Hundreds of students, staff and faculty gathered on Feb. 8 as part of the U’s second annual Day of Collective Action. The event is designed to bring the campus community together to learn, reflect and find ways to build a more equitable future.
The Day of Collective Action was one of the U’s responses to instances of hate that have affected the University of Utah community, including threats made to the Black Cultural Center and other BCCs across the country, said Lori McDonald, vice president of Student Affairs and co-chair of Presidential Commission on Equity and Belonging, at the opening session.
“I believe the Day of Collective Action is our day to grapple with difficult conversations and topics,” said McDonald. “And to say that I can do better—that we can do better—as a campus community.” The actions that result from the day will shape the lives of students, the city and state, she added.
“Our campus community is committed to recognizing and dismantling discrimination in all forms and this day serves as an important step to getting everyone on campus involved,” said U President Taylor Randall in his prepared remarks to open the session. “I hope that today will inspire you to continue your involvement in our community’s collective action to develop new ways of making a lasting impact.”
The four tracks offered at the event—Exploring the Hispanic Serving Institution, Anti-Racism, Indigenizing the University of Utah and Community and Coalition Building—encouraged attendees to delve deeper into specific aspects of equity and belonging. Additional programming included a safety session discussing policing in the post-George Floyd era, a 28-day white supremacy challenge and an antisemitism session. Participants learned about developing an anti-racism plan, equity-centered community building, addressing student poverty, and gender and its impacts on higher education, among other important topics.
The Collective Day of Action is a presidential initiative, launched in 2022 by the Presidential Commission on Equity and Belonging. The U is proud to be at the forefront of the movement to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in higher education, and the annual event is a critical step in this journey, said Randall.
There is never enough time in a single day to address all the identities that experience harm, so this is ongoing work, and it takes us all, said Bryan Hubain, co-chair of the event and associate vice president of student development and inclusion. The event was created for us to “come away from with ideas and actions that we can take to make our institution more equitable, and anti-racist—a place where all are welcome,” said Hubain.
Below you’ll find information from the four tracks held throughout the day.
Higher education is becoming more diverse than ever, and Latinx students are accessing it in greater numbers than ever before, said Pamela Cappas-Toro, the Latinx initiatives manager for the U. “In Utah our school districts are becoming increasingly diverse with almost half of the projected growth in school-age population coming from the Latinx community over the next 40 years,” said Cappas-Toro.
This means the U has a responsibility to analyze how best to serve its student population, she said. Which is why the opening presidential track of the Day of Collective Action on Hispanic-serving institutions was a keynote address, led by Anne-Marie Núñez, director of the Natalicio Institute for Hispanic Student Success at the University of Texas, El Paso.
Learn more about some of the topics covered and questions answered in the featured presentation in the Q&A below.
WHAT IS A HISPANIC-SERVING INSTITUTION?
A Hispanic-serving institution, or HSI, is a college or university that's either public or private, accredited, and non-profit with at least 25 percent of its undergraduate, full-time equivalent students being Hispanic or Latinx. There are more than 500 schools that fit the description nationwide, but it is growing quickly, especially as demographics are changing so rapidly, said Núñez.
- HSI institutions serve a diverse and heterogeneous student population, including a large number of first-generation college-goers and low-income students
- Since 1994, the number of HSIs has grown from 189 to 569, constituting 70 percent of the 700 minority-serving institutions in the country
- HSIs enroll 66 percent of all Latinx students, more Black students than HBCUs, and more Native American students than tribal colleges
During the Day of Collective Action several sessions focused on anti-racism strategies, including one titled, “Developing an Anti-Racism Plan,” hosted by Dean McGovern, executive director of the U’s Bennion Center for Community Engagement.
For hundreds of years, racism has created a system within which people of color have been excluded, oppressed and kept from opportunities. If that system is to be dismantled, then strategies must be developed to create an inclusive environment through anti-racism practices. McGovern described these practices as any kind of intentional act, process, policy, behavior, system, procedure or operation within an organization that has equity and inclusion as its target.
“Whether it's a for-profit organization, a non-profit organization or any kind of community organization, how do you combat that kind of thinking?” McGovern asked. “This means that the people who believe in the organization have to literally buy into all parts of this.”
Individuals inside the organization will have to put their trust in the notion that anti-racism will help make the organization better and more productive long term. The sum of the work, McGovern said, will be greater than the parts, even the painful parts leading to better outcomes for everyone. “Racism hurts,” he said. “Every single person regardless of your background, your race, your opportunity, it hurts everyone.”
“You have to open up to the idea that being uncomfortable is where education happens and where growth happens,” McGovern said. “It's uncomfortable to grow. Sometimes, it hurts to grow spiritually, too. But it's worth it in the end.”
How do we find our communities? Who is responsible for building our communities? When is the right time to engage with our communities? How can we get support from our communities?
