A Conversation with Maribel Blanco, Executive Associate Dean, The Fletcher School
Maribel Blanco joined Fletcher in August 2020, bringing expertise in both operations and education leadership to her new role as Executive Associate Dean. In this position, she works cross-functionally across the organization, ensuring the development and execution of Fletcher’s operational plan and ensuring the proper infrastructure is in place to support the School’s goals.
Arriving in the middle of the pandemic meant that Maribel helped lead the School’s short-term crisis response and at the same time, address its longer-term operational planning needs. She likens this experience to “building the plane while flying it” and in spite of the obvious challenges, soon settled into her official role as Fletcher’s chief operations officer.
We sat down with Maribel during Hispanic Heritage Month to learn about her background, pride in her LatinX heritage, and conversations we should be having right now.
Differences as Strengths
When my family moved to the US, I was 7 years old and remember feeling very different from other children my age – the way I looked, the way I dressed and the fact that I didn’t speak the language. At that young age, I felt like I stood out - that I was different - and that made me uncomfortable.
But over time I came to see my differences as strengths and began to celebrate the very reasons I stood out. Now I’m likely to share my heritage very soon after I meet someone. I am the proud daughter of a Venezuelan mother and a Colombian father and this background is an essential part of who I am.
In my house, there’s Latin art on the walls, and on any given day, you’ll find Latin music playing in the background and Latin food on the stove. I’m extremely proud of my heritage and values and everything that is wonderful about the culture. In fact, I’m known to use Spanish language expressions in my everyday conversations, even if they don’t translate well into English, because it’s part of who I am. I relish my heritage during Hispanic Heritage Month and every single day of the year.
More than anything, I appreciate how Hispanic Heritage Month allows people the space to share what’s wonderful about the culture and call attention to the accomplishments and contributions of our people. One of the things I enjoy most about my role at Fletcher is the ability to have an impact, to help create pathways that move us toward a more inclusive environment.
For example, last year we focused on our hiring practices with the goal of generating more diverse pools of candidates and mitigating bias. Our hiring committee members go through anti-bias training and with every posted position, we work to identify employment sites that reach diverse staff and faculty. We are also trying to divert more resources to support training and programming in this space. We still have work to do, but it most definitely is a step in the right direction.
I’d like there to be greater appreciation for the diversity within our individual cultures -- we are not a monolith. While there is much that binds us together, our experiences are different based on our countries of origin (or family’s country of origin), whether and/or how we immigrated to this country, and our race.
Also, the portrayal of Latin families in the media – news, movies, TV -- is oftentimes negative and not representative of who we are. We as LatinX people want to see ourselves represented more fairly, treated more fairly in the media. Although there has been progress on this front, there is still room for improvement. Conversations like these are needed in order to effect widespread change.