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.”

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.”

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.”

Black Faculty and Staff Awards honored University of Utah employees for social justice

Story by EMALI MACKINNON 

It was a celebration of excellence, creativity and dedication. It also was a moment to acknowledge ingenuity and perseverance. 

The second annual Black Faculty and Staff Awards honored University of Utah employees for sustained work on- and off-campus in areas including social justice. 

The event, held over Zoom on Feb. 26, 2021, was hosted by the U’s Black Cultural Center. “Tonight, we will showcase, award and promote examples of excellence,” said Director Meligha Garfield. Organizers’ goal “was to bring awareness of Black faculty and staff at the university whose teachings, research, support and innovations may go unnoticed here at the university,” he said, “especially where Black faculty in higher ed across the nation is well below average — at just a little under 5% — and the retention of Black staff at predominantly white institutions are declining year after year.”

Nona Richardson won the James McCune Smith Award of Veneration, which recognizes individuals who are “awe-inspired by dignity, wisdom, dedication, and excellence” at the U. 

Nona Richardson has worked in athletics administration for more than 30 years. Photo courtesy of Nona Richardson.

Smith was an American physician, apothecary, abolitionist, and author, who led by example.  

Richardson is an executive senior associate athletics director who oversees all student-athlete support services at the University of Utah. She plays a key role in the Ute Academy and with the student-athlete U.T.A.H. Group, United Together Against Hate.

“The transformation of the U.T.A.H. Group has been very uplifting and inspiring,” Richardson said in an email interview. “The diversity within the group, the allies, the leadership, everyone is dialed in and moving along the same path. With the foundation that has been set, we hope to grow it over the years to come.” 

She provides knowledge and leadership through academic services, strength and conditioning, sports medicine, sports nutrition, psychology and wellness, sports science, student-athlete well-being, as well as her sport programs, groups and committees.

Richardson will continue to work for our student-athletes and staff, to create the best possible environment to achieve success. 

“Unless you are in the field of play, your success is not measured by the number of awards you win, but by the number of individuals you have impacted along the way,” she said. 

Similarly, another winner of a staff award was Asma Hassan. She is a program manager at the Bennion Center who leads the Utah Reads program.

Asma Hassan has a M.Ed. in Special Education and a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Utah. Photo courtesy of Asma Hassan.

Hassan was awarded the Malcolm X Award for Social Justice, which recognizes individuals who have fought for justice in terms of distribution of equal access, opportunities, and privileges within our campus and greater community. 

Malcolm X was an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a popular figure during the civil rights movement.

Hassan works with Title 1 schools in the Salt Lake City area where she provides resources and supplies for each student’s needs.

“Every year I’m working on making it better, better for tutors, better for the community and the students that we work with,” she said. 

Community engagement work and working with students individually is what Hassan is most passionate about. Being able to work closely with each student and understand their needs is what the Bennion Center is known for.

“I’m passionate about community engagement and will continue to live through my actions,” Hassan said in a Zoom interview. She will continue to always be aware of the community and contribute positive initiatives to it. “However small or large, I hope I can leave something that others can benefit from.” 

Lastly, Valerie Flattes, who is an assistant professor and nurse practitioner for the U, won the Madam C.J. Walker Resource Award. That prize is for individuals who have strengthened the community-engaged learning experiences and opportunities tied to civic engagement and fostered stronger partnerships between local and community at the University of Utah. 

Valerie Flattes has been a faculty member at the University of Utah College of Nursing since 2001. Photo courtesy of Valerie Flattes.

Walker was an entrepreneur, philanthropist and political/social-activist. She was a self-made millionaire after she created African American hair care products.

Valerie Flattes is dedicated to her work and her students. She considered herself a mentor and cheerleader for her students. She said in a Zoom interview, “It’s so important to get to know the community you are in because they are the people we are going to be asking to participate in your research. It’s a two-way street, you want them to do something for you but you also need to do something for them.” 

She started volunteer work at a young age. She quickly realized that she loved to be involved in  the community. It and community-based research is what inspires her most.

