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.

More than a Black female athlete

Story by EMALI MACKINNON

For student athletes, being recruited by a top university is a goal. They spend years practicing and traveling to events, often missing out on school activities such as dances and free time with friends and family.

The stress of being a top athlete is even more difficult as a Black female competitor, who may experience racism, sexism or isolation. 

Maya Lebar, a sprinter with the University of Utah Track and Field team, became interested in sports as a child growing up in Spokane, Washington. 

Her adoptive mother allowed Lebar to pursue anything she was interested in. At the age of 4 she developed an interest in competitive skiing. 

“Skiing was always something that my family has loved to do,” Lebar said in a text interview, “so it’s really just a family tradition. My mom had skied since she was little and was happy to find out that we had a really good ski program up on Mount Spokane for me to learn how to ski.”  She graduated from the program and became a completive skier. 

A few years later, Lebar knew she wanted to do more than skiing.

Cecil Jackson, a competitive track and field coach, noticed Lebar when she was in eighth grade and competing in local middle school meets. “He was the person who really helped me learn about track and field and feel confident enough in my abilities to pursue it seriously throughout high school,” she said. She began to train with Jackson with an eye toward running at a collegiate level. 

Shortly after training with Jackson, she began to get recruited from local and out of state colleges. 

The University of Utah was one of those schools that stood out to her the most during the recruitment process. 

Lebar caught Coach Chad Colwell’s attention during her senior year of high school.

She set a personal record in the 400M. The sprinting coach quickly noticed her potential. 

Lebar, who is Black, said she was initially hesitant about attending school in Utah. There is little diversity at the university and even less among the Utah athletics.

“My family was concerned for me and questioned my decisions for coming to Utah. I was nervous that there weren’t a lot of Black people and were less in the athletic community,” Lebar said in a FaceTime interview.

But, once she began to talk to her potential coaches and take a tour of the campus, she said she immediately fell in love. 

Colwell said in an email interview, “After speaking with Maya over the phone, I knew she was someone who we would be interested in not only as an athlete, but as a student, teammate and person. I remember after our phone call thinking how articulate, confident and smart Maya was. And this was reinforced after speaking with her High School coach who raved about Maya both as an athlete and a teammate/leader.” 

Lebar committed to the University of Utah and adjusted quickly. 

Maya Lebar was recruited to run the 400M, 200M and relays. Now she runs short sprints focusing on the 100M and 200M. Photo courtesy of Maya Lebar.

She said her teammates became her best friends. She appreciates how they push her into becoming the athlete she wanted to be. They had the same goals in mind and were just as committed as she was.

One of her teammates at the time was Kat Lakaye. Lebar and Lakaye instantly become best friends and roomed together their freshman year. “Maya was someone who is so strong, determined, intelligent, and would have your back no matter what, she was the type of person you always wanted around,” Lakaye said in a FaceTime interview. 

Despite becoming friends with teammates, she faced challenges as a Black female athlete. 

There wasn’t a space or environment created for her and Black teammates. Over the years, Lebar has been one of the main student athletes on her team to advocate for the rest of the Black athletes and talk about the problems they were facing among their teams.

 After speaking out and creating an environment to be heard, Lebar said she feels more supported now than ever. 

“The school has done a really good job at listening and responding to our needs. People need to see us and create an environment where we feel supported and welcomed also,” Lebar said. “It has become easier to be a Black female athlete now with all the resources and communities Utah has created for us.”

Lebar decided to major in political science with an emphasis in law and politics. She has a dream of one day becoming a lawyer or a civil rights attorney. Her passions include speaking out for social justice and being an advocate for those who have been wronged by the justice system. “ It is so important to know what is going on in the world. Educating yourself and having the ability to speak out on important topics is so empowering,” she said. 

She is a part of a group called “UTAH Group,” which stands for United Together Against Hate. Within this group she plans events and puts together meetings that cover important topics about social injustice within the community and Utah. 

Some events she has organized are Say Their Names Memorial, United Walk, Indigenous Peoples Day Art Walk and Black Reflections Exhibit at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. This type of work is what Lebar is most passionate about. 

The reason this became her passion was due to the event that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2018. “I have always been so passionate about social justice stuff. But it all started after the Charlottesville rally in 2018,” Lebar said. “I then realized systemic injustice is really real. This was such a huge moment for me. Yes, I grew up in a white family but I am Black and I am extremely affected by it. I knew I had to become more educated about everything. I began to read about everything like people in history and people that no one knows about. I researched everything until I understood.” 

A fire was lit inside her and she knew something must change and she was going to be that change. 

How redlining practices affect the health of Salt Lake City’s west-side communities

Story by TESS ROUNDY 

The link between housing location and race in Salt Lake City is not coincidental. Discriminatory real estate practices, loan programs and local city ordinances created segregation in a practice called redlining. 

In the 1930s the Home Owners’ Loan Corp. (HOLC), with help from local banks, real estate agents and city officials, designed a map outlining which neighborhoods they deemed ineligible for home loans.  

