Bay Area native, Kathleen Wong, joins the San Jose State administrative team as the new Chief Diversity Officer at SJSU. Wong will soon say goodbye to the University of Oklahoma and return home to the South Bay, where she plans to shake up the current SJSU system with her vision of diversity and system equity.

In her time at the University of Oklahoma, Wong has been part of supporting students, faculty and administrators in conversations and trainings around topics of race and social justice in a place where racial tensions have been visible across the country and felt on the campus. In recent years, SJSU students have expressed frustration—through protests and meetings with administrators—over the campus community’s lack of acknowledgement of racial tensions and hate crimes.

Wong says she is ready to work with students to bring about some change. “It is time for the university to step up and do what they should be doing, and I hope I can respond to San Jose State with programs and things that will result in equity,” Wong said. “I feel like student advocacy, when I look at the country, is something that pushes education. If it weren’t for students, Black Lives Matter movements who were in solidarity for each other like at Mizzou; if it weren’t for these students, change wouldn’t happen.”

How long have you lived/worked in the Bay Area?

I spent all of my childhood here and lived here until I was 28 years old. I haven’t lived in the Bay Area in a little over 20 years, but I graduated from what was then Cal State Hayward—just down the road from San Jose State—before I left California to go to Arizona State for graduate school.

What were some of your favorite parts about living in the Bay Area?

I love the access to all kinds of neighborhoods and natural features and the different ethnic enclaves. You can travel for 20 minutes and be in a completely different area, with a new cultural feel; it’s very organic yet eclectic. I also appreciate the natural features. There are things like Golden Gate Park, beaches in Alameda, the Oakland hills and some of the parks near CSU East Bay, and the big redwoods near Big Basin. There are these hidden gems everywhere in the San Francisco bay. It’s amazing how much contact you can have all within a day or half-day trip.

What are you looking forward in the South Bay?

In many ways San Jose represents a different cultural mix than many other major cities, like Oakland, San Francisco and Sacramento. I feel like San Jose has a  good mix of Latinos, Asian Americans and other ethnic backgrounds as well as working class and people who are in the tech industry, education and more. There’s a good rebirth of a downtown that I can see as well as a desire to maintain its history. I think San Jose is really under-recognized, but it’s a great hub  for innovation because there are a wealth of complex issues and  a lot of different kinds of people who can solve them. I’m excited to join that mix.

At what point did you decide to pursue a career in San Jose at SJSU?

I had only been here, in Oklahoma, for a year and half when I learned about the position. I wasn’t looking because I was happy here, but I was recruited pretty heavily from someone who knew my work and knew I grew up there. It looked like a dream job. It  feels like going home, because I grew up in the East Bay.

What interested you in the position?

I met some really incredible people there doing some incredible things already. I see that there is an opportunity to do good work. I know San Jose State has had a lot of issues, and I feel like I can contribute to helping San Jose State as well as the local area. I also want to learn because I know it is an area that has experienced a lot of shifts and changes. Part of my job will also be to help people understand the constant things that happen on campus while recognizing the need for equity and social justice in higher education. Some people think about diversity as “kumbaya” and being nice to people, but it’s really about equity.

What are some key initiatives that you are excited to bring to SJSU?

I am hoping to bring some aspects of inner-group leadership training and working on intellectual diversity. I would like to provide training and initiatives that help people understand their thought processes are not diverse if they don’t challenge the historical, un-critiqued ways of doing things in the past—the practices that have produced inequity.

What do you like most about San Jose?

I think it has a different feel than the rest of the Bay Area. Maybe it’s the weather. I’ve always fondly thought of San Jose as a warm and friendly place, but also a place that’s upped its game in the last few years—on the civic level, in terms of local community activism and issues.

If you could change one thing about San Jose what would it be?

I hope that there is a focus on providing affordable housing. I haven’t looked into it too deeply, but I always wonder where  all the people who populate and work in the service industries live I would hope the city is attentive to those issues.

Are there any events or activities that you’re looking forward to doing in San Jose?

I think it’s probably going to all of the different restaurants and shops. While I was there, I ate and shopped in the Japantown area.  There seems to be a lot of great food that I’ve been missing here in Oklahoma. I would like to go to a Sharks hockey game and attend some major events at San Jose State, like sports games and things like that, I’m looking forward to. It’ll be fun.