The University of Utah held its inaugural Day of Collective Action on March 22, 2022. Initiated by the Presidential Commission on Equity and Belonging (PCEB), the Day of Collective Action was a campus-wide moment of reflection and action designed to propel our collective goal to create an inclusive community forward.
Members of the U community including students, faculty and staff participated in workshops and other activities addressing issues of racism, bias and discrimination. In addition to several events organized in departments across campus, the PCEB planned more than 20 events designed to gather feedback on ways to address racism, bias and discrimination at the U—specifically the harm members of the Black community experience.
“I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to make our first Day of Collective Action happen and those who showed up to participate in this important work,” President Taylor Randall said. “The activities and conversations that took place on March 22 will be critical as we move forward building an inclusive campus community. In the next several weeks, we will take a look at the outcomes of each session and determine how we can use that feedback to help shape the U into a place where everyone feels a sense of belonging.”
Since no one could attend every event, below you will find key takeaways from sessions planned by the PCEB the Day of Collective Action. Additional communication on next steps from the PCEB will be published the week of March 28.
On a day dedicated to the understanding and improvement of the unique conditions that various members of the University of Utah community face, senior leadership at the U and others were painted a picture of what it’s like to be Black in higher education and society. Learn more and watch a recording of the session here.
Get Inspired: The Struggles of an Undocumented Student Navigating Higher Ed
David Leon, a recreational therapy student from Salt Lake City, UT, thought that higher education was out of reach for him because of his undocumented status. He imagined a life of working multiple jobs and saving up money to attend community college. “And that would be what I would get,” he said.
But during the rehearsal for his high school graduation, he was called to his school’s office and met three people from the U who told him he’d received a scholarship that he’d forgotten that he’d applied to. The scholarship came with a job at the Student Union, and while Leon wanted to accept the scholarship, he said he couldn’t take the job because of his status.
“They told me that if I was interested in the position, they would find a way to hire me,” Leon said. Then he learned about the U’s Dream Center, which supports undocumented students.
“The Dream Center explained what my next steps should be,” he said.
Through private funds, Leon was hired by the Student Union Service Desk and worked two jobs through his first semester. Deciding to focus more on school, Leon left his second job working at a family restaurant. His cousin told him that he was making a mistake, and that his undocumented status would keep him from every doing something with his degree.
“This statement always stuck with me,” Leon said. “Deep down I believed it.”
But he did return, finding he was eligible for, and received, a promotion to Service Desk Manager.
Next, having received a green card in 2021, he’ll pursue a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy.
“Many students face way more than I did,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to face these struggles on top of being a student. If you’re in college, your first task should be to just be a student and get grades. You shouldn’t have to work extra jobs and do the extra steps to be recognized.”
- Create a University private fund to allow undocumented students work on campus, regardless of department. “There are many talented undocumented students that are often not given the opportunity to work on campus and they should be given this opportunity, especially if the university is trying to be an inclusive environment,” Leon said.
- Bring resources to the center of campus so students can access them. The Office of First Generation Access recently moved to the Student Union Building after being housed in the Annex. Leon also suggested including more resources in first-year orientations. “Being undocumented likely means you are first-generation,” he said, “which means you already don’t know about these resources if you haven’t had anyone guide you through them.”
- Ensure offices that provide student resources have the necessary financial support and staff to support students.
- Train student affairs staff on how to talk to students and how to best serve them. Leon recalls an advisor asking him once if he’d “considered switching majors,” something that was not an easy option in his situation. It was an innocent question, but demonstrated a lack of background knowledge about the undocumented student experience.
Get Inspired: I am not your model minority
Victoria Nguyen, a marketing and business administration student from West Jordan, UT, told about her struggle to feel like she belonged in the David Eccles School of Business. In addition to her identity as a Vietnamese-American woman, she was a first-generation college student, first-generation American and came from a low-income background. “I’ve always had this difficulty with the university community and a sense of belonging,” she said.
Finding no support or resources for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students in the business school, Nguyen acted on the encouragement of a supervisor to create the Asian American and Pacific Islander Students in Business group, dedicated to the “promotion, celebration and connection of AAPI culture in the Eccles School,” she said.
