Women to Watch: Leslie Orrantia


By Marni McEntee

ALMOST AS SOON AS Leslie Orrantia starts talking about her work and her goals, she notes that—unlike many of those she’s looking to help—she comes from a privileged background.

Orrantia, whose father is Latino and whose white mother grew up in wealth, attended private schools during her California youth and Massachusetts college years.

In Madison, she’s the assistant director of the Wisconsin Collaborative Education Research Network, which builds partnerships statewide to transform education from kindergarten to college graduation.

Orrantia, who identifies first as a Latina, knows she’s still residing in the hallowed halls of privilege, but her goal is to use the incredible tools at her disposal to help those who might never have the same opportunities she had. And clearly the need is there, with Madison’s entrenched racial disparity issues.

“Reflecting back on some of these experiences, I really feel like I want to live within the majority culture to leverage my understanding of my privilege and leverage my skills to bring those opportunities to people that are underserved,” Orrantia says.

To that end, in 2016 Orrantia will help spearhead The Latino Equity Collaborative, which will join members of the university community and the greater Madison community to benefit Latinos—particularly youth—with education, mental health, human services and community outreach.

“We have a lot of work to do and this is a piloted effort to try and make that change,” Orrantia says. “I’m really excited because I think in a big way community engagement is what is really critical.”

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