Connie Dang is Grand Valley State University’s Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Special Assistant for Inclusive Community Outreach. She has also been appointed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. Connie’s powerful woman approach to leadership is to show strength through kindness as well as “lifting as you climb”, helping others to see their strengths.
Connie likes a quote from Mahatma Ghandi, which is, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
>> Produced by women about women, ‘Powerful women, let's talk’ is a series of interviews with women who have helped shape our community and transform who we are and how we live.
>> Well hello everyone good to be back with you on another edition of ‘powerful women, let's talk’ I'm Jennifer Moss and I’m excited today to introduce today's guest and we go way back to our days on the Grand Valley State University women's center advisory board, my pleasure to introduce to you today and welcome Connie Dang. Hi, Connie.
>>Well you know, of course we have a we have a lot to get to on this day, as you my friend have been very busy over the years, kind of hard to keep up and so a couple of things want to mention that you've recently been appointed by Governor Whitmer to the Michigan Coronavirus task force on racial disparities plus you also had an 8 year term on the Michigan Asian Pacific American affairs Commission all of this while still holding down your position at GVSUm right now as the director of the Office of multicultural affairs and special assistant for inclusive community outreach ,So again you’ve been very busy and we so appreciate you taking out time to talk with us.
And so I want to start with your career here at Grand Valley State University as I think that part of the journey is going to lead us into the direction of touching upon, uh some of the other aspects of your life, I'm not sure at what stage of your career in higher education, you were in when I first met you I think at least 10 to 12 years ago when we met. so tell me how you advanced along the way here.
>>Yes, so education has certainly been one of the values in my family and you know my parents always instilled in us the importance of education, so all of my life ,fresh out of college I started working for GVSU and have been here since then. I love it here, I love the institution, I love the people so almost 25 years later I’m still here which GVSU and loving it.
>>So fast forward to today and you are now in several positions of leadership and as we talk about powerful women, what leadership traits that helped you and what perhaps have you picked up along the way that perhaps you've learned from others when you look at leadership?
>>Yes such an important question I would say be kind, have compassion and be authentic, have empathy -most leaders we are in the leadership position because we have the knowledge, the skills and the experience that is required by the position so what I'm trying to do every day and constantly trying to cultivate for myself is the ability to have empathy and compassion for those that I work with especially in these challenging times right.
We have been working from home for the last 4 months and for the parents who have children at home not only do they have to maintain and keep up with the responsibilities associated with their position they also have to provide care for their children , cooking for their children and also home schooling so when you think about it they are actually performing 3 full-time jobs at the time right ,working as a professional care provider and also teachers so to lead as an empathetic leader, I think we need to understand and to recognize the changing situation that we all go through and also to see your staff holistically -meaning that to understand that everybody outside of work,
we have our personal life and we constantly trying to find that balance between work, home and family family, yes.
>>But again to that important aspect- I think of leadership as you mentioned, is to be kind and especially with what all is going on today having that empathy for people who are multitasking.
>>On the highest level they probably have had to multitask at this point.
So tell me about the work -on the state's Coronavirus task force on racial disparities, that again that's a position of leadership as well as you study and look at what needs to be done as you fulfill that position to reduce those disparities for people of color, tell me about the work there, what are you doing?
>>Yes so with this pandemic what it has done is covid has shed light on the racial inequities that impacted these communities of color, specifically African Americans and Latinex. When we look at the population in Michigan african-americans consist of 14% of the state's population, but 40% of african-americans have been impacted by the cases as well as deaths. So, one of the charges for the task force is to study and to look at the underlying reasons for these disparities and to come up with recommendations to close the gap so I just want to share in the interest of time the framework that we use to make our recommendations.
So we use an inclusive and equity framework in terms of testing, tracing and also isolation. So when we think about testing what we have done is expanded testing to communities of color and recognizing that accessibility is um important so we bring testing into the community by providing mobile testing sites.
