Dr. Mary Ann Villarreal is fueled by an unwavering commitment to ensure the doors to receiving a degree remain open and the table is set for everyone to participate. As the inaugural vice president for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the University of Utah, she provides leadership and strategic oversight of diversity and inclusion initiatives across the University’s academic and health sciences campuses. This opportunity unites her extensive experience in higher education and her passion for social justice in leading the University on its journey to becoming an anti-racist community.
Since her arrival in 2019, Villarreal has been steadfast in growing the EDI division to meet the needs of the University through innovative and impactful programs. She quickly established One U Thriving as a platform that unites the division’s work across the campus and the EDI Strategy Council that will ensure alignment with the University’s strategic plan.
Resolute in providing a space for difficult and meaningful conversations amongst people with diverse lived experiences and perspectives, Villarreal established two robust programs, Friday Forums on Racism in Higher Education to bridge the national conversation with the state of Utah and the Reframing the Conversation panel series to increase dialogue amongst students, faculty, trainees, and staff.
Villarreal aims to foster a shared commitment to cultural transformation in practice, policy, and processes at the U and in higher education through the University’s recent acquisition of the New Leadership Academy Fellows Program, which has developed a nationally recognized curriculum with the explicit goal of educating the next leaders of higher education through the lens of equity, diversity, and inclusion. In support of this commitment, she also serves on the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ Board of Directors, TIAA Inclusion Council, and the executive committee of the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities’ Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence.
As part of the critical efforts that help to improve the lives of students, Villarreal has transformed the work of campus student centers with an increased focused on closing the equity gaps for historically marginalized students. This work is advancing through the evolution of the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs (CESA), now known as the Center for Equity and Student Belonging (CESB) and the establishment of the George Floyd Memorial Fund which sponsors Operation S.U.C.C.E.S.S. in the Black Cultural Center, launching this fall to develop the next generation of Black leaders.
Prior to her current role, Villarreal served as the associate vice president of strategic initiatives at California State University, Fullerton; the associate dean at Colorado Women’s College at the University of Denver; an assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder; and an instructor as well as an assistant professor of history and ethnic studies at the University of Utah. She has authored articles and book chapters, and her book Listening to Rosita: The Business of Tejana Music and Culture, 1930 – 1955, which won the South Texas College Américo Paredes Book Award.
Adopted and raised by her grandparents in a small Texas town, Villarreal’s grandmother and sister worked extra jobs so that she could participate in extracurricular activities — a practice that made her a strong believer in creating equity in access to high-impact practices. Villarreal served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and became the first member of her family to earn a degree. She holds a bachelor’s in women’s studies from Mount Holyoke College and a Ph.D. in history from Arizona State University.
When not working, Villarreal enjoys the quiet moments outdoors with her partner and the laughter of their two children and her grandmother when they play board games. She starts each day knowing she stands on the shoulders of brave and courageous mentors who set her on the path to learning and growing in social justice work and the field of oral history; this path has taught her to enter spaces with a responsibility to make room for others. She believes education can change the trajectory of a life — since it remarkably changed hers.