These were the topics of discussion attendees explored at student-focused Day of Collective Action events.
Gender, power and higher education
The Women's Resource Center and the LGBT Resource Center hosted a session where attendees had a chance to share their personal experiences with gender-based oppression. The group discussed ways to identify and transform systems in higher education that perpetuate gender biases. At the close of the session, moderators asked participants to use their radical imagination to answer, “What would your tomorrow look like if we could eliminate these injustices and inequities?”
Basic needs are basic: Addressing college student poverty to promote success
The Basic Needs Collective (BNC) strives to connect students with the resources they need to succeed during their time at the U. Navigating issues such as food and housing insecurities can be isolating for students who are experiencing them. The team of collaborators who staff the BNC help students develop a community of support both on campus and with external partners. Nearly 175 students interacted with the BNC during the Fall 2022 Semester and center staff have already seen half that number during the first month of spring semester. Presenter Sarah Elizabeth Garza-Levitt shared findings from a 2021 student survey that details food insecurity among students at the University of Utah.
How students’ financial wellness can impact equity within higher education
Proper financial education in high school can lead to greater financial literacy and success in college, according to Branden Dalley, director of the A. Ray Olpin Student Union. Dalley’s doctoral research project found that low-income students and students of color benefitted greatly from the experimental financial literacy course he developed. Dalley’s presentation focused on how students’ financial wellness impacts equity within higher education. Students come from a variety of different situations, backgrounds and social statuses, which can lead to struggles with the price of higher education, debt and financial literacy disparities.
“I’m never a proponent of saying all debt is bad,” Dalley said. “I am a proponent of saying we need to do a better job educating students in a productive way about what debt could lead to, or maybe more importantly, how to navigate debt moving forward.”
If we can do it, so can you: Equity-centered community building
Members of the 2022 cohort of the New Leadership Academy led an engaging activity that asked attendees to create an action plan that furthers EDI initiatives in their personal and professional development. Presenters Karen Marsh-Schaeffer, Beth Mitchell, Jessica M. Hurtado and Shiver, worked with attendees to help each set goals and determine next steps. A key takeaway from the presentation was the importance of community building.
Speaking on the importance of building communities of support, Shiver said, “We take an approach, sometimes without realizing it, that we can do this alone, we don’t need community, that we should do what we can now individually and maybe come back to community later when we have more time… But equity work isn’t solo work. It isn’t done alone. That is our individualism straight out of white supremacy culture lying to us. Equity work is community work."
Creating Black at the U
Leaders of the Black Cultural Center (BCC) at the University of Utah invited Black staff, faculty, graduate and undergraduate students to talk about what is means to be Black at the U. BCC director Meligha Garfield and program coordinators Ephraim Kum and Sara Cody led the conversational session asking participants to talk about what culture currently exists and what culture could be for the Black campus community. Along with the open discussion, attendees responded to questions including:
- Do we have a collective Black culture here on campus?
- What do you want to see from the institution to recruit and retain Black staff, students and faculty?
- How can the U better promote existing services for Black community members, such
as the BCC?
Indigenous presence, weaponry and (un)belonging
Amanda Tachine, an assistant professor in educational leadership and innovation at Arizona State University, visited the U for the Day of Collective Action to discuss the issue of belonging for Indigenous students at higher education institutions. Tachine’s academic research focuses on college access and persistence among American Indian college students. She is the author of Native Presence and Sovereignty in College.
Tachine’s presentation explored questions of who defines the concept of “belonging” on college campuses.
“In higher ed, we’re really good at utilizing [terms like belonging] and they can become like catchphrases,” she said. “We need to think about the roots of that term and the ways in which it excludes particular ideologies and ways of knowing.”
Tachine discussed invisibility as the modern form of racism against American Indians. She noted there are very few representations of American Indian characters in TV, movies, video games or children’s books. Tachine said the “invisibility monster” Native people face “has roots in erasure and racism and works to dehumanize and erase our brilliance and intellect. That in turn sets us up to question who we are and our sense of belonging.”
She pointed out that American Indian populations are often left out of academic research and data reporting due to small sample numbers. “This makes me wonder how institutions are counting Native students,” she said. “How are you including them in your data set, in your thinking?”
Tachine shared statistics that just 1% of college students in the United States are American Indian, and enrollment numbers have decreased in the last 15 years. This has long term implications for Indigenous communities and Native nation building, she said. She emphasized that universities need to be mindful and intentional about creating a Native presence and urged faculty, staff and administrators to further engage in questions about belonging and visibility on college campuses.
“Colleges and universities as well as high schools can do more with their approaches to build the systemic weaponry that students can use to be successful,” she said. “Higher education institutions have a responsibility to all students, especially Indigenous students whose original homelands or places or colleges now sit and benefit from.”