After receiving this award, Flattes told the audience, “I am very appreciative of receiving the award and looking forward to even spending more time especially at the BCC (Black Cultural Center) and being a mentor and a cheerleader again for students. I love it and I love teaching,” 

The Black Faculty and Staff Awards bring awareness to the Black Cultural Center, established in 2019, as well as entities including the Black Faculty and Staff Association, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and the Division of Equity, and Diversity Inclusion. 

Meligha Garfield closed the awards ceremony by acknowledging all the people who helped put on the program, including the Black Faculty and Staff Association

Teacher Recruitment Scholarship: A program to combat Utah’s shortage of diverse teachers

Story by TESS ROUNDY

Sixteen years ago, a group of professors visited a student-wide assembly at Highland High School. Watching the audience, they admired the diverse group of students.

But the professors couldn’t ignore one section. A group of white individuals stood in contrast to the rest of the audience — the faculty.

This assembly put the professors face-to-face with the reality that ethnically diverse students in Utah are not represented by their educators. They knew something needed to be done to increase diverse representation in Utah K-12 schools.

This is where Dale Smith enters the picture. Smith is the associate dean of education, family, human studies, and social work at Salt Lake Community College. The professors agreed that SLCC would be the best place to start a program bringing diverse students to Utah’s teaching force. It’s Utah’s most diverse college, and as Smith explained in a Zoom interview, it’s less intimidating than the University of Utah high on a hill in Salt Lake City’s east side.

The Teacher Recruitment Scholarship for Diverse Students is a full-ride scholarship designed to bring ethnically diverse educators to Utah schools.

School districts in the Wasatch Front, SLCC and the U work in tandem to fund these future educators’ schooling. School districts identify those eligible for the scholarship, then these students spend two years at SLCC and the remaining two at the U. Working together, these institutions cover tuition and fees for a four-year education.

Pictured from left to right: Michelle Bachman, a West High School teacher, who helped start the program; Mary Burbank, the U’s program affiliate; Melissa Gutierrez, one of the first scholarship recipients to graduate from SLCC and the University of Utah; and Dale Smith. Photo courtesy of Dale Smith.

The Scholarship doesn’t only support students monetarily, but it also offers a support system of peers, professors and advisors who want to help recipients thrive.

And the program is doing well. Its graduation rate at SLCC is nearly 60% — over double that of the college’s graduation rate as a whole.

In fact, the program is doing so well that SLCC’s provost asked Smith to write a proposal to the state legislature that mimicked the scholarship plan. But instead of recruiting diverse teachers, it was meant to combat Utah’s teacher shortage in general. This is how the Teacher Education Initiative came about.

Smith said, “If you’re at Salt Lake Community College and going into education, we can usually help you out in some way.”

But the Teacher Recruitment Scholarship hasn’t always been a success.

“The first year was a disaster,” Smith said.

Many of the minority students who were eligible for the scholarship were getting recruited to four-year universities offering financial assistance. They didn’t see the benefit of attending a community college when they could go straight to a university.

School districts identifying students for the scholarship who weren’t ready for college courses was another early problem. Smith said this meant scholarship money was paying for low-level classes, and it took multiple semesters until some of these students could take education focused courses.

It wasn’t all disastrous at first though. From the beginning, Smith knew a support system was key to success in college, especially for diverse students. So, from the outset the program required a one-credit class that meets weekly. Its purpose is to check in with students to see how they’re doing academically. It also checks with students’ progress making friends.

Scholarship recipients graduating from SLCC in 2013. Photo courtesy of Dale Smith.

Mekenna Thomas, a scholarship recipient in her last semester at SLCC, said meeting other students is her favorite part of the program.

In a Zoom interview, Thomas said she’s never had a class that’s “all minorities.” Having this social network of future educators has been nice.

Thomas, who is Black, was adopted soon after she was born and grew up in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. As a child she loved elementary school. But, she said, she never had a teacher who was a person of color.

After elementary school, Thomas said, school wasn’t as great. In middle school kids called her “smackie blackie.” In high school, bullies called her the N-word. She thinks if she had a teacher of color, she would have felt safe and comfortable sharing these experiences with an adult.

