Message of hate empowers Black students to demand more from Salt Lake Community College administration

Story by HARRISON FAUTH

A thief hidden behind a computer screen disrupted an event meant to celebrate Black poetry. Few students saw the white supremacy message, but many felt the ripple of hatred within Salt Lake Community College and Utah. The aftermath left a Black student community determined and resilient to not let hate win.

After a Black Student Union Zoom event in February 2021 was hijacked with messages of hate intended to quiet the voice of Black students, the opposite occurred. It created action and a resolve to ask for more from their community and college administrators. The event continued live and provided inspiration for those in attendance. 

After the attack, SLCC’s president sent an email to each student and staff member expressing regret and disappointment about the Zoom “bombing.” No mention of concrete action steps from school administration was mentioned in the email. 

Joy Tlou, director of public relations at SLCC, said in a phone interview, “Diversity, equity and inclusion is something that SLCC is committed to. The administration shares the concerns of the Black students and they are fully aware of the trauma that was felt by those at the event and on Zoom.”  

To bring understanding to the school’s response, it is important to examine the student population. According to the website College Factual, college campuses in Utah share a similar degree of diversity. SLCC, University of Utah and Weber State all report a white student population of 69% and Black population of 2%. The largest diversity comes from the 17% Hispanic population that is enrolled at SLCC. This may matter when it comes to the school’s policies and priorities. 

SLCC responded quickly to the incident, but many students felt it was reactive and not proactive. In an email interview, BSU President Jaycee Glavin said that prior to the event most Black students felt a lack of support. But after the event, Black students felt an outpouring of support. Some of it was genuine, such as questions about “how can we do better?” While others were more halfhearted as a way to fulfill an obligation. Glavin said, it remains to be seen if support will continue.

In email interviews members of  BSU leadership expressed feeling worried, anxious, and fear, but the overwhelming feeling was anger. Anger that they were attacked. Angry, but resilient. Glavin said, “Haters did not stop us, but they did affect us.” He also expressed concern that the person who did the Zoom bombing is still unknown. This fact has created a heightened awareness of safety on the SLCC main campus.

Black students have requested that the SLCC administration show more interest in activities on campus that support diversity. One member of the BSU leadership who did not want their name publicized said in an email interview, “Come to our events and show you care. You attend birthday parties and retirement parties. Why not make some time to attend a Black sponsored event.” 

This was also discussed in relation to police presence on campus. BSU leadership wants law enforcement to normalize their presence at events so students feel less fear and more cooperation. Glavin said, “I just met the highway patrol force over SLCC, and I think we are working towards making a relationship without awkward encounters.”

For years Black students have asked the school administration for an updated Black history curriculum taught by Black professors. “I want to have Black history taught by someone who shares the experience of being Black,” one BSU member said in an email. 

Glavin said he felt the curriculum on campus was “whitewashed” like most school experiences in Utah. 

SLCC Globe reporter Heather Graham said in an email interview that she feels the “intent on campus is to be inclusive, but this is not often met.” Many Black students are the only person of color in their classroom and often do not see professors who are Black teaching at the school.

BSU members have asked the administration to actively recruit Black professors. Joy Tlou, the PR director, said, “SLCC is widening their search for professors outside of Utah to increase teacher diversity.”

Another request is to provide Black counselors to better address the needs of Black students. BSU leadership feels this need is invisible until something bad happens. Then it becomes part of the discussion.

Black students want Black counselors who understand their reality. Black students have different cultural experiences and want to speak to someone who shares their same experience. As one BSU member who did not want their name mentioned said, “We are missing strong allies on campus.”

BSU leadership also wants white students as allies, but this is often misunderstood. To be an ally means to “listen when you are in a Black space and not speak up to share an experience.” The same BSU member added in an email interview, “Until you walk in a Black person’s shoes you can never understand what we felt.”

BSU plans to reschedule the poetry slam that was hijacked. SLCC information technology security and law enforcement have begun the work to make future events more secure. They are also hoping to have more school administration in attendance at the event.

The SLCC administration, like society, has a serious challenge to address. As Joy Tlou said, “Campus needs to be safe, healthy and supportive; it is not a destination, it is a journey, and everyone needs to come along.”