Nguyen called out the idea of the “model minority,” minority groups or members of those groups that are stereotypically viewed as being more successful than other groups or individuals.
“If I had a dollar for every time I was called an overachiever, I would not be here,” Nguyen said. “I’d probably be on a beach in Cancun. But, that’s their judgment on me, that’s they’re expectation of me. And the moment that I do something that goes against that judgement and expectation of me, it changes the whole game. . . There’s more to me than you think.”
- “It’s a collective effort. . . It is not my sole responsibility to foster an inclusive environment. It’s not my sole responsibility to address microaggressions and make students feel comfortable. It’s everyone in this room. It’s me, it’s you, your mom, your sister, your roommate, your teacher.”
For the university:
- Nguyen called on the U to implement systems of faculty accountability similar to the systems in place for the Dean of Students office and Human Resources to hold students and staff accountable. “Faculty need to be more culturally competent,” she said. Training in cultural competency and equity, diversity and inclusion, she said, will help faculty know how to “deal with situations with students from various backgrounds.”
Get Inspired: No role models: Why representation matters
Ebsa Eshete, a mechanical engineering student from Stansbury, UT whose father is Black and whose mother is White, said that growing up he didn’t feel like he fit in, “not because I looked different,” he said. “It was the way people treated me.”
Others often told him he would be great at basketball, rapping, breakdancing – which he had no interest in. When he tried those activities and didn’t meet others’ expectations, they said he must not really be Black “because I didn’t fit into those identities.”
In high school, Eshete dreamed of a STEM career, but had no role models other than his family to show him the way. In his first year at the University of Utah, he didn’t have a single Black classmate, advisor or instructor— a “demoralizing” experience that left him feeling like an impostor.
But in his second year he met Arnold Gatoro, who was starting up a chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers at the University of Utah. Eshete attended his first meeting. “Just being in a room with 30 other Black students who were pursuing STEM was 30 times more than it was before,” Eshete said. “I felt a relief that maybe it is possible for me, maybe because there are others doing the same thing as me, I am capable, and I’m not an impostor.”
Now he’s the NSBE president and has helped create programs such as tutoring at the Utah International Charter School, which serves students from immigrant and refugee communities. “Being the role model I didn’t have in high school has been so meaningful for me to watch,” he said.
"One of the most important lessons I learned from NSBE is that I can be myself and be Black. It’s not something that I have to choose between.
"I can be Black and successful. They’re also not mutually exclusive. I can be someone who other people aspire to. I can be a great engineer and also be Black, whatever being Black means to you. I can wear, for example, my hair in an afro and a dashiki and talk a certain way and still be professional and still be successful.”
For the University:
- Institutionalize diverse leadership and faculty through diversity statements in hiring processes, student feedback in hiring and mentorship for faculty who are diverse.
- Support affinity organizations such as NSBE through increased visibility in marketing materials and first-year orientation as well as increased and streamlined financial support for these organizations.
- List affinity organizations in your syllabi along with your diversity statement. “And not just at the very bottom,” Eshete said.
- Follow up with at-risk students. “If they stop showing up to class, if they start failing tests, ask why and point them to resources on campus.”
- Highlight the contribution of Black people in your classes. “I know it’s easy to just highlight contributions of white people who are established,” he said. “But if you can, start digging a little bit deeper. . .It’s hard to get into a field where you don’t see someone like yourself in it. Representation matters.”
Get Inspired: Basic Needs
Presenter Sarah Elizabeth Garza-Levitt began the session by sharing her personal story of life on the street starting at the age of 13 and struggling to meet her basic needs. Those early experience have fueled her passion for participating in and raising awareness for the Basic Needs Collective on campus.
Basic needs are defined as the economic, food, and housing experience among our U students. A student’s capacity to meet their basic needs directly impacts their health well-being, and ability to succeed. The following statistics were shared from respondents of the 2019 #RealCollege survey.
- 39% experienced food insecurity in the prior 30 days
- 46% were housing insecure in the previous year
- 70% were employed and still experienced food insecurity, housing insecurity and homelessness
“Basic needs insecurities are solvable problems,” Garza-Levitt said. The Basic Needs Collective will open its physical location in April, 2022, in the basement of the Student Union, alongside the Feed U Pantry. If you or someone you know need help with accessing any need, the team at Basic Needs Collective can help.
