Changing the stigma around ski racing 

Ski racing is a sport that isn’t accessible or affordable for most, but there are changes that can be made to make it more accessible. 

Story by MADISON KULEDGE

Imagine showing up to a sports competition and not having anyone look like you. Or being told that your athletic ability is only because of your race. Or competing in a sport that holds the nickname “rich white person’s sport” when you aren’t white. Unfortunately, this is the crippling reality for many Black ski racers. 

Ski racing is an expensive sport whose participants are predominantly white. Additionally most participants are in the upper-middle-class to upper-class income bracket. There needs to be change made to make it more inclusive and welcoming for all. 

In a study of the 2019-2020 season, the Snowsports Industries America found that in winter sports (skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, etc.) participation rates were 67.5% among whites and only 9.2% for Blacks. 

The history of skiing can be traced back to 8000-7000 B.C. in Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Skiing was used as a way of transportation and eventually transitioned into a leisure activity. 

The first ski competitions weren’t held until the 1840s in Norway. Ultimately, a few decades later, the sport made its way to the U.S. In 1936 alpine skiing made its Olympic debut at the Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen

This Indo-European background of winter recreation established it as an activity predominantly enjoyed by white people. 

Another aspect that makes ski racing inaccessible is the sheer cost. After equipment, club, camp and travel fees, athletes can expect to spend upward of $30,000-$100,000 (depending on the level of competition). For the U.S. Ski Team (USST) to pay for travel costs across all disciplines each year it needs approximately $1.6 million, according to Ski Racing Magazine

So, the question is, what can we do as a ski racing community to make the sport more inclusive and welcoming?

“I began ski racing when I was 6 and it wasn’t until I was racing internationally when I competed against someone Black,” said Luke Mathers, University of Utah Alpine Ski Club coach. “I think it’s surprising that there isn’t more diversity within the sport and I wish there was. I mean, who doesn’t love skiing?”

University of Utah Alpine Ski Club at regionals in Red Lodge, Montana, in 2018.

In Mathers’ four years with the club, only one Black ski racer has been a member of the team and he was only involved for just one season. 

To increase diversity in the sport, Mathers stressed the importance of “getting rid of the stigma that skiing is only for rich white people.”

This has been an issue that the USST has been trying to change for four years. In 2017, the USST created the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee to increase racial, ethnic, gender and socioeconomic diversity at all levels of ski racing. 

All committee members serve voluntarily and are comprised of USST staff, leadership and board members, as well as select members of the community. One of these community members is Lauren Samuels, U.S. Ski Team, Rowmark Ski Academy and University of Utah alumna.

Samuels grew up racing for Team Gilboa in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and at 15 was invited to join the U.S. Ski Development Team in Park City, Utah. 

During her time with the team, she quickly learned it wasn’t quite what she was expecting. 

At her pre-summer testing, known as baseline testing, she broke the record for her vertical jump test. “They said, ‘Well, it’s just because you’re Black, so obviously you can jump,’” Samuels recalled during a Zoom interview. 

She also experienced criticism for not braiding her hair, but her hair didn’t braid. “The coaches didn’t talk to me about my technical skills, but instead they asked about my hair,” Samuels said. “Well we did wind tunnel testing and braids were fastest by hundredths of a second,” her coaches told her. 

Once Samuels finished with the national team she was eventually invited to join the University of Utah Ski Team. After her time racing, she took her talents back to the slopes of Minnesota coaching and focused on making the sport better. 

“I don’t have the end-all solution. But does anyone?” Samuels said. “The main thing is outreach and partnering with organizations. There needs to be a strong partnership between the clubs and the U.S. Ski Team to generate diversity.”

University of Utah NCAA race in 2017 at Beaver Creek, Colorado. Lauren Samuels, left, and teammate Abby Ghent. Photo courtesy of Lauren Samuels

To make change it is important that everyone does their part. If everyone just sits around and points fingers at each other nothing is going to change. We as a community have to go out and create change. 

That is the philosophy of former ski racer Shay Glas, who is looking to make ski racing more accessible and affordable. 

“Skiing is expensive, we all know that. Skis get old and skiers want new ones. But what happens to the old ones? Normally they just sit in your basement or garage and I want to change that,” Glas said in a FaceTime interview. 

Glas is currently working on creating an organization that will provide used ski equipment to people of low income so they can try skiing. The program would provide people of all ages the ability to try out skiing for the day without all the costs and fees that are typically associated with it. For reference, a day of skiing can cost anywhere up to $350 after lift tickets and rentals. 

Along with the U.S. Ski Team, there are many organizations that have been working toward the diversification of skiing. 

Snowsports Industries America has over 20 inclusion teaching videos on its website stating, “SIA has convened an Inclusion Committee to provide feedback on our plan to incorporate inclusivity into our organization and our industry.”

There is also the National Brotherhood of Skiers founded in 1972 on the basis of creating a national Black Summit for skiers, a place for Black skiers to come together. Today it has over 50 clubs in 43 cities with a membership of 3,500 skiers. 

As a community, we need to work together to continue to listen, learn and make change. “If we all work together,” Glas said, “we can create diversity and switch the stigma around skiing.”

Making Greek life more inclusive one step at a time

Over the past year, the University of Utah Greek life has been working on diversity and inclusion in all of its 18 chapters. 

Story by MADISON KULEDGE 

After the events that took place in the Spring of 2020 most people in the U.S. had their eyes open to the issues in our society concerning race and the foundation of many institutions. One of these institutions was fraternity and sorority Greek life.

Nationally, several social media posts went viral in the spring pointing out the racial issues with how fraternity and sororities were established. Members shared their own experiences and brought light to changes that needed to be made. 

Many called for the abolishment of Greek life. However, there is room for growth and change instead. The University of Utah Greek life chose a path of growth and has since implemented many new policies. 

The current social issues that have been highlighted are not to be taken lightly by academic institutions, and Greek life is no exception. Therefore, members who are a part of marginalized communities have had their voices amplified in order to learn what change can be implemented.