The criteria used for grading these neighborhoods were age, housing upkeep and public amenities. If neighborhoods had high minority concentrations they were outlined in red, regardless of other criteria. Although redlining is illegal now, it still affects our community. 

An example of local redlining in the 1930s. Credit: Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America.

Four local leaders discussed the problems it has caused and offered ideas to redress inequities in a panel discussion held Jan. 20 at the University of Utah. “Reframing the Conversation: Good Trouble and the Redline” was among the events offered during the annual campus-wide celebration of MLK Week. 

Franci Taylor, the director of the U’s American Indian Resource Center, explained that people living around Rose Park, Poplar Grove and Liberty Wells, all redlined areas on the west side of Salt Lake City, were denied mortgages. However, HOLC readily gave loans to those living in the Sugar House and Avenues neighborhoods, and near the U.

Redlining west-side communities has had greater consequences than access to home loans. 

Freeways bypass many of these Salt Lake City neighborhoods, which causes health repercussions for the people living there. Panelist Ashley Cleveland, a city planner for Salt Lake City, said members of her family and community who grew up on the west side have asthma and other diseases connected to environmental factors. 

Ciriac Alvarez Valle, another panelist, underscored Cleveland’s anecdote by noting that these redlined neighborhoods have higher rates of chronic illnesses, infant mortality and health disparities. To make matters worse, there are no hospitals on the west side.

Hospitals aren’t the only outlying amenity for west Salt Lake City. Neighborhoods in this area also are characterized by fewer schools, parks and grocery stores. “The conditions of the environments where people are born, where people learn, where people live, where people worship are the things that affect the quality of life,” Valle said.

The panelists discussed what U students could do to combat the effects of redlining. Cleveland recommended reading publications about city planning, housing, and environment. She urged students to sit on Salt Lake City’s Community Council. Additionally, the U offers community-involvement opportunities like the Bennion Center, The Hinkley Institute of Politics, and University Neighborhood Partners.

The panelist Fatima Dirie runs a program called Know Your Neighbor. She urged students to volunteer and get connected with individuals from minority communities. “Really hear their lens and their story from their own perspective,” she said.

The panel, held virtually this year due to the pandemic, concluded with Cleveland’s endorsement of a quote by Gregory Squires, a professor of public policy and public administration at George Washington University. In a 2007 article he linked housing patterns to general economic inequalities and said, “Where different groups of people live and the homes in which they live are not simply neutral or random demographic phenomena. They profoundly influence the allocation of rewards in the United States.”

University of Utah discusses racialization of homeownership on President Biden’s first day

Story by SUNWHEE MIKE PARK

MLK Day 2021 arrived in a timely manner – just two days before the inauguration of President Joe Biden. The transition marked a political shift that many Americans saw as synonymous with the return to progressive social attitudes and the renewed start of efforts at racial unity after four tumultuous years under the previous presidential administration.

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s lasting legacy, the University of Utah’s Department of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hosted a series of events throughout the week of Jan. 18, aptly titled “Good Trouble.” Those words were uttered by John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and civil-rights icon who died in 2020.

One event during the week held particular significance: a virtual seminar on the topic of redlining. This practice was exercised by American banks and federal bodies until the mid-20th century to exclude minority families in underprivileged neighborhoods from receiving mortgages or homeowner loans. Areas were defined by red lines on maps, hence the term “redlining.”

While the practice has been outlawed for over half a century in the United States, the vestiges of this discriminatory act are still widely visible to this day.

The event, “Reframing the Conversation: Good Trouble & the Red Line,” was held via Zoom on Jan. 20, the day of Biden’s inauguration. Afterward, he signed multiple executive orders. One extended the CDC’s federal eviction moratorium to allow nearly 40 million Americans to keep their homes until late March, according to the Washington Post. Many of the homeowners that the order impacts are minorities who reside in redlined regions, the Aspen Institute reports.

The virtual seminar introduced a panel of leaders from within the Salt Lake City community: Ciriac Alvarez Valle, a recent graduate of the U and policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children; Ashley Cleveland, a board member for Utah’s Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee and nonprofit Curly Me; Fatima Dirie, policy advisor for the Mayor’s Office of New Americans; and Franci Taylor, director of the U’s American Indian Resource Center. The conversation was moderated by Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, director of University Neighborhood Partners.

Mayer-Glenn posed a series of prepared questions which covered a range of topics — from the implicit ways redlining practices remain today to their long-term effects in modern American society. Some panelists shared personal stories about the challenges they have faced in homeownership as Black and Indigenous women of color.

“Redlining went from legal to insidiously hidden,” Taylor said about the ways discrimination can still be seen in homeownership today. (The Fair Housing Act banned the practice in 1968, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development website.)  She said it is painfully obvious when noting how many exits and entrances go in and out of Salt Lake City’s minority-rich, lower-income west side compared with the whiter, richer east side. Taylor said this was an intentional design implemented by the government to minimize access into wealthier Salt Lake City neighborhoods.