How can we create a more welcoming environment for new employees? Find ideas for how to include equity, diversity and inclusion in onboarding and orientation here.
Engaging members of the U community in moving beyond a Land Acknowledgment to centering Indigenous Peoples and Native voices. Learn more here.
Personal diversity statements are becoming a common part of the employment application process. During the Day of Collective Action David Hawkins-Jacinto, Ph.D., from Writing and Rhetoric Studies looked at why are these statements are so important and how exactly you write one. Learn more and watch a recording of the event here.
Irene H. Yoon, Ph.D, from the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy in the College of Education lead a session on inclusion as a concept of love and what to consider in designing not only an academic curriculum but also the environment in which learning can happen.
Below are some key takeaways, poignant quotes, concepts and questions for further exploration and a recommended reading list.
- Stories are an entry point to inclusion.
- What stories do you tell about your students? Colleagues? Workplace?
- What stories do students/colleagues tell about you?
- View inclusion as a concept of love.
- Inclusion is a basic human need and right.
- What are you assuming to be the center?
- How do I know you? And how do you know me?
- Design with the assumption that there will be people in the margins.
- Build noticing inclusion and exclusion into the readings of a class.
- Articulate what made people feel angry, uncomfortable or seen.
What inclusion isn’t:
- Measured by time and space
- Niceness and politeness
- “Making space” for “others”
- Something some people need while others don’t
- Not settling for surface-level harmony
Some concepts of inclusion:
- Beloved community—Martin Luther King Jr.
- Building resistance—Kazu Haga
- Disability Studies and Crip Studies—Eli Clare
Leading with love:
- Creativity rather than dependence
- Survivance and not only lacking
- Joy and not only trauma
- Compassion and not “helping”
- Capability/Capacity vs. “preparedness” or “ability”
- Curiosity rather than knowing
How to Inclusion: Love*
- “Tar Beach” by Faith Ringgold
- “The Ocean Calls” by Tina Cho, illustrated by Jess X. Snow
- “Your Name is a Song” by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
- “We are Water Protectors” by Carole Lindstrom
- “Ghostly matters” by Avery Gordon
- *“Leadership as an Act of Love: Leading in Dangerous Times” by Mónica C. Byrne-Jiménez and Irene H. Yoon
- Deborah Keyk-Franssen, associate vice president and dean of University Connected Learning.
- Jim Agutter, associate professor of design, College of Architecture + Planning
In a higher education context, Inclusive Design and Design Justice (IDDJ) provide a framework for educators to design courses that center the perspectives of students who have been disenfranchised or excluded from society’s learning designs. It has its roots in accessibility design for physical and digital spaces, and aims to ensure that students of all abilities, languages, genders, cultures, and ages can be successful.
Deborah Keyk-Franssen gave a design example from the physical environment. A city decided that there was a “problem;” people without housing were sleeping on benches in a park. To address this, they added armrests to the benches that prevented people from lying down. This had unintended consequences.
“The intent was to reduce the access of a specific population from a public space,” Keyk-Franssen said. “But the impact was that it didn’t address the social problem [that causes homelessness], and it made it difficult to enjoy the space. Everyone was excluded.”
Jim Agutter said that the same happens when designing a learning environment—every decision that an educator makes can create or reduce barriers, intentionally or unintentionally. The imagery on the lecture slides, the sequencing of material, the way that breaks are used — they all contribute to the student’s experience. For example, an instructor might choose to turn off the chat in an online classroom because they perceive that as distracting.
“But there are unintended consequences. You think it’s distracting, but it also allows innocently connecting in a digital world that’s trying to disconnect us,” Agutter said, “You could still make the decision, but you’re aware of those downstream consequences.”
IDDJ requires putting learning at the center of course design. “If we design with needs in mind of the person who might not have been served before, it can benefit all students,” said Keyk-Franssen. “You might make an audio track of the lecture highlights from each week for students who don’t read as quickly as others, but that also benefits the mom who can listen while she’s driving around to pick up her kids.”
