The Charger Blog

Diversity and Inclusion Leader Looks Ahead to the New Year

Meet Zanaiya Léon ’18, ’20 MBA, senior coordinator for leadership, diversity, and inclusion for the University of New Haven’s Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion, as she reflects on what inspired her in 2020 and her plans for the next decade.

January 25, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Zanaiya Léon in Spain.
While visiting Spain, Zanaiya Léon visited mosaics representing the Leon province.

The lifeblood of the University of New Haven are the faculty and staff members who dedicate their lives to helping our students reach their goals. Periodically, we’ll introduce you to a member of the staff so you can learn more about them – beyond their day to day work.

Next up is Meet Zanaiya Léon ’18, ’20 MBA, senior coordinator for leadership, diversity, and inclusion at the Myatt Center, who conquered a rock wall as a child and who now endeavors to conquer learning three new languages.

Image of Zanaiya Léon in her office in the University’s Myatt Center.
Zanaiya Léon in her office in the University’s Myatt Center during her first week as a full-time staff member.

Renee Chmiel: Tell us about something/someone that inspires you. Why does this inspire you?

Zanaiya Léon: In 2020 I realized that raw displays of humans behaving like humans inspire me. I know that sounds a bit strange, but I think of how human beings really looked out for each other during the pandemic.

A family in my hometown organized a food drive and provided groceries for so many people in need when they lost their jobs due to COVID. There was also a video of a fitness instructor in Spain leading a workout from the roof of his apartment building so the people in the surrounding buildings could do a physically distanced community workout from their balconies. We are social creatures by nature, so I find it really moving when things in our modern world can bring us back to those roots.

RC: Do you make New Year’s resolutions?

ZL: Instead of resolutions, I choose a theme for the year. 2018 was “concerts,” 2019 was “travel,” and the 2020s are dedicated to “excellence.” I have a lot of big goals and smaller ones, so this theme gives me a bit more flexibility and time since it will span the entire decade. As for specific goals, I want to commit to working out three times a week and building my physical endurance.

RC: What historical event would you most like to have witnessed?

ZL: I would love to have been around during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s in Manhattan. A lot of major contributions to today's artistic landscape were born from the pioneers of that era, and it's such a critical part of Black American culture.

Image of Zanaiya Léon and her extended family.
Zanaiya Léon at her cousin's wedding in Haiti with nearly all of her extended family.

RC: What is something new you would like to try this year?

ZL: I'm in the process of learning three languages: Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole. I've had some practice with Spanish, and I'm very much a beginner in Haitian Creole, so I would love to have an authentic conversation with a native French speaker (who's not in my family) and see how well I do. My mom's side of the family is Puerto Rican, and my dad is Haitian, so since I didn't grow up speaking any of those languages, I would love to learn them, so I can interact with that aspect of my culture.

Image of Zanaiya Léon in Boston.
Zanaiya Léon at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

RC: What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

ZL: It happened when I was younger, and I didn't realize it was that "adventurous" until I reflected upon it later in life. When I was 7 years old, I arrived at one of my karate lessons early, and the room we trained in had a rock wall. One day, I decided to play on it to pass the time and ended up climbing the entire wall – without a harness and barefoot – and climbing back down before class started. My dad, who was there the whole time egging me on, was very proud.

RC: Tell us about a silly pet peeve you have.

ZL: A silly pet peeve of mine is one that's kind of “modern.” It's when people use work jargon in their everyday lives. It's silly because I find myself doing it a lot now that we've been working from home so much. As an example: A friend of mine invited me to hang out this weekend, and I told her, "I'll circle back with you once I finalize my calendar for the week," and we both laughed at how ridiculous that sounded!

Image of Zanaiya Léon on a cruise.
Zanaiya Léon enjoys fine dining on a cruise.

RC: What is your favorite TV show to binge?

ZL: I'm the friend who doesn't binge shows in the traditional sense, which is annoying to my friends who like to talk about whatever show they have just finished. I have to be in the mood to watch TV, and even then I have to be in the mood for a particular genre. I rarely watch a show after I've finished, it unless I'm specifically in the mood for that show.

Right now, I'm watching “Girlfriends” on Netflix because I am Joan Clayton; “Suits” on Amazon Prime because I like watching powerful women dominate in their fields; and “Living Single” and “This is Us” on Hulu for nostalgia and wholesome content. But, if I start a show over from the beginning, it's likely a cartoon that explores adult themes in a digestible and positive format, such as “Steven Universe” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Yes, I watched “Bridgerton,” and, yes, Simon has my heart.