Conversations about implicit bias, microaggressions, and mechanisms through which marginalized voices can be uplifted have been prioritized. These conversations are crucial toward spreading awareness and making initial steps to achieve real, measurable change. 

This statement was posted on May 31, 2020, by Utah Panhellenic on its Instagram.

The Panhellenic Council oversees the six National Panhellenic Conference chapters and two affiliate chapters at the U. “The Panhellenic community consists of over 850 empowering women who value the excellence of scholarship, leadership, and service,” reads the Panhellenic website

At the U, diversity and inclusion are highly valued, and Panhellenic activities should reflect these values. So to do this the council began by adding a diversity and inclusion chair to the Panhellenic executive board.

It is a stronghold goal that marginalized members of this university feel comfortable to join Greek life, and that current members feel heard and valued in their Panhellenic activities. 

Along with other chapters at the U, including Alpha Chi Omega, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Delta Gamma, Pi Beta Phi followed Panhellenic’s decision. In the Fall of 2020, added a director of diversity and inclusion position to its executive council. 

Katia Vu is Pi Phi’s current diversity director. She said believes that within Greek life it is incredibly important to promote diversity and inclusion. “We need to make sure that everyone, no matter their race or if they have a disability, has an equal opportunity to participate within Greek life,” Vu said during a Zoom call. 

Through Vu’s position, she gets to help her peers grow and learn every week during Pi Phi’s chapter meetings. She also holds virtual workshops throughout the semester to promote learning and an open conversation about current topics in society. 

“I’ve held information sessions during chapter in which I will usually talk about current events, holidays, or topics like accountability and implicit bias. I think I can do so much with this position and we have much more planned for the future starting with this fall’s recruitment,” Vu explained. 

Pi Beta Phi sorority house at the University of Utah. Photo by Madison Kuledge.

Greek life has always placed importance on teaching its members how to be better members of society and the community at the U. The homepage of the Fraternity and Sorority Life website for the U reads, “to provide educational programming in the areas of program development, risk management, and the promotion of leadership development.”

“When I was a DG (Delta Gamma) I remember going to many educational presentations and teachings concerning the issues that happened in Greek life such as sex, drugs and alcohol, but I never once attended anything on racism which was also an issue within Greek life,” said Chloe Greep, a former member of Delta Gamma. 

“I’m really happy to see that the U has added additional educational efforts on this topic (racism) because I know during my time these talks and presentations were so helpful and informative, so hopefully this can create change,” Greep said. 

Not only is Greek life as an institution stepping up, but members within chapters are as well. 

During the summer Pi Phi member Emily Pelligrino held an open educational conversation for all to participate in. The discussion was focused around the George Floyd murder and the following Black Lives Matter movements across the nation. 

Taylor Madsen, who attended the discussion, said in an email interview, “It was nice to be able to talk to my peers about our feelings and frustrations with what was happening and it was also nice to know that you aren’t alone and to know that we all cared about the events that were taking place.”

The Interfraternity Council (IFC) is the governing body for the 12 inter/national fraternities at the U. It has implemented it own teachings and policies to promote the diversity and inclusion within fraternities on campus. 

In February, IFC teamed up with the U to celebrate Black History Month and held extra educational events for members on top of the programming that the university held for all students. 

Several chapters at the U have or are working toward adding a position focusing on diversity and inclusion to their respective executive council. 

“We may not have a designated diversity chair but Sigma Nu has held a handful of educational Zoom calls and meetings focused around diversity and eliminating stereotypes and microaggressions,” said Johnny Foster, a Sigma Nu member. 

So how do we continue to build on what has already been done? Katia Vu, Pi Phi’s diversity and inclusion director, said, “We can always do more research and educate ourselves. No matter how much we think we know, or how many workshops we attend we can always learn and improve. We can always be more welcoming by checking our implicit biases and making sure to engage with everyone so that they feel included within the community.”

Madison Kuledge

MY STORIES:

MY BLOG:

This was my first time beat reporting. And to be honest, before I began this class I had no idea what it was, but I was eager to learn. 

When I learned that we were going to be focusing on the African American community within Salt Lake City I was excited and got to thinking about what I could report on that was important to me and the community. Therefore I chose to report on the two communities that had the most importance to me, my sorority and skiing. 

Initially, I was excited but then I began to get nervous. How does one who is an outsider of this community approach such a sensitive subject? I didn’t know how to ask someone to tell me about the racial discrimination that they had faced. However, I knew learning how to do this and putting it into practice would make me a better journalist. 

I quickly learned when I began talking to my sources that although it was a sensitive subject once I built rapport they were willing and happy to talk with me. Many of the conversations I had were informative and inspiring. 

I am thankful for this class for getting me involved within the communities that mean the most to me and opening my eyes to the issues within them and what I can do to help. 

I always knew ski racing was racially unequal but I never knew how bad it was or how I could make a difference. When I was talking to Shay Glas I learned about her idea to start an organization that provided used ski equipment to those of low income and I was inspired to get involved. 

Ski racing has been a passion of mine since I was 13 and over the years I have collected a lot of equipment and now that I have just recently retired I have no use for much of my stuff. After talking to Shay I am now excited for the potential that my equipment and fellow teammates can provide. 

After this semester I can confidently add a new skill to my journalistic tool belt, beat reporting. And I truly believe that it will help me in my future career. I think it’s important, as a journalist, to go out into your own community and find out what’s happening and to connect with the people in it. One can learn a lot by just having a 10-15 minute conversation. 

This is something that I do plan to stay involved with and while I only have a few short months left here in Salt Lake City I’d like to stay connected to the community. Wherever I move to next I’d like to continue to make a difference with my writing and be invloved with my community where it’s most needed. 

ABOUT ME:

Madison is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and came to the University of Utah for her love of skiing. She is a senior in her last semester studying communication with an emphasis in journalism and minors in German language, geography and documentary studies. Madison has always had a passion for writing, yet, she never pursued that passion until she spent a year studying cell and molecular biology. It was when she was asked, “What do you want to do with your biology degree?” and her reply was, “Travel the world and ski” that she knew it was time to switch her major and journalism seemed like the ideal choice.