This is one reason she wants to teach elementary school in Utah. Thomas didn’t have a Black role model in school, so she knows it will benefit her future students of color. “I think it’ll be great for them to see someone who is like them in a teaching position,” Thomas said.

Chantelle Zamora, a Latina scholarship recipient, is in her last semester at the U. Now, she’s student-teaching Spanish at her alma mater, West High School. After graduating this semester she’ll continue teaching Spanish with an English as a Second Language endorsement.

Chantelle Zamora has always wanted to work in education. Photo courtesy of Chantelle Zamora.

She always knew she wanted to be in education, but when she was younger, she dreamed of being a librarian.

In middle school she expressed this desire to a teacher, and, in front of the class, he laughed and told her she’d “end up like every other Latina,” pregnant and unwed at 15.

This humiliating experience didn’t deter Zamora. “I actually feel like it motivated me more,” she said. After this event, she wanted to prove that she would not fall into that stereotype, that she would “make it happen.”

While her lifelong dream was to become a librarian, she decided she wanted more access to students. This led her to teaching. Now, with teaching experience under her belt, she can’t imagine bringing a student down or making them feel like they can’t accomplish their dreams.

When Zamora was offered the Teacher Recruitment Scholarship, it wasn’t an obvious choice. She wanted to start at the U because she was afraid that by going to SLCC she’d be “cutting [her]self short.”

Now, less than a month from graduating, she’s happy with her decision. In fact, she said if it weren’t for the program, she doesn’t know if she’d have been able to finish college at all.

Associate Dean Smith said he knows some students may be hesitant to start their undergraduate studies at a community college. But he recommends SLCC. Between the scholarship and supportive faculty, students will get a personalized education that will begin preparing them to become teachers and mentors.

Why Black representation in elementary schools is necessary for Utah students’ success

Story by TESS ROUNDY

Black representation in elementary schools affects test scores, suspension rates and, more saliently, changes the lives of Black students. However, Utah teachers do not reflect the diversity of the state’s students.

About a quarter of Utah elementary students are minorities, but white individuals account for almost all of Utah educators. Almost 1% of Utah students are Black, but still, Black representation is indispensable for not only Utah’s Black children, but for all students.

Mary Burbank is the director of the University of Utah’s Urban Institute for Teacher Education. This program prepares future educators to teach in diverse classrooms and to serve all students well. Burbank said in a Zoom interview that although the African American community in Utah is not as big as the Latino community, teachers need to know Black history in the U.S. and how that history manifests today.

“Clearly, African American voices need to be heard and present in conversations and in the population of teachers,” Burbank said.

When Black children have at least one Black teacher in elementary school, there is improvement in their school performance. But it has other extensive benefits too.

A 2017 study found that African American students who had a same-race teacher between third and fifth grade performed better on standardized testing and were less likely to drop out of high school. Additionally, these students were more likely to pursue college. These are achievements that directly impact employment rates, civic engagement, health and crime, all of which affect quality of life. 

It’s worth noting that positive impacts of Black teachers compared to their white colleagues isn’t inherently attributed to a similarity in culture, race or ethnicity. A large aspect is the expectation Black teachers hold for their Black students that white teachers do not.

Teachers who set high standards for their students, see students perform better. Unfortunately, this study found, white teachers are less likely to expect their Black students to perform well. This can, in turn, become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Portrait of Danielle Newell. Courtesy of Danielle Newell.

This isn’t to say ethnicity and culture have nothing to do with the discrepancy. When children have teachers who look like them, or have similar backgrounds and culture, these teachers can act as role models and offer a concrete example of goals students can achieve. With low rates of Black teachers, some students may never have this exemplar. 

Black students at Dilworth Elementary School in Salt Lake City may reap the benefits of having a same-race teacher, though. Danielle Newell teaches sixth grade here. She said in a Zoom interview, that of course Black teachers are important for young Black children, but added, “It’s also important for white kids to have someone that doesn’t look like them as a leader too.”