Other panelists discussed how redlining affects their personal lives. Cleveland, a new mother, explained that redlined minority neighborhoods pose serious health issues, especially to children and pregnant women. Their proximity to freeways causes rampant asthma, and a lack of healthy food options in these “food deserts” leads to high numbers of patients with diabetes and hypertension. But minority families are unable to escape these conditions because of the continued effects of redlining today, Cleveland said, expressing how difficult it is for her and her daughter to live healthily.

The seminar, however, was not restricted to a gloomy discussion about how minority groups have been, and still are, disenfranchised by redlining practices. The latter half of the event breathed an air of hopefulness to an otherwise dismal topic, as panelists were asked how they fight to overcome discriminatory challenges, and how American society as a whole can move forward.

Valle, the youngest panelist, suggested the equal dispersion of resources to all communities, regardless of their populations’ racial backgrounds or financial statuses in order to ensure their growth. She explained that constant participation in community activities, especially by the younger generation including students, would gradually help to raise redlined neighborhoods out of a continuous cycle of poverty and neglect.

Later in the discussion, in a moment undeniably evocative of King and Lewis during the Civil Rights Movement era, Taylor said the fight against discrimination and hatred must be taken on as a daily chore. The key, she said, lies in refusing to tolerate discrimination nor embracing the fear that comes with it each day.

In a separate email interview with Mayer-Glenn, she explained that conversations like these play an important role in informing communities about how certain laws and policies are enacted to promote discrimination. When people become educated about structural racism and biases in their communities, she said, they can then take part in “good trouble” by voting for representatives who will fight to eliminate inequality and racial disparities.

As the event neared its end, it was clear that the hour-long conversation represented a much larger phenomenon occurring at that very moment: America ushering in a new administration with the dire hope of overcoming its deep and painful racial divisions. Panelists and moderator of the event alike seemed to be ardently optimistic as the conversation came to a close.

Valle, the young panelist, quoted the words of Lewis himself as the mantra for her work, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

Mestizo youth make difference on Capitol Hill

Story by ALISON TANNER

Though it varies by seasons, the sun rises early over Salt Lake City. The bright glow peeks over the Wasatch Mountains until the entire Valley is bathed in golden light. Cars flood Interstate 15, as drivers make their commute north, south, and everywhere in between.

The hustle and bustle of the day-to-day continues outside, while dedicated students gather on Capitol Hill right as the doors open at 7 a.m. They engage in powerful discussions regarding political implications of bills in the state of Utah. Then they head to their respective schools to continue the rest of their day. 

For over 10 years, students of color — primarily those in high school — have been determined to let their voices be heard.

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The Mestizo Arts & Activism Legislative Internship provides an opportunity for high school students to a gain valuable learning experience during the 2020 State Legislative Session. Image courtesy of Itzél Nava.

In 2009, the Mestizo Arts & Activism Legislative Internship (MAALI) was created by University of Utah professor Matt Bradley to inform students about educational and political pipelines. This opportunity provides young students with hands-on working experience and a chance to interact in a legislative environment.

Although Bradley died in 2012, his legacy is felt and cherished by minority groups and his impact is seen across the Salt Lake area. Also serving as a co-founder for the Mestizo Arts & Activism Collective, Bradley created MAALI to help people of color and minority groups remove barriers toward higher education.

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MAALI students attending the HB 271 committee hearing. Image courtesy of Itzél Nava.

The internship usually includes five to seven students, who are high school sophomores and juniors. From the end of January to mid-March, students meet regularly three times a week or more, often spending hours at a time to discuss perspectives and make plans. The diverse group of youth track bills, write analyses and interview legislators, while participating in lobby and liaison engagement.

Itzél Nava, University of Utah student and mentor at the Mestizo Arts & Activism Collective, also oversees responsibilities for the MAALI internship. Nava coordinates much of the program assigning reading and curriculum, facilitating discussion, managing recruitment of students each year and scheduling.

Nava said that although many people want to help minority communities, they often don’t listen when people of color share their voice. She added that in order to understand what issues minority groups are facing, you have to go to the source. “We are that source,” Nava said in a video call. 

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The students follow bills that could potentially affect SLC’s west-side communities and prepare themselves to continue lobbying. Image courtesy of Itzél Nava.

One high school student shared with Nava that until participating in MAALI, they hadn’t considered attending college as an option in their future. Once they had meaningful experiences and learned how they could impact their community for the better, they felt empowered and capable of pursuing higher education.

“Our voices matter,” Nava said. “Young people are the future of our country. People of color should take up space. They’re just as qualified and intelligent and their experiences matter.”

 

West side versus east side: addressing the divide in Salt Lake City

Story by SPENCER BUCHANAN

In 2019, an interesting dichotomy formed in the Salt Lake City mayoral election. Salt Lake City has been divided, physically and socially, by an east-side and west-side axis. And during the race the two most competitive candidates, then Salt Lake City city councilor Erin Mendenhall and Utah state senator Luz Escamilla, fell into that axis. Escamilla lives in the Rose Park neighborhood on the west side while Mendenhall lives in the east-side neighborhood known as 9th and 9th. Mendenhall won the election and currently serves as mayor of Salt Lake City.