Since, she has loved every moment of her education. Madison has worked with Deseret News as an Arts, Entertainment and Trending News writer, Her Campus Utah as a bi-weekly content writer and Opportunity Network doing PR and content writing. She has a strong desire to travel and write about the world around her.

After she graduates in May, Madison plans on taking a year off and teaching English in Europe, hopefully in Russia or the Czech Republic, before either obtaining a master’s degree or finding a job relating to journalism.

How minority communities overcome barriers to outdoor spaces in Utah

Story by CATIE QUIGLEY

Most outdoor spaces are dominated by white people, in the United States and in Utah. That is beginning to change with organizations like Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors, which encourage minority communities to participate in nature activities and overcome the systemic barriers that they face.

Until the 1950s, national parks and most outdoor recreational spaces were segregated, further alienating Black people.

Meanwhile, white culture experienced a surge of interest in the outdoors, especially with the Transcendentalist Movement in the 1800s. This cultural shift ultimately led to the barriers that people of color now face in experiencing the outdoors.

Perhaps the biggest barrier faced is the economic challenges. People of color and more diverse communities often have lower income rates, which poses a barrier to outdoor interactions in many ways.

Victoria Ramirez, 26, is a graduate student at Utah State University studying archaeology and working as an archaeologist at Capitol Reef this summer, as well as a member of Latino Outdoors. She talked about how her father worked two jobs and her mother worked a job and took care of the family while she was growing up. This is a common experience for minority families.

Many people of color work several jobs in order to just make ends meet and care for their families. When given the opportunity to spend hard-earned money for outdoorsy hobbies versus something that may be more comfortable, it makes sense to choose the comfortable option that is familiar.

Javier Campos, an avid cyclist and member of Latino Outdoors, discussed the expenses outdoor activities can hold, and why minority communities are often less inclined to buy things like tents or hiking boots or bicycles or climbing gear.

Too often, people have to worry about paying the bills or making a car payment or putting food on the table, Campos said in a Zoom interview. Buying a bike is often seen as a luxury.

Nkenna Onwuzuruoha is a Black woman from Georgia who moved to Utah with very little money. She relied on cycling to commute in Salt Lake City. Though she had little interest in nature when she moved, she gained a passion for biking as she relied on it to get around.

Now an avid cyclist, Onwuzuruoha said she recognizes the differences between biking on the more affluent east side of Salt Lake City, versus the more diverse west side of the Salt Lake Valley.

She talked about how the east side of the Salt Lake Valley has better bike infrastructure, such as bike lanes and ways that cyclists can be more visible on the streets. On the west side, money doesn’t go toward things like bike lanes.

She also said African Americans are encouraged to better themselves economically, but this pressure can lead to neglecting physical and emotional well-being.

“I think sometimes that exists in marginalized communities and communities of color that these [nature activities] are not things that we do, because these are leisurely activities,” Onwuzuruoha said in a Zoom interview. “These are things that help us kind of rise up in the world and kind of secure a certain type of socio-economic status, but you can’t have that really nice socio-economic status or middle-class kind of status unless you’re still healthy, happy and healthy.”

Although she began skiing this year, she said she had to overcome a cultural barrier. “For the longest time,” she said, “I was like, I don’t ski, people like me don’t ski, and that is a narrative I had in my mind.”

Victoria Ramirez, the archaeology student at Utah State University, said she faced the challenges of integrating into a new and predominantly white culture when she moved to Utah from Los Angeles.

“I felt like maybe I had to present myself differently, at least in the sense of like, I’m going to buy Chacos (a type of outdoor sandal) or something like that to fit in with everyone else and not wear my hoops (earrings) and make sure that I’m speaking correctly,” she said. She even started pronouncing her name to make it easier for English speakers to say.

The pressure to fit into white society is prevalent in outdoor culture, especially in Utah, whose population is 90% white and clearly reflected in natural spaces. Jonny Gonzalez, the coordinator of the Salt Lake City branch of Latino Outdoors, said it is common while enjoying the outdoors to encounter white people in groups.

To a person of color, looking different can bring unwanted attention and an awareness of the sense of being other. “It’s just one of those things that on a subconscious level just might give people the feeling of ‘well, do I belong here?’” Gonzalez said in a Zoom interview.

In order to create a sense of belonging for people of color who have an interest in the outdoors, groups like Latino Outdoors and Outdoor Afro have been created. They look for ways to create a space that is welcoming for groups that face specific barriers because of the color of their skin.

These groups often work together to create an intersectional environment that promotes outdoor activity for all people.

Campos said, “I think that’s the biggest point of this group is making sure that people feel heard and seen and understood and given that opportunity. And basically … being told hey, this space is also yours, not just theirs. This space belongs to everyone. And you have and you should have equal and equitable access to it. Regardless of your socioeconomic standing, regardless of your social perception of the sport or the outdoors. This is your space and you can own it.”

Mistrust of the media in Black communities

Story and photo by CATIE QUIGLEY

The media are going through a period of reexamination and the issues of representation and diversity have come to the forefront. African Americans often feel misrepresented or simply ignored by the press, and Utah’s almost homogenous white population only exacerbates this problem.

Historically, the press in the United States portrays Black people differently than white people. Mass media companies are generally owned and led by white people, with only 17% of newsroom staff in the U.S. made up of people of color as of 2018.

Because of the lack of diversity within newsrooms, stories that are written about the Black community are often tainted by bias, as white reporters are reluctant to enter Black spaces in order to find all sides of the truth.

Therefore, we often see stories that feature Black people when a Black person, especially a Black male, commits a crime. They are often portrayed differently than white people who commit a similar crime and are characterized as being violent, often photographed in handcuffs or portrayed in a mugshot, while being characterized as combative and negative.