Newell believes that an increase in diverse teachers helps all children by breaking stereotypes, and she’s not alone in this belief.

Gloria Ladson-Billings, a renowned African American teacher-educator, wrote, “There is something that may be even more important than Black students having Black teachers and that is white students having Black teachers! It is important for white students to encounter Black people who are knowledgeable. … What opportunities do white students have to see and experience Black competence?”

While Black educators are paramount to the success of Black students and benefit all students, white teachers aren’t bootless. Culturally responsive white teachers can positively impact their Black students, break down stereotypes and properly educate all students too.

Culturally responsive teaching takes into account the different cultures and backgrounds of every student. Not only does this teaching style consider these things, but culturally responsive teaching also recognizes that these differences have a positive impact in the classroom.

This means teachers address their own biases, get to know their students’ families, learn and teach about their own culture, incorporate books and media that reflect the cultures in their classroom and convey high expectations of all their students.

Jenny Harper is a white student in the U’s Urban Institute for Teacher Education program. She student-teaches fourth grade at Stansbury Elementary School in West Valley City. Here, most students come from low-income families and the population is quite diverse. UITE has given Harper the tools for culturally responsive teaching in her classroom. 

Here are some books Harper keeps in her classroom. They show a diverse variety of stories, authors and illustrators. Photo courtesy of Jenny Harper.

She implements lessons that tell history from a variety of perspectives and reads books with characters from many races and cultures. Even still, she said she sometimes feels anxious about approaching certain topics. Harper said in a Zoom interview that it can be difficult to teach about Black history, especially about the horrible ways Black people were treated in this country, and the ways they’re treated today. As a teacher to so many students of color, however, she’s willing to tolerate the discomfort.

The more she’s talked about Black history and racism in the United States, Harper has realized that her students are eager to learn. She says her students hear stories of racism outside of the classroom and are aware of current events. They don’t just want to hear about what is happening in their communities, they want to learn and talk about it too. 

Burbank, the director of UITE, said, “All voices in our classrooms need to be present in curriculum and conversations. The contributions and the assets of any group of people who are a part of our fabric as a nation need to be present.”

Stigma of mental health creates challenges for Black community

Story by HARRISON FAUTH

Racism entails seeing people as the problem, not the practices that have created the circumstance. Facing racism, discrimination, and fear as a result of being Black in America can impact an individual’s mental health. Add the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community and it becomes more difficult to seek help. 

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, sadness and hopelessness. Those living below the poverty line are twice as likely to have psychological distress due to financial insecurity. 

The Black community also views mental health differently. One study by the National Alliance of Mental Illness reports that 63% of Black people feel it is a personal weakness and feel shame to admit they have a mental health issue. They feel additional discrimination may come from members of their own community. 

“There is absolutely a stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community,” said Kelli Washington, a licensed clinical therapist. In an email interview she said, “This stigma hinders people from access to resources.” She discussed that changing the narrative needs to happen. Black communities need to see that struggling with mental health is not a weakness. 

Washington lives in Los Angeles, but treats patients in Utah and California. She sees a need in both places and values the opportunity to support those who otherwise may not feel supported. “I’m passionate about breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and there are not a ton of Black therapists, especially in Utah, and I think that is partly attributed to the stigma surrounding mental health and lack of diversity in Utah as a whole.”

Melanie Davis, a licensed therapist and owner of Empath Healing and Wellness in Salt Lake City, is working to help change the narrative around mental health. She is also one of the founders of Black Clinicians, which was created to serve the mental health needs not being addressed in the Black community. Its purpose is to help bring Black providers to the Black community. “I see it as critical that people of color have access to therapists of color,” Davis said in an email interview.

The Black Clinicians group addresses the feelings of pain, fear, and trauma felt by those who have been victims of racism. Events on television such as the May 2020 murder of George Floyd  and Black Lives Matter protests have only made better access to mental health therapy more important.  The Black Clinicians group provides a safe space to address mental health issues and they can provide “a mirrored space to clients of color,” Davis said. 

