oriented approach into trust building and creating more inclusive spaces within the university.
Promoting DE&I has proven to be quite beneficial on multiple fronts. On one hand, there’s the business imperative component.
“Organizations that really embrace a diverse and inclusive culture outperform their competitors,” said Arredondo. “When people feel as if they can bring their full authentic selves to work and feel psychological safety, then they can contribute more, they feel safe to take a risk and offer different ideas and to participate in different things.”
There are also the humanity and justice aspects.
“As a good human being… we can find more commonalities amongst one another than those differences,” Arredondo added.
Arredondo will soon embark on a school-wide climate study that will look at how the university is doing in terms of DE&I and potential opportunities for growth.
“We need to have these metrics,” she noted. “At the end of the day, it’s not just the quantitative work, it’s the qualitative work. It’s how people feel about coming to work.”
Overall, Arredondo hopes to bring to her current role a path to more representation and a more inclusive environment for both students and faculty across the university.