So it is easily accessible for people who don't have transportation or even don't have or don't know how to drive right and in terms of tracing we have very timely once we know that the person has been infected, we make sure that we contact the person, the patient within 24 hours.
And um also let him know that it is important to isolate and to quarantine a lot of patients that we work with live in crowded household so in terms of quarantine the state has provided facilities for these patients to if they choose to self-quarantine by themselves so that we can reduce the chance of them infecting other family members yes.
>>So important work there and how does it feel to be appointed by the governor to that position it’s quite an honor.
>>it is quite an honor to be appointed by the governor and I'm going to do my best within my ability to connect with different communities in West Michigan as well as some you know the East side of the state but um yeah, do the best I can.
>>Clearly are an advocate for inclusion all that you're doing has a lot to do with that you're the director again of multicultural affairs at GVSU, you served and are serving on those 2 other commissions that you mentioned you have done that in the past as well as serving on the current one.
And you've worked hard to get these positions because you actually started your life here as a war refugee and so tell us about your early life story before all of these other accomplishments have come to past, tell me about the beginnings here.
>>Yes, so thank you for that question.
My family immigrated to West Michigan in the late 1970's as Vietnamese refugees and I have to say that a lot of my accomplishments I credit that to my parents.
I do look up to them as my incredible role models their perseverance, resilience and as well as their ability to be humble and very graceful about accepting and receiving assistance as well as support from the community when we first came to West Michigan.
>>How old were you when you first came here?
>>I was about 13 years old when I came here. I didn't speak any English so in my country French is second language.
So when I came here, I really didn't speak any English and um I was enrolled in 9th grade and um, you know just learning along the way and um, overcoming a lot of barriers and challenges, yes.
>>Funny, you should say that when you talk about the barriers I'm looking as you look at your humble beginnings and you know a couple come to mind -have you been able to find like your own voice and to own that and to be comfortable in your own skin as you have grown up through the years here?
>> Yes, so finding my own voice for me is asking a lot of questions who am I? What am I passionate about? What do I believe in? And then develop the courage to speak out and speak up and to speak the truth about my values and the things that are important to me finding my own voice is also about knowing when to be silent.
So that I'm not taking up the space so that I allow others to speak up and also for them to find their own voice and I think finding my own voice is also about knowing when to stop saying, yes to what I don't like and knowing when to stop saying no to what I do like.
>>To what you do like.
>>Those are very good powerful women thoughts I really like the part about being, knowing when to be quiet and listen and receive some help and instead of you know.
>>Absolutely. I think as leaders we tend to speak up, speak too much.
>> But you can learn if quiet and sit there and listen in silence.
>>Absolutely, and so you mentioned barriers too, so what are the barriers perhaps that you encounter along your life's journey and how do those impact you? Because I can only imagine coming here not speaking English initially, a lot of things probably along the way and ias you were younger and you grow, what are some of those barriers?
>>Yeah, so Jennifer for this question I have many barriers that I have encountered along the way, but um for this question, I'm going to focus on one of the most recent encounters and it has to do with family life- I would not call that barrier, but I would probably call that a detour to anyone's career.
So I know that in order for me to advance my career in higher education I had to have earned a doctoral degree so I was on track and on time with my program I completed all the coursework and I was on my way to writing my dissertation, then life happened.
My father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Yeah, so um yeah.
>>So I stopped everything and refocus my time and my attention to being the caregiver for both my dad and also my mom who was devastated and my dad passed away about 2 years ago,so now mom is living on her own and at 79.
She, her health has weakened, so I’m her caregiver so that is not a barrier but a detour.
>>A detour in my career, yes mhm.
>>So let's look at life and all that's happening, you know right now we're in the middle of a pandemic obviously, you know that because your on the committee, racial disparities, strife and just you know the state of America today, and everything so many things can be difficult to maneuver day to day. How do you balance that life when you just mentioned your mom and the detour, you're dad with your family life but also still striving to reach those heights that you desire in your professional life and amidst all this because you've made great strides. So how do you balance that?