Members of the Black community often reach out to spiritual leaders rather than licensed therapists. Washington and Davis said they believe there is value in partnering with Black church leaders. Trusted church leaders who encourage the use of licensed mental health providers could go a long way in reducing the stigma of mental health. Providing support and decreasing the feeling of isolation can change the narrative around mental health.

Today the need for mental health therapy is on the rise. Being Black and finding a Black therapist who understands your cultural experience is a challenge. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020 race diversity was 59.7% white and 13.4% Black. In Utah the diversity is far less with 77.8% of the population white, and only 1.5% Black.

Compare the 2020 census on population diversity to the number of licensed Black therapists in America and diversity decreases. According to the American Psychological Association, 83.6% of licensed therapists are white and only 5.3% are Black. These numbers highlight the underrepresentation of professional  Black therapists in America. The limited number of Black therapists creates limited access to a trained professional who shares one’s cultural experience.   

Cost of therapy is another obstacle. The APA reports that only 11.5% of Black adults have health insurance, and mental health therapy is expensive.

Dr. Dio Turner II said in an email interview, “While cost is an issue it is more complicated, cost is a massive issue that is much deeper than therapy. There are too many people who must decide between food, housing, tuition, and their health. People are committing suicide and dying because they can’t afford psychotherapy.” He added, “I’m not sure what the precise solution is but it needs to be addressed immediately.”

Washington, the Los Angeles-based therapist, said she believes mental health is a community problem. Mental health therapy should be accessible through schools, workplaces, and community programs. Lowering cost is not the only solution and insurance companies bear some of the responsibility to make it more accessible. 

Davis, a founder of Black Clinicians, has created an innovative way of addressing the cost obstacle. Davis has offered counseling scholarships in her private practice Empath Healing and Wellness since it was founded. She has several families who have utilized this service. Black community members who know these options are available are more likely to reach out for mental health treatment. 

There are many issues facing the mental health of the Black community with no easy solution. Having conversations, breaking down barriers is happening slowly. The bigger issue may be what is at the core of the problem. As Dr. Dio Turner II said, the biggest health issue facing Black communities is “the insidious way that racism affects mental and physical health.”

Ignored statistics: acknowledging Black resources for domestic violence and sexual assault

Story by NINA TITA

National domestic violence cases have increased 8.1% since the coronavirus stay-at-home mandates began in March 2020. According to a new study by the National Commission of COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, there is a need “for additional resources for domestic abuse prevention and victim services.”

Utah nonprofit organizations like the YWCA, The Sojourner Group and We Will, are dedicated to helping all victims. They are focusing on acknowledging the historical trend of neglect in the Black community.

It is expected that more than 40% of Black women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research’s Status of Black Women in the United States. In comparison, 31.5% of all women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

Liz Owens, Utah’s CEO for the YWCA, said Black women have always faced hardship with lack of resources.

“In the domestic violence community in marketing you often hear that all domestic violence doesn’t discriminate, it happens across socioeconomic lines and across cultures. And although that is true, access to resources by which to mitigate and escape violence looks different based off of our identities,” Owens said in a Zoom interview.

This is what Owens has been passionate about in her career, intersectionality, the analyzation of how our identities can determine privilege or discrimination.

“I was really moved in part by my own experience and understanding what it was like as a Black multiracial woman, young girl at the time, growing up in a white community,” Owens said. 

Her work at YWCA comes at an interesting time. There has been an increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. Owens said the YWCA and other sister shelters are always at capacity or overflowing with people in need. The lack of resources means that not everyone who shows up for help can actually get it. She and her team work together with organizations trying to find places to send women when they are over capacity.

“Based off of the anticipated 2020 census numbers, we have an over-representation of communities of color and every color of community that is reported, except for in the Asian community, and that is in our domestic violence services,” Owens said.

The YWCA also offers a variety of other services, including an emergency shelter, the Salt Lake City Family Justice Center (which provides walk-in services), transitional and affordable housing, and children services.

One in particular has stood out to Owens this past year, the community-facing groups of women of color who come to heal together.

