From SIT to the Legislature

Alumna Diana Gonzalez takes the conflict transformation skills she learned at SIT to the Vermont State House

Diana GonzalezFor Diana Gonzalez, an SIT Graduate Institute education has led to work as a teacher, mediator, election observer, and now a Vermont state legislator. It’s also led to continued involvement with SIT.

Gonzalez, a Progressive/Democrat, represents Chittenden 6-7, Vermont’s most diverse district, which encompasses Winooski and a small part of Burlington. She is the state’s first Latina and openly LGBTI legislator.

Gonzalez graduated from SIT with an MA in conflict transformation in 2006. Her SIT coursework is something she still draws on as a lawmaker. The skills she gained included “understanding motivations and the complexity of human involvement and interaction, patterns of conflict, and how to intervene in cycles of conflict,” she says. “Getting clear on your own motivations and how to work with people in intense situations — in making laws, that’s exactly what you do.”

It’s been a long and varied road to working in politics. Gonzalez has been an election observer in Guatemala; a peer mediation coordinator in Greenfield, Massachusetts; a classroom teacher in Vermont and in language schools outside of Vermont; and a union organizer at the University of Vermont. She has also returned to SIT to teach youth summer programs. These days, in addition to working in the legislature — a January through May job in Vermont — she’s working on her doctorate in education at the University of Vermont.

Gonzalez recently visited SIT’s Brattleboro campus to speak to high schoolers in the Current Issues and Youth Activism institute, a program created by SIT in 1985 for the Governor’s Institutes of Vermont and hosted at SIT’s Vermont campus since then. The institute was one of nine specialized on-campus residencies offered at Vermont colleges in summer 2016. Last year, Gonzalez participated in the Governor’s Institute at SIT as part of a Young Leaders in Politics panel. This year, she returned to talk about social change and the roles students might eventually take in social activism.

In her talk, she gave students an example scenario: “A natural disaster hits hard at a manufactured home park. The government didn’t do anything to prevent it, and now they’re not responding. What would you do?”

She offered students potential ways to get involved. “You go to help out, maybe babysit, or you start lobbying electeds” and others, she suggested. She invited students to think about what motivates them “depending on who you are and where you’re from.”

It’s been more than a decade since Gonzalez attended SIT. In that time, she says, she’s maintained and built upon SIT relationships. What she studied here has a direct bearing on what she’s doing now. “I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to work with youth programs. I’ve been able to take stuff from the classroom and use it, right now. It’s a direct application.”