Even for a smaller city, Salt Lake City has numerous issues including some of the worst air pollution in the nation, homelessness, rapid growth, and urban blight. In a piece by the Salt Lake Tribune, when it came to solutions, Mendenhall and Escamilla generally agreed on most issues. But their biggest differences were their backgrounds and priorities as mayor.

On her campaign website, Escamilla said her main priority was “uniting Salt Lake City” and she touted “her ability to find effective solutions, find common ground, and build bridges among those with different interests.” With her background as an immigrant and work as the director of the State Office of Ethnic Affairs, Escamilla often addressed the issue of “representation” among minority groups.

At a debate during the election covered by the Salt Lake Tribune, Escamilla argued that Salt Lake City hasn’t had leadership that “intentionally cares about the west side.” During the same debate, Mendenhall expressed a commitment to the west side.

“People who have less economic and education resources tend to be less inclined to contact government officials and make demands of them,” said Matthew Burbank, a professor of political science at the University of Utah, in a phone interview.

According to Burbank, residents of the west side experience the same issue as many other urban working-class and minority communities when interacting with government.

“Where we see this in Salt Lake, is generally the west side. We have more people who are poorer and less educated and are less likely to contact government officials than east-side residents of Salt Lake,” Burbank said.

Escamilla’s run for mayor had a chance for historic change and representation for the west side. But Mendenhall won and for some it felt like a confirmation and continuation of the power dichotomy between the west side and east side.

But according to Turner Bitton, the chair of the Glendale Community Council, the attitude around the 2019 mayoral election was much more nuanced.

“It was very split. Believe it or not. There were a lot of residents that were supportive of Erin Mendenhall and a lot of residents that were supportive of Luz Escamilla,” Bitton said, referencing voters on the west side.

Bitton stated in a phone interview that the election wasn’t as divisive as other recent elections and that sentiment was mixed toward both candidates.

“The overall sentiment that I saw over and over again was: they’re both great and wish we could have both,” Bitton said.

And after Mendenhall won, Bitton said he’s found the first few months to be a smooth transition and added he has been impressed with her communication with west-side organizations. Bitton noted that he was especially pleased with how Mendenhall kept much of the same people who worked in previous administrations. Bitton said that keeping many of the same people is what has formed a good dialogue between the mayor, her office, and the west side.

“This speaks to Mayor Mendenhall’s experience as an organizer. She understands how those models of communication are so important and why it matters to have communication going both ways,” Bitton said.

On March 2, Mendenhall gave her State of the City address from Meadowlark Elementary, located in the Jordan Meadows neighborhood on the west side. Mendenhall spoke extensively on her ambitions making Salt Lake City more “sustainable” and “green.” But near the end of the address she focused on her desire for more diverse voices in city hall.

In the address, Mendenhall said, “Making a place for diverse perspectives in positions of influence is essential to ensuring new policies are inclusive of the needs of all populations and help to shape an equitable and inclusive city where all individuals can feel welcome, respected, supported, and safe.”

Joshua Rebello, a community liaison for the mayor’s office, said, “The mayor’s goals fall under three categories: growth, environment, and communities.”

As a community liaison, Rebello works as a bridge between the mayor’s office and neighborhoods. He works with community councils, residents, and businesses within city council districts 1 and 2, which encompass the west side.

Rebello stated that one of Mendenhall’s focuses is on “creating more inclusive communities” and harnessing the rapid growth to benefit all residents. He also outlined how Mendenhall has framed her environmental and infrastructure ambitions toward the west side.

“Residents of the west side carry a bigger burden when it comes to poor air quality,” Rebello said.

Rebello stated that Mendenhall has been particularly focused on the Utah Inland Port, and the effects that it will uniquely have on the residents of the west side.

“They’re out by the airport already, they deal with noise pollution from airplanes. They’d have to deal with more rail traffic, cargo traffic, it’s something that could negatively impact the community,” Rebello said.

Along with trying to frame her infrastructure and environmental priorities toward the west side, Mendenhall announced in February 2020 on the city’s website that she would hold “office hours” where residents could “share their ideas and priorities for their communities and neighborhoods in the city.” The office hours are scheduled to occur twice monthly, offering both scheduled and open-door formats.

“It’s an opportunity for any resident to talk to the mayor about what issue they’d like the mayor to be aware of and to address it,” Rebello said.

He stated that Mendenhall has made it a priority that her office hours are accessible to as many possible residents. The location of the office shifts between the City and County Building in downtown to the various library branches across the city.

Rebello said that Mendenhall consciously chose the Chapman Library Branch located on 577 S. 900 West on the west side in order to address the issues and tension that residents there feel.

“A lot of people have spoken up for the neighborhood and community. The mayor really wants to encourage people to do that — but not just those that have in the past — but anyone,” Rebello said. “It’s why she’s making an effort to go out to the public libraries and anywhere possible, to where the residents are.”