One of the most pervasive issues, said Shawn Newell, vice president of the Salt Lake City branch of the NAACP, is that Black people are seen as a uniform group by the media. “Black people are lumped together as being the same and it’s not based on an individual basis, whereas a lot of times when there is a white assailant or person that is doing wrong, it is focused on that one individual only, and they don’t pull in the entire culture or ethnicity as being the issue when that occurs.”

Peaceful protestors demand justice for George Floyd’s murder at a Salt Lake City protest on May 30, 2020.

Protests, especially ones that are seen as radical or revolutionary, like those that happened over the summer in Salt Lake City and across the United States to protest the murder of George Floyd, bring a whole new set of issues in media coverage. Research supports a protest paradigm, “which suggests that protests are generally marginalized, they’re made to seem more extreme than they might actually be; often the people who are quoted in that coverage are not the best representatives of that movement,” said Kevin Coe, a professor at the University of Utah who specializes in political communication.

This protest paradigm serves to further skew the representation of Black people in the media, especially exemplified by the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020. Acknowledging that several protests did turn into true riots, there were many other ones that were quickly characterized as riots by the media in spite of almost 95% of participants practicing peacefulness.

These differences in language between representation of Black and white populations is not limited to protest. Subtle, yet important distinguishing characteristics in language also reflect how African American communities are represented.

“When you start to use language that is all encompassing when it shouldn’t be —that’s destructive,” Newell said in a Zoom interview. Therefore, when words like “they,” or “them,” or “that community,” are associated with a Black criminal, there is a heavier impact on the perception of the entire community that had nothing to do with that particular incident.

The “violent Black man” is a common trope in media, often reflected in headlines that are featured with a mug shot, while stories about white offenders who commit similar crimes often feature details about their past community work or academic achievement. When consumed consistently by the public, the subconscious microaggressions begin to become reflected in society, which is detrimental to the Black community as a whole. “The way we talk about groups of people, the way we characterize certain phenomena, all of those things shape our perception,” Coe said in a Zoom interview.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the summer’s protests, companies and newsrooms across the country are beginning to recognize the lack of diversity of reporters and the stories that were being published. However, Utah, with a 90% white population, poses a unique set of challenges to gaining and maintaining diversity in the media.

Nadia Crow was the first Black anchorwoman hired at a major network in Utah. In 2013, Channel 4 recruited her from out of state. By 2016, she had decided to leave for Seattle.

Newell reasons that “the culture needs to be built before you start to try to pull people into those environments” as a way to prevent any sort of discrimination against Black people when they try to join the media.

This is especially important in Utah, where the majority of consumers are white, and a Black face might be surprising and less welcome to some viewers, whether consciously or not, Newell said.

As a way to combat these sort of racial biases, Black-owned publications are a way for Black people to create their own space in the media. Impact Magazine, founded by Tunisha Brown, states that the mission is to “empower, encourage, and educate readers about Black Excellence.”

Brown started Impact Magazine “because I wanted to see a representation of the people that I know exist in my community,” she said in a Zoom interview. Being from Trenton, New Jersey, she saw that the local media only wrote about her community when there was a way to frame them as “always robbing, doing drugs, or just anything in a negative light.” But she saw the positive actions of her peers as well.

Fourteen years later, Impact Magazine is a successful publication that has featured prominent Black men and women such as Malik Yoba and Aisha Hinds. Brown spotlights the importance of having Black media sources because it offers a space that allows Black people to be safe, a space to escape the discriminatory language of mass media. “I think having our own voice is very powerful, because we are telling stories from our perspective,” Brown said.

Though the media still have a long way to go, awareness is growing about the discriminatory language and lack of representation for Black people in media, especially in the last year. Many publications are taking steps in the right direction, including local stations in Utah.

KSL radio stations are taking steps in this direction. Tanya Vea, vice president of Bonneville Salt Lake, discussed the problems that her station faced, and the possible solutions that are being enacted.

While stating that inclusivity has always been important to Bonneville Salt Lake, she acknowledges that the station “can be better at seeking stories out in those [minority] communities instead of waiting for them to come to us, and that’s where we need to improve,” she said in a Zoom interview.

To improve this issue, the company recently implemented a community board, which takes people from underrepresented communities and gives them a direct channel to share their community’s stories with the station.

While racial diversity in Utah’s media is far from perfect, last summer’s movements toward racial diversity have brought about positive change.

“The reality of it is that we are not going anywhere,” Newell said. “We’re all in this together, we’re all sharing the same spaces, we’re all breathing the same air, and we have to find a way to get along, we have to find a way to not have these barriers inside of our head.”

Catie Quigley

MY STORIES:

MY BLOG:

While reporting this beat, I consistently felt like an outsider, which was ironic as I was writing about the stories of people who are constantly made to be outsiders by society.

I am a white, privileged woman who has never had to personally deal with any sort of systemic barriers. Almost everyone that I spoke with for my stories was a person of color whose life was at least partially shaped by the color of their skin.

In school and work and nature and essentially anywhere else in Utah, I can fit right in, but as I interviewed Victoria, Javier, and Jonny from Latino Outdoors, I felt how they do in most social situations here.

For the sake of convenience, we decided that it would work best if I interviewed all of them at the same time. This strategy ended up being a fantastic way for them to share their stories, and they encouraged each other to share things that I never would have even thought to ask.

It seems inconsequential compared to the sense of being an outsider in almost all aspects of life, but this experience did give me an idea of that sense of being “other.” They were able to speak with each other in a more comfortable manner, and occasionally would say a phrase in Spanish that I did not understand, but that they did among each other.

When Victoria talked about changing the pronunciation of her name to make it easier for English speakers, I especially understood that I was different. Despite having a minor in Spanish, I still couldn’t pronounce her name the same way that the others did, though I did try.

And I think that is the key: to just do your best, to be respectful. Through this whole process, every glimpse into a new space that I have had was met with welcome and a willingness to have a conversation, even though I looked different and had a different background. Overwhelmingly, it seems like most people want to create a better world, no matter our differences.

