Megan Matthews MPA '19
We invite you to join us as we sit down with advocate, change-maker, and belonging leader, Megan Matthews, to learn more about her story, journey at Evergreen, and role supporting Washingtonians' move toward equity. Alumni Programs is denoted as AP and Megan Matthews is denoted as MM in this interview.
AP: Tell us about yourself, who is Megan Matthews?
MM: There are a lot of different facets to my personality. I am a mother, sister, friend, spouse, daughter, colleague, and classmate; all things that produce different versions of myself in different spaces and yet they are all me. I am an athlete; I played basketball and still play volleyball from time to time. I am from Washington State, born and raised, and grew up in Tacoma. I graduated from Lincoln high school in Tacoma. I love to travel, did a lot of that in my 20s, I love to dance, love it! I love being around people and learning about them. And I always want to make sure people have a good time when they are around me.
Another side of me is one that is concerned about Washington State and Washingtonians. My heart goes out to all in WA who are hurting and in pain; there is so much need. We are such a wealthy state, one of the wealthiest in the nation; I believe there is enough for all of us to live our lives and pursue what we choose. That’s what motivates me professionally. This isn’t theoretical to me; this is about people I love and care about too.
AP: What brought you to Evergreen?
MM: I was looking at different jobs and I started seeing “master's degree desired” in job announcements. I remember a time when bachelor’s degrees were desired and now, they’re basically required for everything. So, I figured at some point maybe a master's degree would be required too.
I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grow up, I still don’t. But I always like to have options. I didn’t want to find myself siloed into something I couldn’t get out of. I like to be mentally challenged in my work. That means I need to be able to try new things. So, I thought a master's degree would be good to achieve.
I had heard great things about Evergreen’s master’s program. It’s tailored for working adults. I had just gotten married, bought a house, and was working full-time, so I was looking for something that fit my life. I was also looking for something in public administration because I had been a state employee for about 8 years at that point. I wanted to be able keep my options open, Evergreen provided that for me.
AP: Were there any classes or faculty that inspired you while at Evergreen?
MM: Oh several! Amy Gould, Lachezar (Lucky) Anguelov, and Amy Leneker during my first year.
In my second year it was Cheryl Simrell King, who was the sponsor for our capstone project. My team produced a project management plan for the Department of Health titled, “Implementing Non-Monetary Incentives Through an Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Lens”. My team was amazing, we complimented each other’s strengths so well.
AP: What does Equity mean to you?
MM: To me, equity means everyone has what they need to have autonomy over their lives. That requires access and the removal of barriers and the reconciliation of harms.
Professionally, the vision of the Office of Equity is: everyone in Washington having full access to the opportunities, power, and resources they need to flourish and achieve their full potential. We use pro-equity and anti-racism (PEAR) framework to advance belonging, using equity as a vehicle to move towards belonging.
john a. powell, the director of the Belonging and Othering Institute, discusses the difference between inclusion and belonging using the example of a party. Inclusion in this instance is “this is my party, you’re invited, but you’re a guest” and belonging is ‘this is our party, we get to create it together’”. To me that’s what it is. So, what we’re talking about now is equity and belonging. What does everyone need so they feel like this is their party too? That’s equity. The belonging piece is, how do we create it together? Because that’s really the only way everyone will get what they need.
What it looks like will be different for everyone. And I believe every Washingtonian has a right to it. Our value is not tied to what and how much we produce. We all have value simply because we exist, each one of us matters because we are here. I believe we can make this a reality, especially here in WA, for the wealthiest states in the nation. I don’t subscribe to ‘if you win, lose,’ I like ‘if you win, we win’, especially as it pertains to the most marginalized and oppressed in our state.
AP: Can you tell us more about your role working for the Washington State Office for Equity?
MM: I am the Assistant Director, Shared Power Design which, using the mantra that stems from the disability community, means “nothing about us without us”, I am supporting WA government in moving away from being extractive and transactional to being relational. And in addition to being relational also being in partnership. The policies and processes we institute should be created and implemented with the people who will be impacted by those policies and processes.
Right now, the Shared Power Design team is a team of five. We provide consultation, guidelines, tools, resources, models for how agencies can do this, and something that is really important to me, we are measuring for outcomes, not outputs. We also work directly with agencies on their projects to make sure state government works with the community and each other, especially our front-line employees who are doing the work every day, they need to be involved in decision-making too. Co-creation is new for the state government, and I am excited to be part of this necessary and human-centered work.
AP: Who opened doors for you?
MM: Oh my goodness, so many people! So many!
When I think about the privileges I have had, it just reinforces the idea that our systems aren't fair. If I go back to high school and think about the teachers who opened doors for me, I had a 3.9 GPA, played sports, worked, participated in numerous activities and took care of siblings. I even earned a couple scholarships. And I still wouldn’t have gone on to college because I didn’t know how to get through the college application process. Those teachers helped me write applications, complete my FAFSA, obtain waivers for tuition fees, etc. You have to pay to submit a college application to pursue higher education, isn’t that something? That’s ridiculous, and a huge barrier for some folks. My teachers helped me through all of it.