The 2019 Salt Lake City mayoral election put the west side and east side divide front and center. The race between Erin Mendenhall and Luz Escamilla showed some of the tension that still permeates between the neighborhoods. But Mayor Mendenhall has made efforts to relieve tensions and has reached out specifically to those who may feel the system doesn’t work for them. Mendenhall has lofty goals for Salt Lake City and time will tell how those ambitions will include the west side.

Do new high-rises address affordability on the west side of Salt Lake City?

New apartments on N. West Temple.

Story and photos by SPENCER BUCHANAN

The economy is growing and unemployment is at its lowest level in a generation. But many working-class people are feeling the squeeze. Salt Lake City has been greatly benefiting from the high economic growth of the last five years. But according to KUTV, some lawmakers say many residents are feeling pushed out by rising home costs. With rising real estate prices, research from the University of Utah shows that some people fear Salt Lake City will start to experience housing crunches like San Francisco or Los Angeles. To meet with rising home shortages and prices the government of Salt Lake City is pushing new high-density housing developments. These boxy, four- to six-story buildings can be seen going up all over the city. A number of these developments have already come to the west side of Salt Lake City and many more are planned.

The Deseret News touted high-density developments as a way of increasing affordable housing especially, in high-growth areas.

Ivis Garcia-Zambrana is a professor in City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah and vice-chair of the Planning Commission in Salt Lake City. She says that the government of Salt Lake City is actively encouraging new high-density developments through a points-based building permit system, which fast-tracks apartments with affordable units by circumventing administrative reviews by the city planning commission and city council.

“Ideally, as a developer, you avoid all kinds of public meetings. What you do is have an application that follows all the rules … you put in an application that seems so good that you get extra points,” Garcia-Zambrana said.

More points are given to projects that are high-density and have affordable units. She said this system cuts months off a developer’s project time and shows the active encouragement of the city to build high rises. But does high-density housing address affordability issues?

“It’s either too expensive or it’s too small. So it’s pushing out families. So, gentrification is definitely happening on the west side of Salt Lake right now,” said Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, director of the University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) and resident of the west side of Salt Lake City.

“The Salt Lake School District is losing about 1,000 students a year to families having to move out of Salt Lake City because they can’t afford to live in Salt Lake City anymore,” Mayer-Glenn said.

She said affordable housing is a major concern for the residents of the west side. Mayer-Glenn ceded that many of the high-density developments are affordable, but they lack community involvement in the building process.

Garcia-Zambrana said high-density housing doesn’t address the “cost-burden” that many homeowners on the west side experience.

“Cost-burden” is when a resident pays more than 30% of their net income into housing. Garcia-Zambrana is actively studying the west side. In her research, she found residents in the Fair Park and Jordan Meadows neighborhoods, where many of the new high-rise apartments have been built, are not cost-burdened. But residents in Glendale and Rose Park, where the majority are homeowners, the neighborhoods are experiencing housing cost difficulties.

According to Zillow, rents in Salt Lake City average around $1,500 up from the average $1,200 rent in 2015. Salt Lake City has average rental rates compared to the rest of the nation. Areas mentioned by Garcia-Zambrana, Fair Park and Jordan Meadows, have even lower rents. But rent prices and values in Salt Lake City have significantly increased in the last five years. The average Salt Lake City home value today is at over $400,000. While areas on the west side have lower home prices, floating in the high $200,000s, these homes can still be a cost-burden. This is why many renters and owners are starting to move out of the west side and the city altogether.

“For the prices in Salt Lake, they can own a home somewhere else nearby. That’s where you can see some of the idea of displacement,” said Garcia-Zambrana. “Planners are very concerned about cost displacement, but it’s not easy to quantify as you have to know why each person is moving and there are a lot of factors. People may be ‘displaced’ but may not feel disenfranchised (pushed out of their neighborhood), just that they simply moved.”

The Overniter Motel, site of the future SLCRDA Spark! project.

An example of Salt Lake City planners addressing cost and displacement concerns is the Spark! project located at 1500 W. North Temple. This upcoming housing development being built by the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency (SLCRDA) is planned to have 200 apartments with 50 designated as affordable or below-market-rate.

“We wanted to mesh housing, commercial, and open space. So there’s a balanced approach to it. So there’s a coffee shop but also a daycare. So it’s serving the community. And we try to focus on local businesses,” said Amanda Greenland, communications and outreach manager for the SLCRDA.

Projects like Spark! and Salt Lake City’s fast-tracking of high-density projects with affordable units show the city’s efforts to address rising housing cost. High-density housing, though, doesn’t address the cost-burden issues felt by homeowners on the west side. The cost of owning a home there is increasing, which is leading to much of the ire felt by longtime residents. High-rises in Salt Lake City are being built with affordable prices in mind but not with the ownership that many families look for. As the city grows and property values increase, homeownership on the west side may become a thing of the past.

Why we need more Latinx journalists

Story and photos by BRITT BROOKS

When America sits down for breakfast what’s in front of them? The entire internet is literally at our fingertips, so reading the news is less impacted by time and place and more a matter of preference. Especially now when anyone can share their voice, journalists have the unique and exigent responsibility to create reliable, accurate and interesting publications.

