The University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), which has campuses in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka, has hired Mitzi Bolaños Anderson, a woman with a history of radical critical race theory and LGBTQ activism, to oversee its Office of Equity and Compliance.
Anderson enforced anti-discrimination laws as a staff attorney for the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, under former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. Her main role at UAS will be to conduct investigations and execute penalties for students and staff who run afoul of the university’s anti-discrimination policies.
Most recently, she served as the Civil and Human Rights Commissioner for Des Moines, Iowa, where she helped process civil rights complaints, conduct investigations and conduct community organizing events.
Anderson’s LGBTQ activism extends to promoting gender-mutilating surgeries for minors.
A May 2023 article in the Iowa-based Business Record noted that Anderson was particularly upset when Iowa became the latest state to prohibit surgical or chemical alterations of gender-confused minors, while also barring students from using restrooms designated for youth of the opposite sex.
Anderson said the new laws have only motivated her to work harder in promoting the LGBTQ agenda.
“Before, I was like, ‘100%, I’m a woman of color.’ And now I’m like, wait, maybe I’m not.”
“Personally, I am that much more fired up,” Anderson told the Business Record. “But we’re also the city government. We have these parameters that I have to work within. There’s only so much that we can do, unfortunately, but there are still things that you can do. It can be really frustrating and limiting, but I also believe in baby steps. And I think that every step that you take, even if you end up getting knocked back several more steps, it matters, and it’s going to build to something.”
She is also committed to stamping out so-called “anti-Blackness,” a term used by critical race theorists to refer to white people, institutions and entire nations that engage in so-called “systemic racism,” which may be conscious or subconscious.
Anderson, who has classified herself as “Latin” said she attended an “anti-Blackness” workshop several years ago in which the facilitator told her she should not describe herself as Latin because “I was taking opportunities away from brown people.”
“You don’t get to be the voice for Latin people, because you haven’t had that experience,” the facilitator told Anderson. “You navigate the world as a white person, so it’s not fair.”
“It made me more conscious,” Anderson said of the comment. “Before, I was like, ‘100%, I’m a woman of color.’ And now I’m like, wait, maybe I’m not. Maybe I need to pass the mic to someone who’s experienced this differently. Is there someone else who has a brown experience or more immigrant experience?”
Anderson told the Business Record that she’s fascinated by “governmental exclusionary policies” that she believes perpetuate inequity today.
“It makes you question, ‘How have I benefited from these things?’ Even though I come from a family of immigrants, why have we been able to get to where we are, and others haven’t?” she said. “I look like a white person. I get to navigate the world in that way.”
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Anderson said she is particularly proud that Des Moines flew the LGBTQ Pride Flag for the Transgender Day of Remembrance last fall.
“I think that’s a big deal, letting people know, ‘We see you and you are part of this community. We are here and we love you,’” she said. “They also flew the flag in June for Pride Month. They’re little things, symbolic things. It’s not necessarily something concrete like a policy, but I do think that visuals are meaningful and important.”
As part of her work in Des Moines, Anderson also promoted the LGBTQ Advisory Council to change all city documents to make the gender identifiers broader than the traditional male and female identifications.
In announcing Anderson’s arrival at UAS, Chancellor Aparna Palmer praised her passion for fighting discrimination and harassment.
“We are fortunate to have someone with the depth of experience that she has not only in the law and human rights but also someone who is dedicated to contributing to UAS and to the communities to which we belong,” Palmer said.