Working with Native communities
Cynthia Benally, an assistant professor in the University of Utah College of Education, facilitated a discussion from a panel of graduate students who conducted projects involving close collaboration with Native communities. They talked about their experiences working with Indigenous groups and highlighted tools, resources and best practices. The panelists included:
- Beatriz Trejo, College of Education: Trejo’s project centered on educational materials that highlight the impact of the transcontinental railroad on Indigenous communities and homelands. Trejo teaches Introduction to Multicultural Education and said she wants her students to learn how to find and incorporate Indigenous history in their classrooms.
- Fiona Summers, Environmental Humanities program: Summers worked with members of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation to add Indigenous history and perspectives to the junior ranger booklet on Antelope Island State Park. The goal was to accurately depict the history of land acquisition, highlight the Shoshone commitment to kinship beyond humans, and celebrate their relationship to the land.
- Jessica Chaplain, Communications, and Joaquín Lopez-Huertas, City & Metropolitan Planning: Chaplain and Lopez-Huertas created an online Indigenous walking tour of the University of Utah. They gathered ideas and perspectives from American Indian students to inform the project. The tour stops discuss areas where Tribal cultures are represented—such as the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation’s flag in the Union Building—and future areas where more Indigenous presence might be promoted on campus.
Along with the panel discussion, Benally announced the Working with Native Communities Graduate Certificate, a program that will be offered beginning fall 2023. The program is intended to prepare graduate level learners of diverse backgrounds and academic studies for professional work with Native communities by deepening their understanding about the historical context and contemporary challenges facing Native peoples in the United States.
Benally said she created the graduate certificate to help forge better relationships between non-Natives and Native communities. The certificate will include required courses in federal Indian law, history of Indian education, and community-engaged learning in Indigenous contexts, along with several elective courses.
Braiding our identities to build community
Leaders from the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) conducted an activity to illustrate how individuals can connect with one another to build community. The goal was to identify and reflect on intersecting identities and shared lived experiences, in order to find common ground with peers and learn more about one another.
AIRC program manager Tashina Barber and program coordinator Hailee Roberts asked participants to fill out a “personal identity wheel” with aspects of their identity, such as their favorite books and movies, skills and hobbies they were proud of, a personal motto, number of siblings, and adjectives they would use to describe themselves. Participants gathered in small groups to share their answers and find commonalities. Afterward, participants were asked to share answers with the larger group, then were asked to link arms with someone who had a shared interest. Participants continued to join arms until the entire group was linked in one circle.
Barber and Roberts said they conduct this activity with Indigenous college students at the U. Barber said these students often feel like they’re in a place that wasn’t made for them. This activity helps the students open up and find connections with each other. It also allows them to talk about skills and aspects of themselves they are proud of. Barber said the activity creates a welcoming atmosphere and establishes a sense of belonging while building a community that honors diverse lived experiences.
About a dozen members of the University of Utah campus community started the Me and White Supremacy 28-Day Challenge on Wednesday as part of this year’s Day of Collective Action.
Over the next four weeks, group members will read Layla Saad’s book “Me and White Supremacy” and complete a series of journal prompts. On March 8, they will meet to discuss their experience.
Saad’s book, published in January 2020, began as a free month-long Instagram challenge in 2018. After the murder of George Floyd later that year and the protests that followed, Saad’s book was a resource many people turned to.
While sign-ups for this challenge group are closed, students, faculty and staff who are interested in reading the book can still check out a digital copy from the Marriot Library.
The U’s Day of Collective Action included a session on antisemitism: “Enhancing Campus Climate as Allies to the Jewish Community on Campus.”
The University of Utah’s Racist and Bias Incident Response Team has received two reports of antisemitic activity on campus this school year—an antisemitic, white nationalist conspiracy propaganda mailer being sent to the university’s Center for Child Care and Family Resources and a swastika being drawn on a white board in a residence hall.
“Not too long ago I was asked by an administrator at a university if there was a mental health aspect to antisemitism. I sort of smiled and said ‘Well, yes.’ Because anytime students are targeted for any reason, there is a mental health aspect,” said Tina Malka, director of Antisemitism Education at Hillel International.
While these actions are blatant, Jewish students at the U say there are many less obvious ways they experience discrimination, such as professors sharing anti-Israel material in class; being subjected to microaggressions and stereotypes from their peers; and the sharing of antisemitic material on social media.
Antisemitism is on the rise across the United States. In 2021, over 2,000 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism were reported to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Those numbers represent a 34% increase from 2020, and the highest number of reports since the league began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. In the 2020-21 school year, a third of undergraduate students in the United States reported personally experiencing antisemitic hate, according to a survey conducted by ADL and Hillel International.
Incidents of antisemitism on campus should be reported to campus police. The ADL also tracks antisemitism through reports made via reportcampushate.org.