Journalism is necessary to keep our communities connected, as well as educate readers with current perspectives. New voices are becoming increasingly popular in publications across the country as various marginalized groups gain platforms.

Utah’s Latinx population is at nearly half a million people, and in a perfect world that large community would be covered and represented accurately in the media. However, as reported by ReMezcla, white male voices tell the vast majority of stories in American media. In fact, throughout all the top newsrooms in the country, only 25 percent had at least one non-white editor. And minorities made up less than 17 percent of all newsroom employees combined.

Rebecca Chavez-Houck is a woman who understands why minority representation is important in all fields. Her experience as a Latina woman, and her career endeavors in journalism, public relations and politics, have given her insight as to what can be better in the world of media creators.

Starting her professional journey at the University of Utah, Chavez-Houck earned a B.A. in journalism and mass communication as well as a Master of Public Administration. After working in public relations, she said she realized she had a knack for “sleuthing” and wanted to try her hand at researching potential bills. Her career totally changed when running for public office morphed from an idea to a reality in 2008.

Chavez-Houck said she used her communication skills to ensure all possible effects of a bill were thoroughly considered and weighed, not glossed over during a long session on Capitol Hill. “You don’t say ‘no comment,’ you find a way to answer the question,” she said during a press pool interview.

Chavez-Houck explained that she decided to run for public office because she didn’t see anyone representing her community who actually reflected it.

The work Chavez-Houck accomplished during her time in the Utah State House of Representatives includes successfully passing a bill ensuring permanent Election Day voter registration as well as medical interpreter amendments that help non-English speakers of all dialects get the care they need in American medical offices.

As a Latina woman in a predominantly white, male career she’s had to navigate different ways to get her voice heard not only by constituents but her colleagues as well. Something she wants to improve is the Latinx image in the media, and that their stories are heard and respected. She’s frustrated with journalists who don’t search for new perspectives and said, “Find us, find us, find us. We’re there!”

Chavez-Houck wants more coverage that actually reflects the various personalities and ways of being for Latinx people. “We are as diverse as the greater community,” she said.

One way to ensure different demographics are covered well in a publication is to hire writers who accurately represent the community. Kiana Opre, 22, is a senior at the University of Utah studying gender studies and English. She’s also the editor-in-chief of Her Campus Utah, a branch of the international online magazine Her Campus written primarily for and by collegiate women.

Opre has worked to expand the topics covered by HCU, like trans rights and gender equality. She’s constantly reminding writers to use photos in their articles that have racial, cultural and gender variation so that the literal image of the magazine shows inclusivity. And she’s proud to say Her Campus at the U is ranked No. 1 out of more than 300 branches due to variables like the number of articles published, social media posts and chapter events.

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Kiana Opre

Opre and her fellow HCU council members try to recruit writers from all different majors, backgrounds, races, and genders. According to information published by College Factual, the U has fairly average numbers for diversity regarding race, gender, and age. But the U is more mixed than the national average, and ranks 314 for “Overall Diversity” when compared to nearly 2,500 other colleges nationwide.  

Opre said she advocates for a wide range of writers in all published content and aims to have all types of voices represented. However, she wants to be clear that HCU isn’t seeking out minority writers for no reason. Their voices actually need to be recognized and validated, not tokenized.

In an email interview Opre said, “Businesses, clubs and corporations are constantly seeking out ‘diversity’ but it never seems to be for the benefit for real lives or real people of color, but to fulfill a quota, to keep up with an image of what’s ideologically popular.”

But similar to other Utah-based publications, HCU was having a major gap between the representation the council wanted and the writers the branch actually had.

Stephany Cortez happened to be the first Latina member of HCU, but she said the decision to join was daunting, as going into a group of about 20 white women isn’t the easiest thing to do as a minority.

Cortez is a 23-year-old political science and criminology major at the U. Her roots are Mexican and though she said she loves the culture, community, and family that surround her, she doesn’t want to be defined by any one thing. She’s been part of the U’s Student Government (ASUU) and the Beacon Scholars program for first-generation students.

When Cortez joined the magazine, HCU’s editorial team was totally female, and totally white. On its surface the chapter reflected the stereotype of a sorority, and at one point Cortez said she didn’t know if she was at the right meeting. At the open house for the chapter, Cortez remembered seeing different genders and ethnicities, but soon found out she was the first Latina to join the magazine’s staff. “A lot of people of color don’t know about Her Campus, that it’s a community you can participate in,” she said.

While Cortez said she first felt a bit like “a fish out of water,” she also knew that sticking with Her Campus would improve her writing and possibly open the doors for more Latinx students to join. The people we see in certain positions plant the idea of what’s attainable and what isn’t depending on what you look or sound like. In other words, who we see in different industries and careers is who we believe belong there.

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Stephany Cortez

Cortez mentioned that Latinx families tend to stay within their smaller communities for various reasons, the most notable being fear. In a time where ICE is detaining and deporting Hispanic people every day and America’s president actively speaks against Latinxs it isn’t surprising that parents are concerned for their children on a daily basis.