In college I had a network of friends, I went to Williams College in Massachusetts for my undergrad. I wanted to go to the east coast to experience more of the US. I was a first-gen student so I also wanted a place where I wouldn’t be lost because I needed and received support to get through the transition of high school to college.
The first two jobs I got after college were because I knew people who worked in those organizations. With caregiving and my first job with the state, people supported me with access to the information I needed to be successful. Actually, now that I think about it, each job I’ve had has been because someone saw something in me, encouraged me to apply, helped me with my application and prepped me for interviews. And sometimes, it was also because they had access to someone that opened up access to the opportunity, even when I still had to apply and go through the interview process.
This idea that anyone is self-made is false, no one does anything alone. You need others to support you. If it wasn’t privilege and access at birth, somewhere along the line someone gave you a tip, helped you with a loan, gave you access to a decision-maker, something. I am a living testament to this, people have helped me with interviewing, cover letters, letters of interest, let me know about job opportunities, a ton of coaching and constructive criticism (whether I wanted to hear it or not (laughs)). So many people poured into me and really helped make me who I am today.
The reality that folks helped me get to where I am does not negate the work I did. I know people get upset as if acknowledging privilege and access means they didn’t work hard as well. It does not mean you are lazy or didn’t work hard. The reality is there are a ton of hard workers who are struggling every day. People working two and three jobs. Autonomy and success aren’t obtained through hard work alone. Otherwise, everyone would be successful. It's your privilege and access that allow certain doors to open for you and not for others. That’s the part that isn’t fair. That’s what we should change.
AP: What impact do you hope to make through your work?
MM: Wow! If you aren’t channeling Dr. J, my boss right now! Dr. J asked us, “In 2023, what do you see?”
My response was and is: I want the work we do, I want Washingtonians to feel a difference; babies not going hungry in school, human beings not sleeping on the streets or right off our highways, people being able to receive the mental health care they need, especially coming out of a pandemic that drastically changed our world. I want people to feel the difference.
I have worked for the state for almost 15 years now. We don’t get into this work to get rich, we do it to serve others. That’s what state employees do; we serve. I want our service to be impactful. I want us to shift in a way where people feel that difference in 2023.
I want WA to be a model for everyone! I hope one day that we can say throughout the United States that people are no longer suffering because WA led the way and brought us to belonging.
Here is my call to action for the readers: Megan Matthews cannot do it by herself, she needs Caroline (Alumni Programs Manager and interviewer), coworkers, students, and people I don’t even know. On this team we all have a role to play. What gift do you bring to the team? What can you do to advance belonging for all? We need all Washingtonians to do their part to make this happen.
AP: How do you navigate the challenges of the public sphere of work you do while pushing equity forward for all in Washington?
MM: I think one of my gifts is that not only do I love being around people, but I can connect and bring people together. I can genuinely connect with people when moving through these spaces. I love learning about people, listening, trying to understand, and forming a connection. And then I bring them all together.
I am also courageous; I show up and I say what I feel needs to be said, directly and unapologetically. I have found my voice. Especially when I’m in spaces with people who currently make decisions. We need these individuals to make different choices and decisions so we can move forward to belonging.
I also really try and stay in humility. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I have no issue saying sorry and apologizing because no one is perfect. I am just trying to do what I believe, and I don’t have a problem admitting when I am wrong. And I think people sense my sincerity.
AP: What advice would you give current students studying at Evergreen today who will join you as alumni?
MM: Evergreen is good at making people think outside the box, so, just by going to Evergreen when you leave, you will be curious, questioning, thinking about how we can do this better. We need people who are curious and not satisfied with what is, we need people who can reimagine what is, to what could be. We need people who have ideas, who can come into our workplaces and say, ‘I am not going to do what we have always done!’ Especially when we can look around our world and see things aren't working. Being curious is good, questioning is good, and coming up with ideas is good. Continue that.
Also, network while you are here, build relationships with fellow students, they will be your movement when you graduate and start your career. There will be so many spaces where you will reconnect with those folks, spend time building those relationships while you are here. I had lunch with a few friends from my cohort. And I message a couple of other friends regularly. And others I see infrequently but it’s all love when we get together.
AP: What is your superpower?
MM: That’s a Dr. J question, my boss. She likes Black Panther, so she says, ‘what's your vibranium?’
I have two: My ability to connect (as I described in a previous answer) and my strong critical thinking skills.
With critical thinking, I am always questioning what is, observing what current state is, and learning where the gaps are and thinking about what could be and what solutions there are.
Oh, and third one, I am courageous (as I also described in an earlier answer). I am always going to speak up when I see something that isn't right.