>> Balance is really fluid and is evolving with the stage of life that you know, I am in- so this question reminds me of something that my mother always says to me when I come to her and I say gosh I'm so exhausted, I wish that I have more than 24 hours in a day to do everything that I want to.
>>Yes indeed we all wish that right.
>>Absolutely, she in her calm and collected voice she would tell me you can always make more money but you cannot make more time -so be wise with the way that you spend your time and she’s so right because time is such an invaluable resource and the way that I choose to invest my time can help me to maintain my balance in life,right.
>>So I think about the balance for me now is to invest time in providing care for my mother who is 79 years old and she's living by herself so balance for me is at the end of the day when I close my eyes, I feel happy, satisfied and peaceful with the way that I allocate my times within the given day and not feeling guilty.
>>Yeah, that's good and that's something that's one of those things you can lend to other people to teach them as well and to help along the way as that powerful woman -to you know -help others understand some of those things like what balance is and to again not feel guilty and not feel bad about not being able to do it all. Because I think sometimes there's that pressure to try to do it all.
So one of my favorite questions to ask, it’s actually 2 fold, what do you do for fun and what makes you laugh? Because I always ask this and I just think laughter is good for the soul and it's surely is much needed in this day and age so what do you do for fun to start?
>> What do I do for fun? Well, we have been staying at home and quarantining so I have turned to yoga and meditation as a full-on of body mind and wellness and you know in the midst of chaos I have found that meditation and yoga help me to relax and being positive-to have a positive mindset and to deal with all the emotions and the chaos that's going on around me.
Another thing that I have been experimenting with is the oil scents, right.
>>The essential oils?
>>Yeah, essential oil, yep, mhm, and I have been using them around the home and it is pretty calming and relaxing for me so for the summer, I love the citrus scent.
>>Um, yeah so that is what I have been doing.
>>That actually kind of goes with the yoga so have the essential...
>>While you're meditating…
>>It's a great combination. So what makes you laugh?
>>People who take themselves too seriously, myself included.
>>So you can, you can laugh at yourself.
>>Which I think we all need to do too.
>>And I think and I do and I laugh the most when we do family games to, together so you know this weekend, my niece and my nephew came to visit and we played I don't know if you know the Taboo game.
>>Oh, one of my favorites.
>>Absolutely, it’s hilarious.
>>For that game there are Taboo words that you cannot use when you describe the word and I totally think that is the trap for Connie, because I always fell into that trap and I always use the taboo words so they all laugh at me and you can also make gestures right to describe so…
>>Which can be funny in on itself.
>>It can be very goofy so you know I laugh at myself, they laugh at me so I think you know, family games is when I enjoy and laugh the most.
>> Absolutely I agree and you know I have some of that same fun with my family, so.
Do you have a favorite saying or perhaps a quote that we can end on?
>> Yes, so I always remember Mahatma Gandhi's quote “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
And pick one thing it can be small, but doable so what I have tried to do and um very successfully is stop using plastic water bottles because my daughter always yelled at me for using plastic bottles so we stop that at home and at home we have filtered water so I have a big container that I would you know just fill with water and use throughout the day.
So it is a small thing, a small change but it can make a big difference right in the long run.
>>So start with something small.
>>Yes you can be that change absolutely.
>>Well what a pleasure talking with you today and chatting and catching up I want to thank you so much for joining us for our ‘powerful woman,’ aseries here, ‘let's talk’ and thanks to all of you that are listening today and joining us for another edition of ‘powerful women, let's talk.’
I'm Jennifer Moss.
>>Thank you for having me.
>> Produced by women about women these powerful podcast focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women, let's talk get additional interviews at WGVU.otg or wherever you get your podcasts please rate and subscribe ‘powerful women, let's talk’ is produced by WGVU at the Meijer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters, or Grand Valley State University.