“Sak pase! From moldy bread to AVP, I am a Black, gay immigrant and I am done apologizing for who I am!
I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family. Growing up on the island of St. Lucia, there were times when my mom could only provide stale or moldy bread to feed us. She would scrape off the mold and do her best to dress it up for us with cheese or butter and then warm it in the oven. She taught me the art of resilience at a very young age and that impacts my work today. This also helped me to see the impact that a person could have in someone else’s life.
I want every student—no matter what labels society may have put on them—to know their stories are valued here. I created the ‘I Am U Thriving’ initiative to show—and not just tell—those who feel marginalized that they are not alone and they can THRIVE here at the University of Utah. Their stories and experiences are unique and important, and they can be successful on their own terms.
I know what it’s like to have someone marginalize me based on their perceptions of my outward persona. But that is only a portion of who I am. Every step of my story, from my childhood, to my journey to the United States, to becoming an associate vice president at a Tier 1 research university, all those unknown details make me who I am and gives me power. I want others to know that there is power in telling your own story and on your terms. I hope this project gives our students the power and ability to express both positive and negative experiences, or speak openly about privilege, oppression and our responsibility in those systems.
Imagine telling your story to the next person down the line. By sharing our stories of diversity and survival today, we can help someone else in unknown and profound ways. Stories of surviving hunger can help someone access resources to the food they didn’t know existed. Stories of surviving domestic abuse may give someone the courage to leave a similar situation with the knowledge that help is out there. And stories about race may change someone’s perception of the world they thought they knew.
There are a lot of messages telling us who we should be. But when we can actually lay claim to who we are, there’s so much power that then allows us as a community to celebrate and lift one another up. Most of all, to validate their experiences. I believe ‘I Am U Thriving’ can be a way to include all members of our community and become stronger because we all have unique stories to tell.”