Being repressed is one of the most frustrating feelings one can experience. But if something as common as getting a speeding ticket can end in deportation, fighting and speaking up can seem impossible or at the very least unsafe.

However, new territory is on the horizon for Cortez and other Latinx young adults. They find inspiration in the sacrifices that previous generations made, and use that to add to the culture and future of Latinx people in America.

Cortez is proud of her roots, but she’s also proud of herself for working hard and joining different communities and clubs no matter the preconceived notions. She said, “We need to break that mold.”

Utah may be next to experience a physician crisis

Story and photos by Justin Trombetti

The concept of representation in modern society can often be a fickle thing. It’s also becoming a hard conversation to avoid; it was a massive focal point of the most recent midterm elections, it’s garnered both highly positive and staunchly negative critiques of our modern media landscape, and for better or worse, the political climate of 2019 America has thrust an unending array of opinions to the front of our social commentary.

Emotions aside, the reality is that minorities and historically marginalized groups are not represented visibly in proportion to the population percentages they make up.

While this issue is far from exclusive to them, it is especially relevant to Hispanic populations. In fact, it’s a large part of the reason why California is currently facing what has been termed a physician crisis. That is, while Hispanics make up over 40 percent of the state’s population, they account for only 12 percent of graduating physicians.

It’s been posited that this has resulted in disproportionately poor health and community-wide vulnerability that, at its current rate, would take over 500 years to equalize.

It would seem that, upon a deeper dive into the matter, the issue is far from specific to California. Further, while healthcare is an immediate concern, it may well be a problem that extends beyond just a single sector of the service economy.

Utah is experiencing its own tension in the local health sector, as its rapidly growing population has begun to feel the strain of underrepresentation. Yehemy Zavala Orozco, preventive health manager of Comunidades Unidas, has been on the front lines of this reality for eight years.

The West Valley City-based organization’s primary mission is to “keep families healthy and together,” and Zavala Orozco (whose preferred pronoun is they) believes that the odds are stacked against the communities it serves.

They believe the underlying issues of representation are just the beginning of a multifaceted dilemma facing the Hispanic community. “No one gives you a guide,” they said of first-generation immigrants who often struggle to find resources that not only speak their language, but also understand them on a cultural level.

Zavala Orozco recalled a story of a first-generation mother from Guatemala with whom they recently worked. “The doctors found a lump in her breast and she needed surgery. They thought she might have cancer.”

On top of the woman dealing with the gravity of her diagnosis, Zavala Orozco said she found little help with the hospitals and offices she dealt with. Language barriers alone created a back and forth with her care professionals that made treatment more stressful and time consuming. Instances where miscommunications led to hospitals completely missing information along the way were also prevalent.

Zavala Orozco believes that there’s an extreme lack of investment and effort from the government to shift these paradigms. They cited the backpedaling on the 2018 initiative Proposition 3, which dealt with Medicaid expansion that would have had a strong impact on the Hispanic population, as a primary example of this.

They strongly suggest that Utahns must begin bolstering the opportunities available to Hispanics that allow them to ultimately join the professional sectors where their communities are underrepresented.

“We need to ensure they know college is an option, they just don’t see options other than places like [Salt Lake Community College] or trade schools,” Zavala Orozco said. They also believes that access to higher education is often too expensive for minority groups, and helping to remove the financial barriers of access is essential to reversing these trends.

In Utah, physical health is not the only concern Hispanic populations are faced with. In a state where suicide rates among this group are close to double the national average, mental health treatment is just as important.

Brad Drown, a licensed clinical social worker in Murray, has seen some of the same problems in his field that Yehemy Zavala Orozco discussed. He stated that it’s common for Hispanics in Utah to go without mental healthcare. Drown added in his multiple decades as a social worker, he’d only ever treated a small handful of Hispanic patients, and that while this could be a geo-demographic reality, independent research and data from his colleagues show similar trends.

According to Drown, this is very much a cultural issue, and less so a linguistic one. He noted that Utah boasts a higher number of multilingual resources available in his line of work due to the growing population of Latinos and the large number of return missionaries who lived abroad in Spanish-speaking nations.

The issues lie partially in a pattern of cultural stigmas he’s noticed, but more prevalent is the problem of a shared cultural experience that can often make therapy more effective. While he believes it isn’t always a necessity for everyone, many people feel more comfortable seeking treatment when they believe there are providers who understand them on a deeper level.

Perhaps most important to note, however, is that a common experience does not always mean a common result. While it’s crucial to recognize the hardships that many Hispanics face, assigning victimhood to an entire population, especially one with so many positive victories, can be short-sighted.

Andres Rivera, who runs Myo Tensegrity Massage in Draper, provided some context on this. He said he’s been lucky to experience a different side of the matter.

“We moved to California when I was 8, and everyone spoke Spanish [where we lived],” he said. Even in Utah, he lived in areas with a dense Hispanic population, and he believes this made integration easier.