This experience has been incredibly eye opening for so many reasons. For my first enterprise story pitch, I actually wanted to write about discrepancies between marijuana arrests and prosecution in white versus Black communities. I found interviews with a lawyer and a member of the Racial Equity in Policing Commission for Salt Lake City, but I wanted to form my article around the story of someone who had actually faced discrimination from police.

As I asked around, almost every person of color that I talked to knew someone who had been in this situation, but I ran into a wall when I asked them to share their stories with me, a white member of the press. As I researched the history of discrimination against Black people from police, but also the press, this hesitancy to speak with me made more sense, while also highlighting a bigger issue.

Because of this experience, I decided to write my second story about the mistrust that Black people hold toward the media. The stories that I heard during that process of research really opened my eyes to the way that media shape public perception of racial issues, or any issues.

It hit me that journalists have an enormous responsibility to not only be accurate in the stories they share, but also to seek out stories of those groups that they are not necessarily a part of. Especially since the majority of reporters are white, they tend to focus on stories that are relevant to white people because that is what is comfortable, and that must change.

This was a large part of why I came to the conclusion that I am not sure if I want to pursue journalism as a career, despite it being my goal for the last decade.

I felt like I involuntarily took on a sort of “white savior” role as I wrote about racial issues. These are absolutely necessary stories to be told, but I feel that no matter how respectful and accurate I am, it is not my story to tell, and I would rather be able to support journalists of color who can tell their own stories with a more authentic voice than I can.

The biggest problem that I have had was that I researched issues and heard people’s stories about heartbreaking issues such as homelessness, racial discrimination, and gentrification. I have written about them, but between school, work, and an internship, I have not had the time to actually go out to do anything substantial to help these people, and that breaks my heart.

Finally, I realized that in order to achieve a work-life balance, I cannot do a job that will require 12-plus-hour days five or six days a week on top of having to often work at odd hours with an unpredictable schedule. I need some sort of separation between work and just having time to take care of myself.

ABOUT ME:

I am a third-year student of Journalism and International Studies at the University of Utah. I am also minoring in Spanish. I am currently a reporter for the Daily Utah Chronicle. In February 2021, my article, “Activism for Racial Equity Continues After a Summer of Protest,” was a top story that month.

I enjoy being outdoors, whether I am camping, hiking, or snowboarding, and I love being able to share that experience with others. My passion is telling people’s stories, and I hope to continue being able to share stories that will have an impact on those who read them. I am interested in working internationally, particularly in South America, in order to help bring attention to and fix social injustices.  

Curly Me!’s #PURPOSE: to empower, educate, and encourage young girls of color

Story by TAESHA GOODE

Black children are walking around with matted hair, and that’s just not something Alyssha Dairsow can get behind. After moving to Utah in 2013, Dairsow noticed a startling lack of diversity compared to her hometown in southern New Jersey.

Though the little representation of Black voices surprised her, the number of young Black kids with matted curls shocked her. Mid-shopping spree at Old Navy in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City, she strode up to a stranger and asked, “If there was an event for you to learn about you granddaughter’s hair, would you come to it?”

“I’m not saying Black people have it all together all the time,” Dairsow said in a Zoom interview, “but that wasn’t something I was used to seeing growing up — matted hair.”

Dairsow planned her first event to be a small seminar on hair care and maintenance at a local curly hair salon. Her second focused on hair styling. “I started to really understand that we’re not just hair,” she said. It quickly became obvious to her that what was missing wasn’t just hair salons, but a community for Black and blended families to identify with. So, she created one.

She founded her nonprofit, Curly Me!, in 2018, describing the organization as, “A resource for families with children of color, specifically Black girls between the ages of 5 and 14.” Since then, her mission has been to help Black girls find their #PURPOSE.

According to the 2019 U.S. Census, African Americans alone make up only 1.5% of Utah’s population. As for multiracial populations, about 2.6% of all Utah residents identify as being biracial, with the mixed-race Black population likely lower.

“We have TRA (transracial adoptive families), traditionally Black [two/single parent] families, biracial families.” Dairsow said. “We want to stand alongside them (parents) to make sure they understand, they don’t have to do it alone.” While Curly Me! is happy to be a resource for transracial families, the nonprofit works with diverse family makeups to be sure to establish confidence for all Black children.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, from 2017-2019, 477 of all adoptions in the state were considered transracial, meaning that the adopted child was a different race than the parents.

“My older brother was actually adopted by a white family,” said Latonya Howell, Curly Me! volunteer coordinator, in a Zoom interview. “I’ve noticed that Black children that are raised in Utah by white families, they find themselves kind of in a limbo position … because they don’t feel like they fit in with white people, but they don’t necessarily feel accepted by Black people because they don’t have that cultural connection.”

While many parents provide all they can for their children, Dairsow understands that sometimes that’s just not feasible. “I have had experiences with parents that were very combative, and I understand they love their child, but there are experiences that you won’t experience that your child may — based solely off of their skin color,” she said in a follow-up email.

Curly Me! holds four quarterly events, as well as smaller educational opportunities and programs for children and parents.

Change the World with Her is one of Curly Me!’s largest programs. The event is a speed-dating style “mini-career fair,” where kids spend six to seven minutes at a table learning about a professional and leave with information on that field to do further research.

Curly Me!’s 2020 Change the World with Her, a speed-dating event meant to connect girls with professionals of color. Curly Me! has been holding Change the World with Her once annually since 2017. Photo Courtesy of Curly Me!

Alongside Change the World with Her, Curly Me! hosts an annual back to school fashion show, parent-child slumber party, and tea party. “In a state where not a lot people drink tea, that’s always interesting,” Dairsow said. “So sometimes we just end up drinking lemonade.”

Due to the pandemic, however, they’ve had to move much of their programming online. “We did self-portraits,” Dairsow said. “We did self-care check-ins with social workers and clinicians … We were able have a parent educational event over last (2020) summer because of all the racial tension and police brutality that was going on in our country.”

For the Mitchells, a biracial family working with Curly Me!, the organization has become a great resource for helping their daughters celebrate their Blackness.

