Cal Poly’s new vice president and chief officer of diversity and inclusion, DeLeon—who goes by Jozi—was brought on in July to be a leading voice on issues of equality and take substantive action to promote diversity on the campus.
It’s the sort of work she’s been doing her whole life, with impressive drive that comes in part from her own experience as a first-generation college student who went on to earn a PhD.
DeLeon has worked in faculty positions, as a teacher trainer and in several administrative roles including chief diversity officer at the University of New Mexico—all focused on increasing opportunity and equality for traditionally underserved populations.
We asked DeLeon more about how she found her path in life, what inspires her and how she likes to spend free time—when she can find it. Oh, and Wonder Woman.
You have a pretty impressive track record of addressing issues related to diversity, inclusion and equality. What first drew you to that arena?
At the age of 7, I began to notice racial discrimination and injustice. I noticed people being mistreated because of the color of their skin or who they were. I could not stand that they were being hurt. At that young age, I vowed to do something about it. So everything in my life has led me to the work I am doing here at Cal Poly. It is my hope that what I do has a ripple effect in making life better for others.
What fictional character do you most relate to?
The latest movie that featured Wonder Woman was pretty amazing. When I reflect back to where I came from, what I have been able to accomplish and the barriers I have overcome, I know I have power and strength. As women, many of us juggle very full lives. We have to pay attention to so much and assume so many roles and responsibilities. Just like Wonder Woman, with a flick of our wrists, our superpowers emerge and we get things done. All the women in my life are Wonder Women!
What is your signature quality, characteristic or phrase?
“Be the change you want to see in the world,” by Mahatma Gandhi. I live by those words every day. We all matter and we all have the power to bring positive changes to this world. That is what I want to cultivate in people. I want young people who come from underserved populations to know that they can do anything and that they are not relegated to a fate of poverty or powerlessness. I also believe that we are all on this earth to serve a purpose and to make this a better world. We only get one shot at it, so our contributions should be impactful and serve others.
You moved to SLO in the past year. What is your favorite part about it and what do you miss about New Mexico?
I love living near the beach where I can grab a bite to eat on a Sunday evening or go whale watching in Morro Bay or Avila Beach. I feel very blessed to be here. That being said, I still get homesick for New Mexico. I lived in New Mexico most of my life. My son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren live there. I miss seeing them and interacting with them regularly, especially with the grandkids. I have a lifetime of friends throughout NM and now communicate with them mostly through Facebook.
I miss the Organ, Sangre de Cristo and Sandia Mountains, the diversity throughout NM, the Balloon Fiesta in October, the music and dancing, the cultural events that are unique to NM, the smell of green chili roasting in the fall and red enchiladas with real red chili.
While I miss all these things, I also know that change is good and out of change comes new possibilities. I look for those new possibilities daily.
Which living person do you most admire?
My mother. She always serves as an example to me of strength and love. My mother never finished high school and never had the opportunities that I had in obtaining an education, but she is one of the smartest people I know. She was always hard working and taught me about work ethic. She never did anything without doing it to the best of her ability. She raised eight children (including one set of twins) and did so with grace and ease—or at least it appeared that way. She is kind to everyone and never has an unkind word to say about anyone. I am lucky to still have her in my life.
How do you relax?
I love “me” time. That means that I get to just do my own thing all day—get my nails done, get a massage or just stay in my PJs and read a book or watch Bollywood movies. Most of the time I am catching up with work or house chores in the evenings and weekends. I love to sew, crochet or Zentangle. During the week I do have some guilty pleasures that allow me to put my feet up and just enjoy. I watch two TV shows regularly, This is Us and Queen Sugar. I am hooked on both of those shows.