- Author: Mike Hsu
Getting to know UC ANR's new director of workplace inclusion and belonging
As a self-described “Jersey girl” with “half-Italian, half-Scottish” roots, Moon first experienced a multitude of cultures during college at George Washington University, in the diverse patchwork of downtown D.C. As part of her anthropology major, she engaged with the local Laotian community and wrote her senior thesis on Laotian dating and marriage practices.
Then, through Teach for America, Moon taught English to elementary school students in a multicultural, under-resourced community in Houston, Texas. Fulfilling her dream to live and work overseas, Moon moved to South Korea, where she taught English to a wide range of students – from preschoolers to generals in the military.
After her Korean husband came to the U.S. for graduate studies, Moon found herself interacting with and counseling many international graduate students. When the couple moved to Davis, she earned a master's in teaching English as a second language from Sacramento State. She began teaching at American River College, working with students from all over the world – predominantly Eastern Europe – and helping them acclimate to the American style of professional communication and hiring practices.
In 2013, Moon's experience working with international students landed her a position in career development at UC Davis' Graduate School of Management, where she worked in developing career skills for MBAs. She eventually paired her work with her passion for inclusive spaces for all, serving as the GSM Chief Diversity Officer.
We sat down with Moon recently to learn her vision for the newly created position at UC ANR. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Among your many accomplishments at UC Davis – including creating the Action for Diversity GSM Community Group and developing the GSM DEI Strategic Vision and Goals – you organized community book studies. And this year, the book was “Becoming a Changemaker” by Alex Budak. What is one key takeaway that you can share?
One person in a job that has a certain title cannot singlehandedly transform the whole organization. However, each person in an organization has the power to create real change while working by asking their colleagues questions, such as ‘Where do you see the challenges? What is happening your community, in your group, in your team?'
Acknowledging you're very new to UC ANR, what are some of the challenges and opportunities that you have been seeing?
In my first weeks in this job, from everything I'm reading and the things that I'm starting to hear from people, I'm learning there's a lot of incredible work and energy and effort going into creating an inclusive and equitable community – and California – and really living up to that strategic goal.
But it's in a lot of different places. I really want to take three months to assess where everyone is, because you can't do anything without data these days. You need to have some data, not just anecdotal pieces: What is happening across UC ANR and how can we bring those pieces together?
So even if we're all working on different initiatives in different ways, we should know what the others are doing and thus really create that collaborative integration.
It sounds like you're envisioning your role will be as a nexus of that information and those various initiatives.
I see myself more as someone who brings things together. In my opinion, work in this area never works with a top-down approach with “You must do A” or “You must do B.” For me, it's about engaging, learning and using the language of that community. So it's not big, grandiose gestures, it's really small steps: building trust and putting my own biases to the side to learn from the person in front of me or the community in front of me.
It makes sense that you have to learn and understand a culture before you can change it.
I hate to say “culture change,” because I think sometimes that turns people off. I think it's about bringing people through and into a larger cultural experience. It's a journey. Each of us will be at different places in the journey.
And I want to put it out there: I myself am going to make mistakes. There are going to be times that I will not be successful in what I'm hoping to achieve. Or I may say the wrong thing.
What I really would like to see is that we – each of us – can come into a space authentically, so that people feel comfortable providing constructive feedback so that others can know more and do better. Internally, as staff and academics, we should work to have difficult conversations with respect and an open mind – even if it goes completely against our core.
If you operationalize some key components in the equity space and inclusion space in a way that's not top-heavy, you can start to move people in a certain direction – maybe you won't change their minds, because you're not going to change everyone's mind – but we can start moving our policies and procedures in a way that basically guide people towards a different perspective.
You can't force it. Once you force it, people often stop listening and learning.
Internal defense systems go up and people shut down.
Internal defense systems go up. They think: “You're just trying to change me.” It's a very difficult balance. If you're going to really have “inclusion and belonging,” that means inclusion and belonging of each and every single person – from Butte County to Imperial County.
And that means that there are going to be conflicts. There's no way to ever abolish conflict. There'll always be conflict and change. Those are constants. It's how you can manage through those conflicts and changes in a way that still respects the authenticity of each person coming to the table. And that does take learning, and that does take support and guidance.
It goes back to encouraging constant, active learning, doesn't it?
First and foremost, I think all of us are learners. If each and every one of us comes to a conversation with curiosity, with the skill set to ask curious questions, it can really help to break down some of those barriers. Questions like: “Why would you like to do that? How do you see that working? In what ways does that help us be better? Where else can I find more information about what you're discussing?”
Today in the Leadership DEI Discussion Group, we were listening to this TEDx talk about the “single story” and making sure that each one of us understands that sometimes, without us even knowing, we're presenting a single story. And we need to have those multitude of perspectives.
I started watching Ethan Ireland's videos, “Voices of CalNat,” and they're incredible. Having all those voices helps us to not have that “single story.”
In more concrete terms, how will you be listening and learning across UC ANR, in the coming weeks and months?
I know we have the At Work survey, but I would like to do an additive survey to gauge the feelings of our internal community, our academics and staff, and gain more information about their perspectives and the challenges that each community is working on. What is happening in Yolo County may not be the same as what's happening in Sacramento County: What are the differences within those communities that needs to be more specifically addressed?
Race needs to be a part of it, but there's also sexual orientation, there's gender, there's religious views – there are multiple aspects of diversity that need to be looked at.
As I'm doing these listening tours, I'd also like to start creating some focus groups – from small-group, one-hour sessions that are just conversations with folks to larger-scale meetings at some point – to start some design thinking around DEI at ANR, so that it's a collaborative process.
I am focusing on these aspects of inclusion and belonging, but by no means am I the only expert in this building. There are people who have so much expertise in a lot of different areas, and I'm going to be relying on them for their expertise to point me in the right direction to learn about that area.
I come from a generation where perfection was required and expected. But what I've learned over the last nine years at the Graduate School of Management is failure is okay. Failure just means that you're one step closer to the learning that's going to take you to where you need to go.
Located at the Second Street Building in Davis, Moon can be reached at email@example.com and (530) 883-1174./h3>