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Planning With Passion: Stephanie Díaz de León

Stephanie Díaz de León

For the past 15 years, Stephanie Díaz de León has been an integral member of the Wisconsin Union team. Her job titles and responsibilities have evolved as the years have passed, but her hard work, determination and passion remain as strong as ever. 

Stephanie joined the Union team in 2006 as an event planner, a title that she held until 2018, when she became signature event planner. Since November 2020, she has split her time between her roles as signature event planner and the diversity coordinator for the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs’ leadership and engagement team. 

In addition to her jobs in the Union, Stephanie also contributes to Madison365, a local nonprofit news outlet that features stories largely for and about communities of color. Not only has she written nearly 300 articles for the site, Stephanie also co-hosts a daily podcast titled “It’s Only 10 Minutes,” in which she and her husband recap current events in approximately 10-minute doses. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Stephanie also serves as Madison365’s director of outreach and engagement. In her role, she plans events, puts together power lists and strategizes for the news outlet’s future, to name only a few of her many important responsibilities.

We recently had the opportunity to talk to Stephanie about her time with the Union and Madison365, and how her personal values align with her job responsibilities. Read on to learn more about Stephanie’s motivations and accomplishments in her many different roles. 

Can you give a bit of background on each of your Union positions? What are your job responsibilities as event planner and diversity coordinator?

As an event planner, I coordinate and assist in the execution of events for campus departments, registered student organizations and outside organizations in the Wisconsin Union, as well as in other parts of campus when needed. I also have had the opportunity to lead in the planning and execution of some important events for the Wisconsin Union, like our opening of Union South.

In my short time as diversity coordinator, I’ve provided support and leadership, not just by meeting some outstanding goals, but through facilitating conversations about diversity and inclusion in specific areas, advising on best practices, and providing guidance where needed.

How do your roles align with your personal interests and values?

I work most effectively when I’m invested in what I do. I think I’ve been able to engage in and have a lasting impact on so much of what I do with the Union and on campus not just because of what I do well, but because the people who work with me and around me see that I enjoy it and am authentic in wanting to meet their overall goal or mission.

What are some of the most memorable Union events that you played a role in planning?

There are so many, but some that jump to mind right away are the opening of Union South, the re-opening of Memorial Union, our 90th anniversary celebration of Memorial Union, and, recently, the Divine Nine Plaza dedication.

What goes into planning a successful event?

There is a lot that goes into planning a successful event. One important part that I think we all tend to forget throughout the process is defining what the goal of the event is. Clearly outlining the event objective to yourself and your committee members helps you make important decisions, prioritize when necessary, and measure the success of your event. After that, it is a lot of communication, managing and following up.

In what ways have you seen the campus community come together to prioritize and celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)? What are some steps that we still need to take to hold ourselves and others accountable?

I think campus is trying hard to spotlight the ways in which we are diverse. Some are more symbolic than others, and there could be more education behind why and what we are spotlighting, not just for the students, but for faculty, staff and the community. I also think there are a lot of great faculty and staff who are taking on this work on top of everything else they are already doing and working on it in a sort of ‘other duties as assigned’ space. This is hard work to do when you have many other priorities and goals, and I appreciate the dedication it takes. I think more funding needs to be given to colleges and departments to add designated DEI positions, rather than adding it to someone’s already long list of responsibilities. 

I think we fall short in acknowledging when we don’t meet a goal and exploring why that might be. Specifically, when we fall short, we need to ask, is there a lack of funding? A change in direction? A lack of staffing? Is there a need for a position to meet our goals or funding needed to meet this goal in general? I think our losses are as important to recognize as our wins—we learn and grow from both. And we need more leaders in the room when we talk about not just setting goals but accomplishing them.

In addition to your Union roles, I understand that you’re also a writer and podcast co-host for Madison365. In your most recent articles, you’ve covered COVID-19 updates, but you’ve also written about topics in politics, social justice and voting. How do you decide what stories you want to cover? What do you want readers and listeners to take away from your articles and podcasts?

My decision to cover and work on things is really based on my available time. I have various roles on campus, with Madison365 and at home, so I am already stretched a bit thin. And, quite frankly, Madison365 has an amazing team of writers already. I pitch a lot more than I write. 

My priority with Madison365 is not just the stories we cover but the professional networking and community building that we do, not just in Madison but across the state. I work very hard to create this with our annual Wisconsin Leadership Summit, which I’ve been managing and planning with our CEO, Henry Sanders, since 2017. It is the only conference in our state that is for and with our leaders of color. Every panelist and moderator is a person of color who has some sort of influence, expertise, experience and impact on the panel they participate in. Every year, Henry and I are always amazed and grateful for every panelist and moderator who participates, who lends themselves to these spaces and really helps create that impact. We also, after some feedback, put on the first annual Men’s Leadership Summit in March 2021 and the first annual Women’s Leadership Summit in June 2021. 

How would you describe the importance of Madison365 alongside more mainstream media sources?

We lead with our mission, always and foremost. We produce and engage in coverage that is specifically for our communities of color in Madison and Wisconsin, as a whole.

What are your favorite things to do around Madison in your free time?

It’s been a while since I’ve done a lot in Madison, but I’m often looking forward to things my children love: museums, the farmer’s market, Henry Vilas Zoo, or a Forward Madison game.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only one book and one film, what would you choose and why?

For film, none. I’d rather listen to music, but narrowing one album would be difficult. It might be more choosing a favorite playlist I’ve created rather than one artist or album. For books, I would bring either ‘Stories of Your Life and Others’ by Ted Chiang or Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go.’

We’d like to thank Stephanie for sharing her time, wisdom and experiences with us. You can read Stephanie’s writing for Madison365 here and keep up with her every weekday on her podcast “It’s Only 10 Minutes.” We’d also like to congratulate Stephanie on being named the Union’s new diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator.

Author: Abby Synnes

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