Questions & Answers

Jozi DeLeon

Interview by Larry Peña

PHOTOGRAPHER Matt Yoon

In July, Jozi DeLeon joined Cal Poly as the university’s first vice president for diversity and inclusion, a job she previously held at the University of New Mexico.

WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES FOR STARTING THIS POSITION?

I’ve been getting to know the lay of the land and finding out what things have been done prior to my arrival. I’m discovering that Cal Poly has already been very successful in building an infrastructure to support diversity and inclusion. My job will be pulling it all together and hopefully starting a conversation about where we are, where we see ourselves in the future, and how we get there.

WHAT DOES A DIVERSE, INCLUSIVE CAMPUS LOOK LIKE AT CAL POLY?

I’ve identified some major goals for us to address as an institution. One is diversifying our students, faculty and staff. Demographics are changing statewide and nationally, and our campus community needs to reflect that in order to better serve all students.

HOW DO WE ACHIEVE THAT GOAL, GIVEN RECENT NEWS FROM THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ABOUT HIGHER EDUCATION?

Decisions about affirmative action don’t affect us at Cal Poly because race, ethnicity and gender are less a consideration than achievement and preparedness. Increasing diversity for us is more about outreach and recruitment that invites more students from diverse backgrounds to come here, and creating an environment where people from those backgrounds view us as a possibility because it’s a welcoming community.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NURTURING UNDERREPRESENTED STUDENTS AND TAKING OPPORTUNITIES AWAY FROM OTHERS?

There’s a lack of understanding about what a diverse and inclusive environment is all about. We’re trying to create an environment where everybody gains, not just students of color or LGBT students or women. Prevailing research demonstrates that having a diverse environment, especially in higher education, is critical to learning and growth for everyone.

CAL POLY HAS HAD DIVERSITY OFFICERS BEFORE, BUT THIS IS THE FIRST TIME IT’S BEEN A VICE PRESIDENCY HERE. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU THAT THIS ROLE IS SO HIGHLY PLACED?

You have to have a very intentional, targeted approach to address diversity and inclusion and to create the kind of transformation that needs to happen at the university level. This work is really about connecting across the institution and bringing people together. It requires leadership from the very top and involvement at all levels.

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