A central tenet of IDDJ is to collaborate with the populations that you’re designing for. “Design Justice is designing with folks. You’re bringing them on the journey, so find out what they need,” Agutter said.
For example, he begins every semester polling the students about what they hope to gain from the class, then share the common themes and gets more feedback.
They shared readings for people who want to learn more about Inclusive Design & Justice:
- Amy Collier: Inclusive Design and Design Justice: Strategies to Shape Our Classes and Communities
You can also find the pillars of inclusive design and design justice here.
Attendees of this virtual event were introduced to Restorative Justice (RJ) and how RJ practices might be incorporated to better align with our community values. Restorative Justice focuses on non-retributive resolutions to harms that have been committed. The term “harm” is intentionally broad in scope and can vary in each unique case. The harm could be caused by an individual or group which impacts another individual or group and encompasses criminal acts, interpersonal conflicts, disruptive behaviors and individuals in need of support.
Restorative Justice focuses on identifying and addressing the harm caused by bringing together harmed parties and parties who have caused harm to seek a resolution that includes acceptance and responsibility for harmful behavior, repairing the harm caused to individuals and the community, and working to rebuild trust and building positive social connections. These processes are not yet in place on the University of Utah campus but the Office of the Dean of Students is actively looking into possible policy and best practice changes.
A discussion on creating more fair, equitable and inclusive recruitment, retention and exit standards at the U. Learn more here.
In a late afternoon session of March 22 at the University Guest House ballroom, facilitators Sarah Sherer, Chief Human Resources Officer at University of Utah Health and Trinh Mai, soical worker and Director of Mindfulness Programming at University of Utah Health led a discussion on inclusive practices in patient and client care.
They began the session with a guided meditation practice called STOP: Stop, Take a Breath, Observe, Proceed. Mai noted research has shown that mindfulness practice and stress management can reduce implicit bias.
When thinking about inclusive practices in patient and clinical care, Sherer framed the conversation as needing to look through two lenses: the patients and community who are receiving care and the care team who is providing care.
Sherer noted the importance of having our patients and the community feel that they have a trusted relationship with their health care providers. “We’ve had years and years of practices that have created mistrust,” said Sherer. “Now we need to undo some of those deeply rooted practices.” Sherer pointned out the need to move beyond the one directional paradigm and instead involve patients in their care through shared decision-making. She also noted the need to have dialogue with our patients to really understand their lives beyond their medical condition. Focus on asking questions to understand patient's needs and foster that shared decision-making. We can’t assume people can access medical care but rather redesign our health care delivery to reduce the barriers people face. Sherer gave the example of the Wellness Bus, which travels to communities to help treat diabetes and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
At the same time that we’re addressing patient needs, Sherer noted, we also need to make sure our care teams feel psychologically and physically safe in their work environment. “Our care teams deserve same the respect and protection as our patients,” said Sherer. “They need to be encouraged to speak up if they experience disrespectful behavior.” Mai pointed out that our faculty, staff, and students of color often experience racist, classist, and sexist comments and behaviors. “We need to address it and create supportive spaces. We can teach employees how to be upstanders who intervene when they witness these situations," said Mai. “There is lots of work to be done to build a culture of respect and inclusion.”
Mai and Sherer then divided the group into two breakout sessions and gave each participant a folder that had several thought-provoking articles from Accelerate. They then asked the group to discuss the inclusive practices they had experienced in health care and the opportunities that they see for improvement. Inclusive practices included having interpreters for non-English speaking patients, offering transportation to health care appointments, neutral-gender bathrooms, being treated as a person and not a diagnosis and asking patients about mental health or how they best like to receive information. Other ideas generated by participants included:
- Asking patients open-ended questions to ease distrust and build better relationships.
- Addressing mental and physical health and strike a balance between the two.
- Provide more education around microaggressions and help people visualize what it would look like to speak up so they are more prepared and confident to do so.
- Addressing time constraints that providers have to deliver care.
Content warning: Antisemitism
Jude McNeil, director, Office of Inclusive Excellence
- Dana Timpowsku, executive director, Hillel for Utah
- Asher Ireland, President of Hillel for Utah at the University of Utah, first year U student
- Maeera Shreiber, chair of Jewish Studies Initiative and associate professor of English at the U.