Carol J. Matthews-Shifflett, founder and CEO of the Sojourner Group, started her nonprofit with the same goal in mind — bringing together Black women. She created Sistah Circle, an open discussion group to help connect and create conversation for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Shifflett was struck years ago, when a woman approached her with deep gratitude for her work saying, “I have never had a group where Black women can come and talk, it feels comfortable. Because there’s so many white therapists they don’t understand our experience,” Shifflett said in a Zoom interview.

Shifflett’s passion for her work started decades ago when she worked as the volunteer and donation coordinator at the YWCA after completing her undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology. This is where she had an encounter that she calls her “turning point.” Shifflett recalls talking to a new woman at the shelter many years ago about her experience living there and the harassment she was facing.

“I reported it and three weeks later I saw that woman and I said, ‘So how did the conversation go?’ Because I knew that it was reported. And she said, ‘No one has talked to me.’ So, I reported it again and in reporting it again I got a message a couple of hours later that it’s been ‘handled.’ And I never saw that woman again. She was gone.”

Shifflett, deeply impacted by that experience, went on to get her master’s degree in community leadership. She gave various presentations about how Black women are historically dismissed from the conversation.

Then everything changed in May 2020 when George Floyd’s murder launched a nationwide movement. Shifflett opened up the conversation to men about healthy masculinity and the male experience, something completely new.

“Listening to Black men talk about America from their perspective, it was like re-educating America about the experiences of Black men,” Shifflett said.

Her work continues to impact the Black community in Utah particularly through education. Shifflett has various presentations, trainings and workshops online to help build relationships and open dialogue about critical race issues that impact the Black community. Her mission is to help push for change in the white community.

“What I have learned is there is a resistance, a resistance to us telling our truth. Because the story has been one way throughout history and so we always have to prove that this happened. It’s a lot of research, a lot of strain to constantly, constantly prove that what you’re saying is right. That’s exhausting,” Shifflett said.

Brittney Herman has invested hours in research. Herman is founder of We Will, a nonprofit dedicated to sexual assault prevention. She has spent hundreds of hours working on House Bill 177, aimed to amend health education in the state of Utah by providing required curriculum for sexual violence behavior prevention and sexual assault resource strategies. The bill failed in the house, but it did not deter Herman.

“Research shows that where there is sufficient sexual education, sexual assault is far less prevalent,” she wrote in an email.

Herman, although not part of the Black community, is passionate about sexual assault prevention and mitigation in Utah for all groups. She writes that Black women are more likely to experience assault for many reasons, the most prominent include the “hyper-sexualization of women of color and how that message subliminally indicates to perpetrators that they do not need consent from these women,” Herman wrote.

Shifflett echoes the same sentiments, saying young Black girls are looked at more sexually, in a way young white girls are not.

“We need to start protecting our young Black girls,” Shifflett said.

Herman’s nonprofit provides formal and informal education on sexual assault prevention, survivor support and community growth. Having started We Will from a personal experience of being sexually assaulted, Herman can empathize and relate to the aftermath of surviving an experience. Her goal is to provide all survivors the support they need following a crisis to help them heal.

“As we continue to support and empower survivors, perpetrators and would-be perpetrators will recognize that their actions will not go unnoticed, that their victims will not be silenced, and that they cannot harm others,” Herman said.

If you or someone you know have or are currently experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault contact:

Utah’s Sexual Violence 24 hour crisis line: 1-888-421-1100

Utah Domestic Violence LINKLine: 1-800-897-LINK (5465)

Resources:

Utah Domestic Violence Coalition

Utah Coalitions Against Sexual Assault

Black artists bringing #Blackjoy to Utah

Story by NINA TITA

Utah Black Artists Collective is a nonprofit of professional Black artists from across Utah who are building a community of acceptance and love for their art. The Collective includes graphic designers, poets and classical ballerinas.

Jayrod Garrett, co-founder of UBLAC, said the mission is to create Black space, a place where Black people are the majority.

