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Letter from the VPSA: Recognizing the power of speech

To the U community,

As someone deeply invested in the student experience at the University of Utah, I recognize the hurt some of our students are experiencing in light of recent global events and the university’s decisions regarding MEChA and YAF (Young Americans for Freedom). Our mission in Student Affairs is to support student success and well-being throughout all aspects of their time at the U, including experiences outside of the classroom. We know our students aren’t just learning about the world’s problems—they are living through them. As students navigate a sea of emotions, attempting to make sense of the complexities that shape their journeys, we are here to support them because we know that it is within these challenging times that profound growth occurs.

I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with protesting, gathering, or expressing one’s beliefs. I am proud to be a part of a campus filled with fearless students who come together as a community to voice their opinions on pressing matters. However, issues arise when students go beyond the bounds of the law.

Student activism is not a passing phase; it’s a continuous and integral part of higher education and is reflected in varying ways, including protests. It is how students develop their voice; nurture a blossoming form of leadership; learn to contribute meaningfully to society; and connect with communities that share common beliefs and passions. We believe in the benefits our students gain from these experiences, and that’s precisely why Student Affairs empowers students to continue practicing activism safely, effectively, and within the bounds of laws, policies, and guidelines. True leadership in activism requires us to draw on strength to stand firm within our convictions, but also the humility to listen and negotiate.

While I support students exercising free speech and participating in activism, it’s important to note that such actions often do not result in immediate change. Some proposed changes or demands may be complex, or contradict university policies and state and federal laws. Given that the University of Utah is a public institution and a state entity, certain demands may not be possible or would require legislative changes to be implemented. I acknowledge that this reality is frustrating. This feeling is profoundly human. But, most importantly, it is an experience that will prepare students to engage in the communities in which they live and the world more broadly.

To our students: Your emotions are valid, and we are here to support you as you navigate through them. Recent events have provided the university administration an opportunity to analyze certain issues more critically. We, too, are learning from these experiences and will continue working with you toward a resolution. Moreover, I encourage you to engage in meaningful dialogue, where all parties are heard and treated with respect — even when differing opinions arise.

To our faculty and staff: I fully respect your right to free speech and academic freedom and recognize how critical it is to the very nature of your work. As you express your thoughts, I encourage you to be mindful of the inadvertent effect your actions may have on other students. Whether you protest, sign a petition, or make comments in passing, what you say matters. There are always multiple perspectives involved in these complex issues. As leaders, mentors, and teachers, each of us is responsible for contributing to students’ experiences here at the U, and we must come together as a community to ensure our campus remains a space where all can voice their thoughts, find support, and feel valued.


Lori McDonald, Vice President for Student Affairs