In December of 2021, Dave Bateman, co-founder and board member of Entrada, a Lehi-based tech company, sent an email to Utah politicians that claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine was a Jewish plot to “euthanize the American people.”
The idea that Jewish people are controlling the world is an antisemitic trope that has persisted for thousands of years. In the wake of the email, there was a rally to shine a light on antisemitism in Utah—earlier in the year, someone had etched a swastika on the glassdoor of a temple in Salt Lake City. Governor Spencer Cox met with leaders from Utah’s Jewish community to talk about antisemitism in Utah, defined as a hostility and prejudice against Jewish people. Asher Ireland attended the meeting, and was one of three speakers who led a session that focused on antisemitism.
“Antisemitism has tripled over the last year,” Ireland said. “There are instances that grab media attention, like the shooting at the Philadelphia temple and the hostages held in a Texas Synagogue…but most antisemitism won’t catch media attention.
Ireland is the president of Hillel for Utah at the University of Utah, a regional branch of the largest Jewish campus organization in the world; there are 55 Hillel organizations that serve about 155,000 Jewish students. Hillel helps Jewish students find community on campus, and inspire them to explore Judaism and Jewish life. They also work with students to help combat antisemitism.
Ireland shared his experience growing up as a Jewish kid in Alpine, Utah. He said that in Utah, Jews tend to be a white-passing community, so Utahns didn’t filter antisemitism from him and other Jewish students.
“Students in high school would yell Heil Hitler or use the term ‘dirty Jew.’ It happened everywhere, it happened all the time,” Ireland said. Those experiences led him to become active in educating people about Judaism and in combating antisemitism.
Hillel for Utah began a campus climate initiative that collected data about how Jewish students felt on campus. Most surveyed felt relative safe on the U campus. Hillel for Utah is now in the process of improving the climate for Jewish and other students. For example, putting all religious holidays on a calendar.
“We’re talking about how to support students in getting dispensation from professors when they miss class for a major religious holiday,” said Dana Timpowsku, executive director of Hillel for Utah. “We’re trying to increase awareness among faculty and students.
The speakers shared a short documentary entitled “Antisemitism in our midst: Past and present” that charts antisemitism throughout history, how it’s changed, and the persistent Jewish stereotypes that began thousands of years ago when early Christians falsely accused the Jews of killing Jesus. You can find that documentary here.
After a discussion of the film, a session attendee asked what people can do when confronting antisemitism in the real world? Dr. Maeera Shreiber, who chairs the Jewish Studies Initiative at the U, suggested confronting the person by centering yourself.
“People haven't met anyone for whom this story of the Holocaust is not just a textbook and it's real. One thing I know in my own classrooms, relationships, is that I encourage the use of "I". If I can say to them, ‘My grandmother fled from Europe. My classmates’ parents had numbers on their arms,’” she said, referring to the tattooed numbers forced upon people in Nazi concertation camps. “The more you can draw it into—I lived this. This is part of my story. It turns the volume down on the antagonism and makes them open and curious.”
Ireland suggests subtly correcting people when it comes up, rather than being angry or accusatory. “You don’t want to meet people where you want them to be, meet them where they are,” he said.
Jude McNeil suggested asking questions to understand why that person thinks the way that they do. “If people are conditioned to think a certain way ask, ‘Where did you hear that? Why do you think that?’”
They ended the session by sharing a quote from Rabbi Tarfon, “"It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it."
- Scott McAward, director, Center for Disability Access at the U, identifies as neurotypical
- Sammie Serrano, undergraduate majoring in health, society and policy. Identifies as neurodiverse
Neurodiversity was a term coined by Judy Singer, a sociologist who has Autism. Neurodiversity promotes the idea that there are no right or wrong ways of processing information, thinking or learning. A neurodiverse person experiences normal variances in the human genome that result in developmental disorders or mental illnesses. Neurotypical folks are individuals whose brain develops and functions in ways that are considered usual or expected by society.