“My mom spoke OK English, but mostly Spanish. It made it a little difficult but going to certain places that were recommended [by other Spanish speakers] was a big thing,” he continued. “It helped to have connections where she felt comfortable as far as speaking Spanish, especially with finding places of employment, things like that.”

However, Rivera felt it important to acknowledge that he does not think that’s how it is for every immigrant family. “Older people that came here is where it’s more of a thing where it makes sense to befriend someone with a shared cultural experience. I can see why someone [that didn’t immigrate as a child] would really want people who understand where they’re coming from.”

The idea of representation is important to minorities and oft-marginalized groups, especially when it comes to health. While it doesn’t necessarily affect everyone equally, it’s a pressing concern that currently has no end in sight for a significant population of Hispanics in Utah and nationally.

Zavala Orozco said that beyond empowerment, investment in local organizations like Comunidades Unidas can have an enormous impact on the day-to-day lives of Utahns. It may not be a problem that can solve itself overnight, but awareness and grassroots effort can go a long way.

 

Why Latinx representation in leadership roles is important for the success of Latinx children

Story by TYSON ALDRIDGE

The importance of role models in everyday life cannot be underestimated. Children anywhere from ages 3 to 16 look for an older role model whom they can look up to and learn from. Most people can think back to when they were younger and remember who their role models were. Sometimes these role models can even help shape a young child’s future career or passion. But oftentimes for young children of Latinx descent it can be hard to find positive role models in important positions. That is why Latinx representation in leadership roles is vital for the success of Latinx children.

According to a 2011 article, “In 2008, only 28 percent of traditional college-age Hispanics were in college, up from 17 percent two decades earlier.” The importance of roles models for young Latinx youth is stressed throughout this article, and with positive role models the author thinks this could result in more Latinx students attending college, or applying for positions they may not have otherwise.

Having legislators, teachers, coaches, or athletes to look up to can help a younger generation dream bigger and truly believe that they one day can be in a prominent leadership role.

Former Utah State House Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck says, “The reason why it’s so important is because if we are not the anomaly anymore, if we’re seen as the norm, if we’re seen as a default, that anybody can be a legislator, anybody can be a leader, that you’re not making this image in your head, ‘a leader is x, this is what HE looks like’ more often than not.”

Chavez-Houck also explained that the reason she got into politics was because she wanted to help diversify the state government. She attended an event where she saw all of the representatives from Utah and she said she was shocked by the lack of diversity that was represented. So she took it upon herself to get involved in politics and give the Latinx community of Utah a voice in the capitol. And in doing so, little girls and boys can see a Latinx leader in the government and aspire to possibly be in a leadership role someday.

Cherise Tolbert, who works for latpro.com, said in a 2018 article that “cultural, ethnic, and gender-related barriers are too easily accepted as part of one’s identity. One could assume that without role models, Latina women cannot become nonprofit leaders. I think a young latina woman who sees an executive board member, whose contributions inspire and command respect, will want to follow the board member’s footsteps.”

Erlinda J. Martinez, the current president of Santa Ana College in Southern California,  said in an email, “It is very important that we have role models in every profession; that students see teachers like themselves, that defendants see attorneys and judges like themselves , etc.” With the number of the Latinx population growing in the United States, it is vital to have representation in leadership roles. Martinez added, “If children and students see themselves in others it becomes easier to believe that they too can become anything they want!”

Martinez explained how having positive role models can make a drastic difference in the future. She said, “Once there are role models in professional/leadership positions it leads to decision making that is in keeping with valuing diversity and inclusion.” This is essentially where a domino effect would take place. “More Latinos become educated. More Latinos are hired or promoted. The justice system changes. The education system changes. The economics changes, etc.,” Martinez said.

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David Ibarra is in the process of running for mayor. Photo by Tyson Aldridge.

David Ibarra, a current candidate for Salt Lake City mayor, said in a phone interview, “It’s important for all parts of our community to participate and to be represented. The Latino community is going to be the majority community shortly in America.” Ibarra stressed the importance of Latinxs getting out and supporting their candidate to ensure that they are represented at all levels.

Being a role model can be a very tough road, but the story you get along the way can be inspiring. This held true when Ibarra said, “Anytime that a Latino breaks through it is an example that it is possible for anyone. I was brought up in foster homes, and have been a dishwasher at a restaurant. Ten years later I owned the restaurant through hard work and perseverance.”

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Dave Ibarra poses in front of his “Let’s think Big” poster. Photo courtesy of the Dave Ibarra for Mayor campaign.

The biggest thing stressed through all the interviews was vision. Being able to see yourself in a leadership role because the person in that role is like you. Ibarra said, “I share my story only for the benefit of the youth that if it can happen to me, then it can happen to you. It breaks through the glass and makes them believe that it is possible. Latinx in politics is huge because not only can I think I can do it, I know I can.”

Positive Latinx role models are vital for the future. Having Latinx leadership will give kids a higher bar to aim for. It can help give them the mindset that they can be in an important position. “We pursue what we see,” Rebecca Chavez-Houck said. “And if children do not see people that look like them that have their experiences, that have their perspective that represent their communities, then they don’t see that as an opportunity for themselves.”

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