Text over image of a room with large meeting tables reads, "I belong here. Center for Ethnic Student Affairs"

The evolution of CESA

CESA graduates pose for photo with props in photo booth.

2019 CESA graduation celebration.

In the late 1960s, the University of Utah’s Center for Ethnic Student Affairs (CESA) was established to serve students of color and address institutional gaps in equity, diversity and inclusion. Today, center leaders and campus partners are re-imagining CESA as a university-wide center for a growing underrepresented student population.

“We are seeing a consistent increase in the number of undergraduate students from underrepresented populations,” said Mary Ann Villarreal, vice president for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). “This is an exciting opportunity for us to evolve, expand and identify how we can best serve students from African American, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Latinx, American Indian, biracial and queer communities and families now, and into the future.”

The evolution of CESA is being led by EDI in partnership with many departments across campus including student affairs, enrollment management, undergraduate studies and various colleges. The team is committed to keeping the heart of what has made CESA great all these years, while developing new infrastructures that will improve how they provide students with tools of belonging and success.

“CESA has been such a special and valuable place to so many of our minoritized students,” said Tricia Sugiyama, director of CESA. “It is a place to find friends, to find community and often to find financial support and other important resources that help students complete their degrees. With the new model, we are keeping all of those values and expanding our reach so we can help even more students.”

The idea is to make this center a hub for campus inclusion, where underserved students from various communities and experiences can find a sense of belonging and have the full support of vital resources throughout the entire campus community. To make this work, the vision is to ensure that the team is connecting with all incoming underserved students early—as soon as they start thinking about coming to the U.

“Sometimes by the first day of school, it might already be too late for a student to know who their community is going to be,” said Daniel Cairo, special assistant to the vice president for EDI overseeing strategy and operations. “They might have missed a deadline or the welcome barbeque or other kick-off event. So, we are working with our partners in enrollment and admissions to ensure students can connect to the center right away and we can begin to support both their academic and social integration which we know are key components to a student’s success.”

large group of students pose for photo at 2019 CESA graduation

2019 CESA graduation celebration.

In addition to CESA, EDI also houses the American Indian Resource Center, the Black Cultural Center, the Dream Center and the LGBT Resource Center. With this new model of CESA, said Sugiyama, it will be an opportunity to ensure students don’t feel like they only belong in one center.

“As we continue to strengthen our existing partnerships and to develop new ones, we’re able to celebrate the intersectionality of our students and engage in more cross-center programming and opportunities that allow for students to truly feel like they belong at the U,” said Sugiyama.

In order to ensure student interactions with campus partners are positive and meaningful, Cairo said CESA is moving away from the idea of handing students off to another office or department and are instead working to build a web of support around a student.

“It’s another benefit of building personal relationships so we can connect a student with a trusted person that will support them holistically,” said Cairo. “We are essentially building a web of support for all of our underserved students that will help them learn, grow, establish meaningful friendships and ultimately reach their goals.”

As part of the evolution, CESA will eventually go by a new name which has not yet been determined. The team is currently collaborating with campus partners as they define measurable goals and outline the new model.

“Events and conversations from this past year have shown us that we must keep a steady pace to drive the work of equity and inclusion forward,” said Villarreal. “We must keep moving toward the ideal that the U will grow into a reflection of all who we serve, that this is their home away from home and we are here to do all we can to support them.”