“Society is built upon adhering to the needs of the neurotypical majority,” said Sammie Serrano, an advocate for neurodiverse students on the U campus who identifies as neurodiverse. “Neurodivergent people are often marginalized with stigmas because they struggle to adhere to society's norm for learning, working, and living life.”
Neurodivergent people are those who have dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and many other diagnoses that can make learning environments a challenge. The neurodiversity movement focuses on the idea that developmental differences shouldn't be considered disordered, and that society must better accommodate them.
Serrano was diagnosed as neurodivergent just after high school, before going to the University of Utah. After struggling for years without any support, she finally received accommodations for senior year. She developed strategies for persisting, which she compiled into a booklet called “How to be resilient when everything is not OK” that she shared with everyone in attendance.
Scott McAward, director of the Center for Disability Access, has been involved in disability access on the University of Utah campus for 18 years. He discussed universal design, which describes designing products or environments to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. He and Angela Smith, associate professor and director of Disability Studies, are leading the U’s Universal Design Committee, which is working on initiatives to improve the U campus’ accessibility.
"If we want to strive for inclusion, we need to go beyond the American Disability Act (ADA), the federally mandated building codes that require accessible designs such as ramps and automatic doors,” said McAward. “People think that a building is inclusive because it meets the law. But there's a huge gap between what is compliant and what is actually usable.”
Universal design is important for many reasons, McAward explained. “When places are designed from the start to be usable, it saves the institution money in the long run. It also sends an important message of an institution’s values – that we are inclusive. It also helps increase the diversity on campus.”
McAward shared the steps when planning for universal design:
- Identify the application
- Define the universe: Who are the users? What are their circumstances?
- Involve consumers: Include diverse users, support offices in all aspects of the process.
- Adopt standards: Create or select existing guidelines that support your goals.
- Plan for accommodations: Even the best universal design can't plan for every user- be proactive in your accommodation plan.
- Train and support: Make sure all stakeholders are trained in concepts of universal design.
- Evaluate: Periodically evaluate the effectiveness of your design choices, adapt as needed
For more information about accessibility at the U, visit https://disability.utah.edu.
An afternoon screening of the movie, Just Mercy, was followed by a discussion facilitated by Maria Martinez, director of TRIO.
As Alabama lawyer Bryan Stevenson gazed across the river, he remarked that it was the watery route that first brought slaves to the area. And a short 15 miles away was a lynching site where dozens of Blacks had been killed over the span of decades. Stevenson reflected on this brutal past shortly after his evidence-laden appeal for a retrial for an innocent Black man on death row had been denied. It was the latest chapter in centuries of oppression.
With the cards stacked against him on all sides, Stevenson’s conviction and perseverance turned the tide, documents the film Just Mercy. After years of hard work, he led the Supreme Court of Alabama to overturn the lower court’s decision and overcome injustices that had been built into the very structure of law enforcement and the courts. In 1993, Walter “Johnny D” McMillian became the first of 140 wrongfully accused death row inmates to be exonerated by Stevenson’s law firm, the Equal Justice Initiative.
“I’m grateful that films like this one are able to start important conversations that need to be happening,” said Bryan Hubain, associate vice president of student development and inclusion for Student Affairs. Terrible incidents on campus demonstrate that we must achieve a better understanding of anti-Black racism, and that there is much work to be done. This film brings the viewer closer to that understanding by examining race in a complex way. It sheds light on systemic inequities that exist and how institutions that operate within them shape people’s lives for better or worse, Hubain explains.
Seeing how much one person can accomplish to overcome disparities is inspiring, concluded the post-film discussion led by Martinez. Even though we can’t all achieve feats of that magnitude, every one of us can do something significant. Each of us has the ability to become unique champions in our own way.
The group of session participants noted it is important to realize that even if you think your contributions are small, they may have more impact than you will ever know. Simply taking action sets you up as a role model that inspires others, and that has power in and of itself.
Where, then, is the best place to start? Intent sets the stage for everything that will follow. Stevenson spoke of it this way in the film:
- Speak up when they say to be quiet.
- Stand up when they say to sit down.
- Know that the opposite of wealth isn’t poverty, it’s justice.
- Our character isn’t based on how we treat the privileged, but on how we treat the condemned.