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Humans of the U: Jaina Lee

"The things I have appreciated the most about my time here at the U have been the personal connections that I’ve been able to make with friends and colleagues."

“I grew up around Salt Lake City, with my mom, dad and sister.  The U was not my dream school, but it was the most financially feasible option for me, and in many ways, I was still able to work on my dreams here. I found a passion in health care disparities and access in Salt Lake City and declared double majors in Health, Society and Policy, and Anthropology to figure out ways I could explore solutions.

When I first started at the U I worked full-time as a medical assistant in neurology and spent much of my free time studying. I had a pretty poor balance of work/school/life and wasn’t as connected to campus life or community as I wanted to be. I didn’t make many new friends and also felt incredibly burnt out.

Towards the end of my sophomore year, I decided I wanted to be more involved and nurture a greater connection with the university and campus in general. I sought out opportunities that addressed racial disparities in health and academics. I specifically found the Alternative Breaks program which helped to formulate much of my social justice foundation and the Council on Student Access which seeks to bring marginalized students to college. Through these experiences, I was able to meet like-minded people who also devote themselves to addressing systemic barriers on all fronts. In addition, working as a presidential intern under President Randall in the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has also provided me the background knowledge of how EDI work happens on an institutional level. While there is definitely room for improvement, I’ve been able to work in spaces that have been created to address topics like anti-Blackness, fatphobia and indigenous justice (plug for Reframing the Conversation). Taking on a greater role in the campus community has been something I’ve enjoyed, and felt that it has enriched my college experience.

During my time as a student, I also made the decision to more consciously connect with my heritage. Growing up around Salt Lake, I did not have much opportunity to engage with the Korean language and culture, and during middle and high school, felt that I often ignored that portion of my identity. It wasn’t until I was able to meet people in college that helped me unpack parts of my identity, that I was able to gain a greater appreciation. There is still a lot of work for me to do, but I’m grateful for the people who have guided me during my college journey so that I can continue embracing my culture.

Looking back, the things I have appreciated the most about my time here at the U have been the personal connections that I’ve been able to make with friends and colleagues. I was able to challenge my notion of what friendships mean to me and have been able to grow with my friends. These are people I hope to have in my life forever and have truly made my college experience worthwhile.

If I could give advice to first-year students on how to make the most of their time here, I would say three things: you deserve to be here, find your community, and get involved. Especially for students who hold racialized identities, you may not always feel like you belong, but know that you deserve a spot here. Know that imposter syndrome will make you feel like you don’t belong in a space, but ignore that, and take up more space! Find people with similar interests and surround yourself with good friends and mentors. It may seem hard at first, but there is a space for everyone here, you just have to find it. And get involved! There are so many opportunities to pursue projects you’re passionate about, take advantage of them. Not only will you achieve great things, but you’ll also make great friends and mentors.

After graduation, I will work on my Master of Public Health to further my education on a topic I am passionate about. I’m excited for what the future holds, and the connections I get to maintain and have yet to make. My time here at the U was a journey and I’m forever grateful for all those that allowed me to get to where I am today.”

—Jaina Lee, Class of 2022, B.S. in Health, Society and Policy and B.S. in Anthropology, College of Social & Behavioral Science, presidential intern