Salt Lake City organizations promote community dialogue 

Story and photo by LIAM ELKINGTON

Salt Lake City has never particularly been known to be a diverse town. Due partly to its settlement by primarily white pioneers, Salt Lake City has gained a reputation for being fairly homogeneous. However, throughout the Salt Lake Valley one can find enclaves of unique cultures, cultivating their communities.

Salt Lake City’s west side serves as a home for diverse residents. Cultures can vary between neighborhoods, with each having different modes of expressing their heritage and integration into Salt Lake City as a whole. Several organizations within Salt Lake City are dedicated to not only recognizing and celebrating these differences, but also cultivating a community where differences between residents’ cultural and political backgrounds can be discussed, examined, and learned from.

One such group, Utah Humanities, offers Community Conversation Toolkits designed to provide support for local not-for-profit organizations that wish to host community dialogue events. Utah Humanites’ website features a quote from Lynn Curtis, a participant in the program, who said, “I savor the discussions which have always been engaging, but sometimes difficult.” 


The Utah Humanities Council is located at 202 W. 300 North.

The toolkits currently offered by Utah Humanities focus on discussion that surround race and diversity, as well as bridging differences between religious beliefs. While Utah Humanities enables other organizations to host these dialogue events, there are different other events within Salt Lake City that are designed to focus not only on dialogue between community members, but also various forms of cultural and civic education.

The Village Square is a Florida-based organization that is “dedicated to maintaining factual accuracy in civic and political debate by growing civil dialog on diverse issues, and recalling the history and principles at the foundation of our democracy.” The Village Square has an active branch in Utah, which hosts events that encourage participants to engage with issues facing the community, as well as expand attendees’ understanding of Utah’s cultural diversity. 

One of the events featured Andrea Smardon of the KUER podcast “Next Door Strangers.” The podcast focused on the national commentary that our nation has become increasingly divided, and discusses methods that allow individuals to reconnect with their communities in a meaningful way. 

The Village Square events tend to lean political, with events of the past granting participants the opportunity to “speed date” local leaders. One event especially found success in gathering Clinton and Trump supporters during 2016 in an effort to promote civil discourse. 

One could argue that the motivation behind having dialogue between different parties is to achieve understanding, and hopefully to connect in a meaningful way. Utah organization The Golden Rule Project believes that sharing, kindness and compassion are primary facilitators for gaining understanding across any number of social boundaries. 

The website for the Golden Rule Project states that “The Golden Rule Project is not religious, not political, and not associated with any agenda. We promote the Golden Rule as a basic human value.” 

The Golden Rule Project goes about its mission by being involved with numerous organizations, nonprofits and events ranging from farmers markets to Pride parades. Additionally, it hosts community conversation events, again designed to bridge the gap that an individual may feel exists between them and their community.

Communal dialogue can have a real effect on the lives of those involved. Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, director of University Neighborhood Partners, stated the importance of these types of resources. She recalled her work with the Human Rights Commission. Mayer-Glenn collaborated with the Commission as well as west-side communities to host a series of dialogue events designed to determine the needs of Salt Lake residents. These events encouraged discussion regarding the specific cultural, educational and economic challenges faced by the west-side community. The data gathered from these events was used to inform Utah state legislation, and may continue to influence how the west side is perceived by decision-makers in Utah. 

While there are several organizations that provide the space and means for dialogue events, an obstacle facing the communities that could benefit from them is lack of information. “I don’t want to represent community voice,” Mayer-Glenn said. Instead, she said she prefers that communities and organizations are given the resources to speak with each other, that way the needs of the community are being actively expressed.

These organizations are hardly alone in their efforts of community outreach. Many of them place emphasis on collaboration with nonprofits and government bodies like the Human Rights Commission. Ultimately, the goals of these organizations are similar, and require that the community be actively engaged in the discussions being created. The cooperation between these organizations is met with cooperation with the community, so that it may, as Mayer-Glenn suggested, represent its own voice.

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