“Things I learned as we went about putting this together, I found out that I was not alone in that idea that I felt isolated as a child. Many of the Black people I’ve spoken to who live here in Utah felt isolated because the state’s 2% black,” Garrett said in a Zoom interview.

Working as a teacher full-time, poet and storyteller, Garrett’s passion is about sharing stories of the lived human experience. His written collection of poems titled, “Being Black in White Space,” captures the essence of what Black artists have gone through. Garrett is aware of the difficulty his audience has relating to the Black experience.

“You can go up in front of an audience and share like one of these really vulnerable poems that talks about what it feels like to be Black in that space and then afterwards you get superficial clapping because they’re like ‘we don’t really know what you just said but this what we’re supposed to do right?’” Garrett said.

Garrett founded UBLAC in July 2020 at the start of the pandemic when organizations were forced to move to virtual platforms. Black artists are using the opportunity to share their work and collaborate on social media, such as Instagram. The current project Garrett is directing is titled #BLACKJOY, a means of breaking barriers.

UBLAC artists gather in front of art that inspires them to continue to showcase their talents and bring #BLACKJOY to the community. Photo courtesy of Jayrod Garrett.

“We started talking about the idea of what Black joy sounds like and what does that look like. Is that praise community the only place you see Black people in joy? And it’s not, but like that’s the only way people seem to think about Black people having joy, is in that faith-based community,” Garrett said.

Changing stereotypes has been a challenge other Black artists are passionate about. Daney Lin, an acrylic painter, recalls being the only Black American in his class growing up in Ogden, Utah.

“Being a Black American in Utah, I feel like we are bound to a certain stigma, let’s break down those barriers, let’s knock them down. Let’s be everything, let’s be bank owners, let’s be grocery owners,” Lin said in a Zoom interview.

As a teenager, Lin found art to be his comfort while he was trying to pursue an athletic career in basketball and track and field. He struggled with his mental health and said he was diagnosed with bipolar, ADHD and depression.

“[Art] helped me relieve my stress, it helped me relieve my depression and kind of just showed it in different ways I couldn’t speak it,” Lin said.

He also struggled with the fear of getting better and losing his artistic ability, he said. Utilizing therapy and medication, Lin discovered his talents were not dependent upon his mental health, but provided him relief from stress.

After submitting his artwork on a whim to UBLAC, Garrett immediately saw all of Lin’s potential. Inspired by colors, peace and love in Japanese and Chinese cultures, Lin’s paintings capture emotion.

“I find myself feeling colors,” Lin said.

One of Lin’s paintings in currently on display at the Hogle Zoo’s World of the Wild Art Show. He cried when he saw it in the gallery. “Growing up I didn’t know any Black artists,” Lin said. Now he is honored to have his art out for all to see and be inspired by.

“I want other Black artists to not be afraid and not feel like they have to live up to a certain stigma. You don’t have to be an athlete, you don’t have to be a rapper, you don’t have to be a singer,” Lin said. “If that’s what you do, hey hats off to you, do it, please do it, strive to be better.”

Schkyra Morning, known as Wynter the Poet, co-founder and executive manager of UBLAC, echoes Lin’s sentiments, acknowledging how racial stereotypes can be detrimental to artistry.  “Being an artist can already be challenging at times because you are asking someone to essentially love who you are and what you are creating. So that can already be a lot. You’re a Black woman and an artist and it kind of makes things a little harder,” Morning said in a Zoom interview. “It makes the road a little harder for you, and that’s OK, I’m not afraid of hard work.”

Morning said that many of the UBLAC artists are fueled in their work by racial injustice that is being seen across the country. Her recent poems are about her personal experience of having police guns drawn on her.

It fuels me. The things that I go through fuel me to write about them to share my experiences with other people who are probably going through, who may not even know how to even express it,” Morning said.

UBLAC artists have started to collaborate on projects regarding racial injustice and rewriting what #BLACKJOY looks like. Lin, Garrett, Morning and other artists created their first YouTube video dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, which will be posted to their YouTube Channel soon.  

Looking forward, UBLAC is expanding its community impact with youth mentorship programs. The goal is to provide Black youth of all ages with Black role models in the artistic industry to help cultivate talent.

