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Cultural & Resource Center Spotlight: Center for Equity & Student Belonging

Attending a large university can be daunting for many students, particularly for individuals from marginalized groups. At the University of Utah, the Center for Equity and Student Belonging (CESB) is making significant efforts to address the needs of those students so they can experience college in a more inclusive and enriching way.

“Our center is undergoing a lot of growth and positive change. We are shaking up the ways in which we support students, and we are providing additional support to our already existing and thriving programs,” said Cassie Zamora-Cathcart, CESB‘s Interim Director. “We are striving to live up to our name when it comes to engaging our Black/African Diaspora, Native/Indigenous/American Indian, Asian/Asian American, Latinx/Chicanx, Pacific Islander, multiracial, LGBTQIA2s+, and BIPOC students who have a disability and/or are neurodiverse.”

She added the CESB will employ an asset-based approach in all its work with students to break down barriers and increase equity.

“All of our work is grounded in providing a personal, social, academic, and post-graduation sense of belonging to help every student feel that they are valued and know that they belong at the University of Utah,” she said.

Zamora-Cathcart said CESB is focusing on helping students when they first arrive on campus, then assisting them in making connections with partners across campus, thereby ensuring they are building webs of support that will help them navigate campus and grow out into other spaces.

“What we’re looking at right now is getting students who are currently engaged in our programming to engage at that next level—really being able to build those connections and building a lot of key partnerships,” she said. “You come in as a freshman, you’re transitioning here to the U, getting involved in research and getting involved in internships. All of those things are going to set you up for long-term postgraduate success.”

She noted that CESB programming includes elements that are as culturally specific as possible so individuals can select from options based on their chosen identity.

“We’re rolling out our new programs this year,” Zamora-Cathcart said. “We have five programs in total to cover the five main student populations (Black, Asian, Latinx, Indigenous/Native and Pacific Islander) that we are building programs for.”

She said CESB is developing its programming to engage students and includes mentorship that is culturally representative where networking can naturally occur. Where intersectionality happens within the larger community, participants are encouraged to support each other and to create spaces for joy and belonging.

“We strive for creating space for joy to be the emphasis and not focus on the negative or obstacles individuals may have to overcome. We should really be moving away from that deficit mindset as much as possible,” she said. “Whenever possible, we should check ourselves when we catch ourselves falling into those negative attitudes that have been institutionalized and taught to us.”

“We have to take the time to relearn how to re-center the cultural assets that we’re bringing as individuals to this space and how can we elevate, amplify and give space to explore those uplifting cultural attributes,” Zamora-Cathcart said.