In response to the civil unrest amid last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, mother Amber Mitchell said in a phone interview, “When your kids are like, ‘Why don’t they like Black people’ or ‘Why would they do this,’ that’s a hard one to swallow because you’re like, ‘I don’t know.’ I can’t imagine that, that’s not how we were raised to think.”

Though these conversations have been hard, balancing honesty with self-love has been Mitchell’s key to making them a bit easier. Mitchell, who also works on the board at Curly Me!, has taken the time to teach her family the importance of empathy, even taking her daughters to several protests and Women’s Marches around the country.  

Mitchell’s daughter, 9-year-old Jasani, has already become an activist in her own right. Her favorite part of Curly Me! has been the ability to connect with other Black girls and share her experiences with them. “I get to see all different shades of Black little girls and learn about their unique life … and I get to compare what my is life to their life,” Jasani said in a phone interview.

Getting the opportunity to see kids like Jasani grow up has made this journey all the more special for Alyssha Dairsow. For her, a large part of Curly Me! has been supporting families in raising the next generation and making sure that the kids understand they are not alone in their experiences.

“Black girls, there’s all these obstacles stacked up against us that people don’t want to realize,” Dairsow said. “So, as a Black woman, who has experience as a Black girl, this is a resource that I can provide now to youth and their parents.”

Another part of the journey? Finding out who Alyssha is. Many of Dairsow’s post on the Curly Me! blog feature her hashtag #PURPOSE, which she uses to highlight her own struggle to find her place in the world.

“I genuinely feel that I had to come all the way across this country, fail at something I really, really wanted, stay in a place where I didn’t, and from time to time, don’t know if I really want to be, cause you’re far away from family and friends back home,” Dairsow said. “I had to come all the way out here just to find out who Alyssha was and what Alyssha could do, and then realizing we’re just touching the surface.”

As Curly Me! continues to grow in its mission to educate, empower, and encourage young girls of color, it’s important to look back at all its achieved so far. With its three-year anniversary in March 2021, the nonprofit has been able to help countless families.

Curly Me!’s impact is best viewed through the kids it has worked with, like Jasani.

She hopes that readers will remember, “Every Black girl or Black boy, comes in different colors, and they should love theirselves however they are. If they’re a little lighter than a person or darker than a person, that they should love their skin and that they all have something special inside of their skin.”

Sheer Ambrosia: a businesswoman’s journey

Story by JUSTIN GALLETLY

Sherrita “Rita” Magalde is the owner of Sheer Ambrosia, a small business based in Salt Lake City dedicated to baking baklava to sell to customers.

Over the last year, Magalde’s business has reached new heights.

She’s seen a big spike in sales and has met arguably the greatest commercial success of her business’s lifetime.

However, it wasn’t always glitz and glamour for her brand, as she, like many up-and-coming small-business owners, ran into many roadblocks along the way.

Many of these roadblocks predate her business’s very foundation and go back several years before she even came up with the idea to sell homemade baklava.

During a phone interview, she explained that she’s been involved in independent, entrepreneurial endeavors stretching as far back as the mid-90s.

In 1996, she and her then-husband moved from Spain to Salt Lake City due to its reputation as a great place to go skiing.

She started a small mortgage brokerage and later ran a travel agency with her husband.

Despite her success with her independently run business, her relationship with her husband wouldn’t last in the long run.

“We were six years into running the travel agency when we got a divorce and neither one of us wanted to leave the business. So we tried to make it work, but I was very unhappy so I decided to quit. I still wanted to be a business owner, but I wanted something that was all my own, so he bought me out of the agency in 2008, which is when I also started the bakery,” she said.

Rita Magalde

Magalde always enjoyed cooking and baking, having grown up learning from her mother.

Baklava, the dessert Magalde’s business is built around, was primarily learned from hanging around a Greek family she worked with while growing up in North Carolina.

“The baklava has stuck with me through the years, so I decided I wanted to see if I could turn it into a business. So I decided to start slow from home and got a cottage food license from the Department of Agriculture and began my baklava business then,” Magalde said.

Despite her experience running independent businesses in the past, the transition was not a smooth endeavor.

“One of the big differences between running a travel agency and a bakery is now you have to deal with inventory,” Magalde said. “It also isn’t as lucrative a business as a travel agency, so I’m selling my baklava at $3 a piece and wasn’t able to hire people right away. Also, unlike when I began the travel industry, I now had two children and was without a partner.”

She also refused to take any bank loans and only used the funds she gathered from selling her share of the travel agency.

The barrier to entry felt much steeper than previous endeavors.

Over time, she was able to find a degree of success with her business.

In 2013, five years after beginning Sheer Ambrosia, she took a big step to legitimize her business.

She ventured out into a commercial space in hopes of getting more people to take her business seriously.

“I put $50,000 of my own money into the space to build it out and was able to legitimize my business and really bring Sheer Ambrosia to the forefront. People weren’t taking me seriously until I did that,” she said.

Although while her business continued to do well, it didn’t do as well as she had hoped.

After the death of her father, Magalde decided to cut back, as the long hours which required her to work upward of 16-hour days every day of the week took its toll on her.

“I decided to sell the space to another bakery and moved Sheer Ambrosia back into my home,” Magalde said. “I fell into some debt, and my son who was graduating high school wanted to go to an expensive college. So I said I’m going to sell my home so I could get out of debt and allow my son to go to the college he wanted to attend.”

Things got especially stressful when the pandemic hit.

 Magalde’s business, like many small businesses, was severely hit when it all began.

“No one wanted baklava, they all wanted toilet paper and hand sanitizer, so I had to get another job to make ends meet when the pandemic hit,” she said.

Rita Magalde

Then, in the midst of the pandemic, a tragedy occurred that shook the entire nation to its core.

“In horror, we got to see George Floyd murdered before our very faces by a Minneapolis police officer. Black people have been watching this kind of thing happen for years, and it seems as though the white community has been oblivious to it,” she said. “Right after that, there were so many white folks in the community who decided they wanted to support local Black-owned businesses.”