“It’s being able to be in Black space on a regular basis,” Garrett said.

The UBLAC community is excited for the future of the organization. There are plans for in-person galleries, more social media artist collaborations and #BLACKJOY art pieces coming.

The Black Student Union provides space for Black students, even during pandemic

Story by MASON HARDY

The Black Student Union at the University of Utah provides a safe space for both Black and Indigenous students to be themselves and work together to achieve racial equality in the community. The organization continues to press on, despite being unable to meet in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maryan Shale, BSU president, described the organization as a cultural space to cultivate conversations and discussions for Black students on the U campus.

“We’re trying to promote ethnic pride for Black students, and making sure they have a sense of belonging on campus,” she said during a phone interview.

The mission of BSU is “to foster a sense of community among all students of the African Diaspora at the University of Utah. Our goal is to simulate the intellectual, political, cultural, and social growth of all Utah students.”

The mission statement also includes goals to educate the U community, with the goal of raising awareness to ignite change in communities.

During a normal semester, the BSU would set out a table during student orientations in attempt to recruit new students to the organization. But the pandemic has forced campus organizations and the U to devise other ways to recruit members.

BSU members at the 10th Annual Legacy Banquet, honoring Dr. Laurence Parker, 2020. Photo courtesy of Maryan Shale.

“We’re just here as a reminder, a space for Black students. Like, hey, we got your back,” Shale said.

The University of Utah held a virtual festival where new students could go to see what clubs and organizations exist on campus. Students had the opportunity to see each club and organization via the internet, learn more and join the groups. Shale said this festival presented accessibility issues with students being unaware of the website, and others not having internet access at home.

“A lot of students don’t even know how to navigate Campus Connect when they’re first coming to campus,” she said, explaining the small turnout the BSU faced this year.

The organization continues to use social media, email and word of mouth to promote the BSU to students, with little response. Shale said the BSU utilizes hashtags via Instagram to direct-message potential members. The organization also uses a group message to spread the word of meetings and events.

The BSU utilizes its Facebook page and Twitter account to engage the community. It is here that announcements for events are posted, students share their experiences with the organization, as well as share fundraising opportunities. The social media accounts serve as a way to connect to current BSU members and connect with people and students who may not have otherwise discovered the organization.

Tierra Yancey, a four-year member of BSU, said she’s been able to foster positive relationships through the organization. Not just with fellow students, but also with faculty and with community members outside the university.

Among student population at the University of Utah, only about 1% of students identify as Black or African American.

Arnold Gatoro, former president of the Black Student Union, said in a May 2020 interview he hoped to help “create a more diverse school at the U so we can all open our eyes just a little wider.” Another goal was to “increase the retention of black students and create a better sense of community here at the U.”

In addition to increasing awareness and educating the community, the BSU puts on events to promote pride within the Black community. In 2020, activities included a Welcome Back Family Reunion where the BSU provided food, music and activities, a movie screening with food and discussion, and a Black History Trivia night.

Along with events, the BSU promotes social justice on campus. With injustices such as the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the BSU wanted to play a political role at the University of Utah.

“We actually wrote a resolution in support of Black students at the university,” BSU President Shale said. “We had the help and support of the Associated Students at the University of Utah (ASUU).” It included 22 recommendations toward improving the lack of diversity in faculty and staff, lack of retention of Black students and lack of scholarships and resources for Black students. The Academic Senate approved the resolution on July 16, 2020.

While the organization does work to combat racial injustices, Shale said the BSU does not discriminate against political views. “We don’t discriminate against anybody. You don’t have to be a Democrat or Republican to be in our organization.”

The Black Student Union continues to push for a place, whether online or in person, for all Black students at the University of Utah, regardless of background, political views or academic major.

While the pandemic makes it difficult to meet, the Black Student Union continues its work to ensure a safe and uplifting space for its members and fellow students.

“We are more than just a number. We are more than just a student. We are trailblazers, we are resilient, and we belong at the U,” BSU member Tierra Yancey said.