These women agree that educating people about the importance of having a diverse, equitable and inclusive society requires the joint work of institutions and individuals around the state.
While working for a subcontracting company in Boston in 2015, Dorca Paulino ’12, became the first woman and person of color to get a promotion as an estimator in the local branch.
“Every time I went to a meeting I was the only woman and person of color,” she recalls. “That’s when I had an ‘aha’ moment and felt a calling to get engaged with public service. I wanted to change what diversity looked like at the state level.”
A year later after her promotion, she resigned from her job and went to Roger Williams University to get her master’s degree in Public Administration. By 2017, she became the first diversity officer for the Rhode Island Supreme Court, leading the judiciary's diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Paulino came to this country from the Dominican Republic in 2002 as a freshman in high school. After graduation she went to the Community College of Rhode Island and later transferred to Rhode Island College to get a degree in psychology and accounting studies. She began her career in human resources where she managed payroll processes for different projects in the subcontracting industry, including projects that received federal funding. That’s where she learned about compliance and how it relates to diversity and minority recruitment, lessons that would help steer her towards her eventual career in diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I am a big believer that success happens when opportunity meets preparation,” she says. “When I look back into my life, every experience since I moved here prepared me for the job that I have now, and every step created the path that I find myself on.”
The same year that Paulino was getting her master’s degree, Shontay Delalue Ph.D. ’14, a proud first-generation college graduate and African American woman, obtained a Ph.D. in education through a joint program of the University of Rhode Island and RIC. She is currently the vice president for diversity and inclusion at Brown University.
Delalue finds a combination of opportunity and challenges in her work. “For me, as someone who identifies as part of an underrepresented racial group, the challenge and opportunity is ensuring that the voice of the voiceless is represented, and people of different marginalized groups are given access to a vast array of experiences and the chance to thrive.”
Both Delalue and Paulino have found that working towards having a more diverse, equitable and inclusive state is challenging, but not impossible. Their work every day ensures that these principles are not only dreamt about by some, but instead practiced by the institutions and teams that they are part of.
Anna Cano- Morales M.S.W. ’99, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Rhode Island college agrees with them, “this work can feel daunting but for those of us entrusted to do it, we are proximate every day to injustice. The small wins and successes are not so small.”
She went on to say that, “it is hard to separate yourself from DEI work because, if you are a person of color or with a historically marginalized identity, you are also experiencing micro aggressions and you are working under a social construct that was not built for you.”
Delalue believes one of the steps to making that happen is that Rhode Islanders can learn more about each other’s cultures. “I study race and a part of my research is understanding the history of racial classifications: Where did they come from? When did we create the labels Black, white, Asian, and Latinx? How can we move beyond the labels to see the richness of our various backgrounds?” she stated. “It is important not to see each other in boxes, because there is diversity within the Asian community, the African diaspora, the Latinx community. It is on all of us to do the work to understand how rich and diverse we are, and how much underrepresented groups have changed this country for the better. In Rhode Island given the small size of our state, we have a unique opportunity to work across races.”
“I think the lack of awareness and education has really been hurting the United States as a nation,” Paulino adds. “I love that diversity is now a field of its own.”
In her work at the Supreme Court, she trains people on cultural awareness and customer service, and how to implement them for the benefit of a diverse population. “A lot of people were not exposed to these practices before,” she notes. “Sometimes I face situations that remind me of my own experience coming here as an immigrant, when I didn’t speak English, and of the younger people in my family and the challenges that they might encounter just because of who they are, what they look like and who their parents are.”
These women agree that educating people about the importance of having a diverse, equitable and inclusive society requires the joint work of institutions and individuals around the state. “Cultural groups like Progreso Latino, the African Alliance and Southeast Asian organizations are critically important because they understand the needs of their specific communities,” Delalue says. “The next level is supporting those organizations and ensuring they are not shouldering the collaborative work alone.”
Paulino believes that “we can all work hard and hold people and organizations accountable, beginning with conversations and exposing people to different perspectives.” She adds, “We sometimes look to organizations to influence change, because people in positions of power should be the ones to support this effort, but the effort should be led by the community as a whole and by each individual. It might sound cliché, but it starts with the conversations we have at home, and how we react to people who are different than us in moments of conflict. People are not really taught to deal with conflict.”
Delalue explains that whatever is happening in society will eventually make its way to our institutions. “Our responsibility is to acknowledge what is happening in the country and to engage with our community about what we can do to address it. If you want more diverse constituents in your community you have to put together a plan for equity and inclusion, and execute on that plan.” She concludes, “Diversity is about composition, intentionally bringing in people from a variety of different backgrounds. Inclusion is making sure they feel a sense of belonging. And a major component of equity includes consistently reviewing your policies to ensure fairness in your practices.”
Cano-Morales often interacts with Paulino and Delalue and considers them great colleagues in the field. “We have supported one another when it was needed and that is an important aspect to keep in mind—this work is not for the faint of heart.”