While Magalde was initially reluctant to embrace this swell of support because she didn’t want to feel she was capitalizing off a tragedy, she changed her mindset when she realized how it played into a good cause.

“I started to think about it and saw that these were people who don’t necessarily want to protest in the street. They don’t want to get out there and hold a sign and yell, and walk the street protesting that way. This is their way of putting their money where their mouth is by supporting Black-owned businesses,” she said.

She also came to realize that while they may initially support her business because she’s Black, that didn’t mean they would continue their support if her products weren’t satisfying.

“It’s still my job as a business owner to make sure they want to come back by giving them a quality product and amazing service. So it’s not going to be free service, I still have to earn their repeat service, so this a challenge for me,” she said.

The success led to a busy holiday season, one where she would need some additional help if she was going to continue thriving.

Helene Simpson and her daughter, Desi Hayda, offered their services.

“She’s very dedicated. She’s very grateful for everything, and it’s hard that it was the death of somebody which created an influx of sales, her product is what continues her business and for people to come back to her,” Simpson said during a phone interview. “It’s not just because people think ‘Black Lives Matter’ and only supporting her for that reason. She sells quality products, has excellent customer service.”

Simpson said she appreciates Magalde’s positive guidance.

“I think she’s very thorough. Just how she explains things to you and wants things done, and that’s to be expected because everything she does is pretty perfectionist, so you just follow her instructions and help her out when you can. She’s awesome to work for,” Hayda said.

“Now I’ve got a following that I can parlay this into growth for my business, and I’m hoping for one day to quit my second job and go back to running my business full-time,” Magalde said.

Equalized health care: a new beginning

Story by JUSTIN GALLETLY

Systemic racism is one of the more contentious topics of debate today.

While racism itself is well known, the matter of institutionalized racism entered the common lexicon following the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer.

While the situation brought attention to the idea of police reform, one area without much publicity is its relation to health care.

Blacks generally receive worse treatment than the average white citizen regarding health care services in America. This can be attributed largely due to both implicit and explicit biases from both health care providers and staffers at hospitals and clinics.

In response to the issue reaching public awareness, many organizations are beginning to take a stand against the issue.

One of them is the University of Utah Health, which declared on Jan. 12, 2021, that “systemic racism is a public health crisis.

A way systemic racism impacts Blacks is discrimination based on insurance status, which itself disproportionately impacts non-white citizens.

Other issues include misunderstandings based on false information regarding biological differences in Black people.

Examples include beliefs that Blacks have less sensitive nerve endings, a higher pain tolerance, and even stronger immune systems than whites.

As much as 73% of white medical students believe at least one, if not more, false misconceptions of biological differences regarding Blacks.

The Office for Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is helping U Health addresses the situation at large.

Dr. Jose Rodriguez is the associate vice president of the organization, and one of its leading voices pushing to see serious policy changes against systemic racism.

Rodriguez took his position in August 2018, and his immediate course of action was to get deans staffed in the individual colleges across campus to address equity and inclusion matters.

Rodriguez explained in a Zoom call that at the time, his boss was unable to meet his request, stating resources weren’t available to make it happen.

Following the murder of George Floyd, this all changed. The deans Rodriguez requested were finally filled and accommodated for.

“We understand the anti-racism war is an individual responsibility of every employee. Our diversity office has to serve as the resource and the guidepost for that kind of work,” Rodriguez said. “We’re helping each of these individual units develop plans to move more towards equity. We’re helping them to revise and review their hiring practices to favor equity instead of favoring the white demographic.”

Rodriguez added, “This injustice is not new, but the George Floyd execution put it on people’s consciousness, with people coming out to say, ‘This is not my America.’ When that happened, it brought Blacks and whites together.”

This turning point subsequently led to mandatory implicit bias training for all staff working across the different divisions across campus.

The training really focused in on making staff members address any unknown prejudices deep within them and learn to be more aware of it so it wouldn’t affect their judgement.

Dr. Jose Rodriguez

This way, all patients, regardless of their race, can receive the same treatment without fear of discrimination.

“Society has this deeply entrenched, so it’s not our job to go around blaming each other and feeling bad about it, it’s our job to end it,” Rodriguez said.

The pandemic also played a substantial role in revealing the racist prejudices in our health care system.

Early in the pandemic, it became apparent that Blacks were far more likely to die of the disease than whites, as much as 3.57 times more likely.

These statistics, combined with the ongoing struggles the coronavirus has brought to daily life and the outcry from the aftermath of George Floyd, set in motion a chance to change the U Health’s standards.

“What COVID did is it laid naked the intensely racist nature of our society,” Rodriguez said.

As a result, the U Health just hired a senior diversity leader, Mikel Whittier.

His position only exists thanks to the Office for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion insisting on a need for more diversity officers in the delivery line space at the clinic.

“The hiring of my position is the start of action in moving strong language and a strong foundation that has already been set both by the Health Sciences Department and the hospital into action,” Whittier said in a Zoom interview. “What we see across the country, especially over the summer, is there’s a lot of statements made about equity, diversity, and inclusion and how there’s zero tolerance, but we see more of the same across the institution. When there’s time for action, there’s inaction in which you become complicit in racist behavior, so this is a step in that direction.”

As a Black man himself, Whittier says he knows all too well the realities of systemic racism, given he’s been on the receiving end of it.

In 2018, he lost his stepfather to cancer largely due to the inequities in place related to cancer outcomes, with Blacks far more likely to die of the disease than whites tend to.

The consequences Whittier faced due to systemic racism even stretch back to when he was born.

“If you look at infant mortality rates amongst Black women dying of complications of birth, my mom had to stay in the hospital for six additional months after I was born, and that’s a critical time as a newborn to not have your mother there,” Whittier said.

These experiences helped shape his convictions and channel them into working to fix the system.

The different staff members at the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion are all working together in specific tasks to tackle the problem and put an end to it.

Mauricio Laguan, a manager for recruitment and retention, explains some of the ways the Health division staff have managed to make positive changes to staffing policies.

Mauricio Laguan

“We’re developing an on-boarding training for new employees to understand how the University of Utah will protect them from discrimination and microaggressions from patients and other co-workers,” he said during a phone interview.

Laguan believes one of the harder challenges, especially for a state with as little diversity as Utah, is getting more people of color hired on for medical work.

“Long term, the things that are going to need more time is diversifying the people that work here. Having more Black doctors, having more Latinx doctors, more Polynesian doctors, more Pacific Islander doctors,” Laguan said.

Despite these challenges, work is being done to hopefully make a positive change for not only Blacks but all people of color at the U’s Health services.

For everyone at the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, this challenge is only the beginning.

Indeed, for all involved, the fight to end systemic racism never ends.

How Black Lives Matter Utah is tackling police reform

Story and infographics by TAESHA GOODE

Lex Scott is no stranger to a challenge.

“The movement is about hard, backbreaking work, and pain, and trauma, and death, and injustice every day of your life. That’s what the movement is about, and now the crowds have dispersed, but the work is still here,” said Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, in a Zoom interview.

As she was talking, she was driving through downtown Salt Lake City in a caravan demanding justice for the murder of George Floyd.

For activists like Scott, Black Lives Matter didn’t end after last year’s nationwide protests. In fact, it began long before. As always, she’s facing the fight head on.

The death of George Floyd in May 2020 spurred a sudden national wave of support for Black victims of police brutality. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, injustice against African Americans took center stage, as people of every race, religion and gender gathered to speak the names of victims like Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and Elijah McClain.

Hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #ACAB (All Cops Are Bad) gripped social media, dashcam videos of racial profiling and violence flooded the internet and protests rocked the streets of both conservative and liberal states. It seemed a turning point for activists who had been fighting for this sort of publicity for so long. Scott was thankful for the awareness it brought, but she knew the momentum would be short-lived.

“The thing about the movement is people come and go. When there’s a high-profile officer shooting, you get a big crowd of people and then that crowd goes away, and then when there’s another shooting, they come back, and then go away,” Scott said. “Last year, thousands upon thousands of people came out, and I didn’t get excited ‘cause I’ve been here for seven years. I was like, I don’t care about you!” she said, laughing, “I care about police reform.”

For Black Lives Matter Utah, the most important initiative right now is changing the way police operate on a systemic level. Since the chapter’s founding in 2017, independent of the national Black Lives Matter movement, volunteers have been speaking out against police violence in Utah and around the country. Their current plan to tackle police brutality: take it to the capitol.

“We picked up two senate seats, we have several police reform bills passed in Utah, and the Justice in Policing Act passed the house,” Scott said.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 is a national police reform bill directed to increase accountability and transparency in law enforcement, as well as implement specialized sensitivity training.

“The Justice in Policing Act gives us independent oversight of police, it gives us data collection, [a] police misconduct database, it gives us qualified immunity reform, it regulates dash cams in police cars,” Scott said. “[It] is the most important thing I’ve ever seen. It is on the same level as the civil rights act [and] it is just as powerful.”

To Rae Duckworth, vice president of Black Lives Matter Utah, that power does not go unnoticed. “I want the change more than anybody.”

According to Mapping Police Violence, in 2020, U.S. police killed 1,127 people.

Bobby Duckworth became one of those victims in 2019.

The loss of her cousin in an officer-involved shooting in Wellington, Utah, spurred Rae Duckworth’s involvement with Black Lives Matter Utah. “The pain of losing someone from a police officer — it’s a different type of pain,” she said in a Zoom interview. “Ever since then, I just dived into actively trying to make changes.”

In 2020, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, Utah Police fired at 30 people — 17 of those incidents being fatal.

The disproportionate policing of People of Color in Utah reaches much deeper, as highlighted by Amber McFee, a lawyer volunteering with the chapter. Although McFee got involved with Black Lives Matter Utah shortly after the nationwide protests in 2020, the discrepancies in charges shocked her.

“It depends on if you’re Black or white. If you’re white, you’re getting disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct,” McFee said in a Zoom interview. “If you’re Black, you’re getting inciting a riot, you’re getting charged with felonies.”

The Justice in Policing Act targets all this and more. And although the national movement has lost momentum since Summer of 2020, Black Lives Matter Utah makes it a point to showcase the power that comes from speaking up in your local government.

“The movement is losing its trendiness,” Duckworth said. “People can stay active by participating in their local committees and their local agendas with their representatives. Because speaking on behalf of your community members, those are protests in themselves, and people need to realize that.”

Although Black Lives Matter Utah knows the power in local government, creating a nationwide change is Scott’s biggest priority. “People don’t get it, we are this close,” she said. “You want to come out and protest all day, well how about you pick up the phone and call a senator.”

The end of the legislative session in Utah, however, means that, for now, the chapter can focus on other issues. Alongside gathering signatures for upcoming ballot initiatives, the chapter recently launched Utah’s first Black history museum.

Black Lives Matter Utah has also continued its work with the Salt Lake City Police Department’s Community Advocates Group (CAG), which holds biweekly public meetings on police transparency practices.

In addition, Duckworth said the chapter has become a great resource for stopping police abatements of unsheltered encampments during COVID-19.

“There are a lot of systemic issues that we can approach,” she said. “There is always growth or change to be implemented. I just think that, if people know what they want to change in their community, if they figure that out and they just go for it — that in itself is a protest.”

McFee, the lawyer volunteering with Black Lives Matter Utah, knows that dealing with systemic racism means first facing the facts. “You need to read and research things that you aren’t comfortable with,” McFee said. “Teach the truth, you’re not going to learn it in school so teach your kids the truth. I think that’s where we have to start to get to the big finish.”

For Lex Scott, who’s been active in the community for the past seven years, it’s about holding on and holding tight. At the start of this journey, “I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said.

But it wouldn’t be a challenge if it was easy. By pushing forward, she found a solid community of people who want to make real change.

She reminds us to stick to our values. “Be intersectional in your activism — make sure it includes all marginalized groups.  … Don’t expect the world to change overnight. You just gotta stick to your activism and change the world.”