Ivana Martinez

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During my reporting for Voices of Utah, I spent most of my time covering the Glendale Community Learning Center. From one room to the next there was always something happening, whether English classes, cooking, learning lab or sewing. I was incredibly fortunate to cover this community, as it serves so many members within Glendale. It is a place for people to come to gather and learn. As I got further into my beat, I realized that the Glendale community functions like an ecosystem, every element steadily relies on one another to function.

Ivana MartinezWhen I attended International Women’s Day at Glendale Middle School, standing in the middle of the cafeteria I was reminded of why I chose journalism as my career path. At that moment, with women from all different walks of life circling, dancing and cheering around me — I remembered what a privilege it is to help tell someone’s story. To showcase the victories and the setbacks each individual faces in their lives and communities. To be granted access to write about individuals who aren’t typically seen in our local news media. As journalists, we have a responsibility to accurately represent our communities and that often includes showcasing the underrepresented, the people who don’t have voices.

I like to think that journalism and I chose each other. It wasn’t one-sided, it was a calling that I was always meant to be doing this work. As someone who once lived within the Glendale community as a child, returning to report on it as an adult it felt full circle. I always knew I was a storyteller. I’ve always been drawn to stories, people and voice. One of the most satisfying things about being a journalist is breaking barriers, talking to individuals I normally wouldn’t and understanding them on a deeper level. I had the honor of interviewing members within the Glendale community who work to help facilitate activities and events for the community. These women are the fabric of these institutions.

One of the disappointments that I had during the semester was having to change my final story because of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Due to public school shutting down, I wasn’t able to complete my final story on the implications busing has on students and families. However, it did allow me to talk to high school senior students about their experience during this time, which was refreshing.

I hope to continue to highlight and write about institutions, events, and issues that are as important as the Glendale community in the future. Service journalism has opened my eyes to all the different stories the news media are often missing out on. It is critical to listen for the stories with the quiet beginnings, the stories that are overlooked or are woven into issues surrounding underrepresented communities. It is important to keep writing.

ABOUT ME:

My first introduction to journalism came at a young age when my father worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Each day he’d come home with a paper fresh off the press. My eager fingers would reach out and skim the black and white pages until the ink stained my fingers. Looking back, I think I always knew that I would end up in a career involving storytelling. It’s in my blood, my roots, my ancestors. Story is who I am, it’s who I’ve always been. When I realized how powerful the work I did as a high school journalist was, I knew this was the career for me. It invited all elements I loved — writing, photography, and voice.

At the University of Utah, I am a communication major with an emphasis in journalism. I am heading into my senior year. After I graduate in Spring 2021, I plan on continuing my journey in the journalism field and looking to tell hidden, relevant and important stories around my community.

Spencer Buchanan

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Salt Lake City has always been home to me. I was born there, grew up there, and in the least have lived near it my entire life. Even though I don’t technically live in Salt Lake City, my life has been connected with it for as long as I can remember.

This is why when I first learned that the west side of Salt Lake City would be the beat for the semester, I felt a little nervous. Growing up in this area, the west side was always characterized as a sort of background space. Filler for the larger picture of the Salt Lake Valley. This made me nervous about writing about it because I didn’t think there was a lot to be “reported” on. I, like many Utahns, overlooked the west side.

However, soon after I started research for my stories, I found the area and the people who lived there not so far off from my own situation. I live in Magna, a smaller town, on the western edge of the Salt Lake Valley and like the west side of Salt Lake City, the residents there are often overlooked. Like the west side we’re known for being a thoroughfare, a part of town you don’t linger in and just make your way to somewhere else. I found that in many ways — culturally, demographically, and economically — my town of Magna and the west side share a lot of characteristics and many of the same issues.

This realization changed how I approached finding stories about the west side. Others in Voices of Utah have done so well to show and tell the unique culture of the west side. So I decided to focus on the economic and civic issues that the west side faces. And like my town, I found the west side often experiences the harsher consequences of broader economic and civic issues. Focusing on mutual issues gave me the benefit of seeing that we can often see our issues and space as the most important and unique, with issues that no one can really understand. Reporting on this beat, though, helped me see that many issues and problems are not unique to one place and that we can find mutual understanding and solutions when we can look outside our spheres.

Reporting on these mutual issues, I felt like I became more of an insider to the west side. I found the residents of the west side shared many of the same experiences I found in my town of being overlooked, and holding the brunt of larger societal issues like poverty, civic oversight, and representation. I felt like I shared much of the sentiment that I felt with those I spoke with on the west side.

In my few experiences in the past with reporting, I always felt more like an outsider because though the topics and issues I wrote on were interesting to me, they weren’t necessarily directly affecting me. I think most reporters can feel this way. They often report on things they don’t know about in places they’ve never been. But the issues and topics I focused on in this beat were things that had always affected relatives and me living in a similar situation to those on the west side. So this motivated me and invoked my curiosity to speak with people whom I wouldn’t have for a similar journalism class.

But despite my curiosity and the newfound connection I felt to issues of the west side, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to incorporate more of residents’ perspectives and not just those of community leaders, government officials, and experts. Those in leadership and academic roles often have good intentions but seem to be spread mentally thin on a lot of issues. They focus on broad issues, they have constituencies to please, agendas to fulfill, and papers to write. So, I feel many of my pieces are more “overlooking” that personal connection.

I’m glad, though, that I was able to discover a new part of my home while working on this beat. I learned a lot about how communities view themselves and how it’s important to slow down a little bit and focus on the things around us. I, like many others, ignore many of the people and issues that are just down the road from us. I’m grateful that I was able to be a part of this beat. To slow down and see a part of Salt Lake City in a new but familiar light.

ABOUT ME:

I was born and raised in Salt Lake City. I grew up in stories, from films, television, books and tales from my parents and grandparents. Stories about real people always fascinated me the most. My love of history is what drove me to journalism.

A teacher of mine in high school once said, “News today is tomorrow’s history.”

I started reading old newspapers and unlike my history textbooks, they felt more connected with the people of the time, they showed people’s personalities and gave me a better understanding of the sentiments of the era. Seeing this I felt like I should be a part of recording the history that was being made instead of just reading the old.

This drove me to major in Strategic Communication and study journalism. I still love history and it’s my hope to incorporate this into my writing career.

Nina Yu

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Prior to taking Voices of Utah, I had little idea what I would be getting myself into. To my pleasant surprise, the class pushed me to explore communities and write stories that were outside of my comfort zone.

IMG_2177Everyone thought I was crazy when I chose journalism as a career to pursue. I’m an introvert who would rather be alone than being at a party talking to people. Before journalism, I had dropped my pre-med status against the wishes of my parents. I had already written for a few school-related publications and taken creative writing classes, so writing wasn’t new to me. When I wedged myself into my new major, it became an eye-opening experience. The stories I had to cover meant stepping outside of my safe bubble and interviewing all kinds of people to learn more about their lives and culture.

When I first found out we were going to be covering the west-side neighborhoods this semester, I was quite indifferent to the beat. But as we started to come up with ideas for the first story, I found an interest in the cultures and local organizations in the neighborhoods. My interests only grew from there. It was enjoyable looking through the different things I could cover and hearing pitches from my classmates.

When I begin a story, I try to remove all bias that is initially planted. Sometimes it’s hard trying to gain a new perspective when there’s already one so deeply rooted. The story I wrote about the Youth Resource Center made me see the teens experiencing homelessness in a new light. I learned so much from the interview and being able to see the activity inside the center. It was amazing.

That story also made me realize how much of an outsider I was. Compared to the youths who have to use the resources at the center, I grew up in a completely different environment. This made me understand that with some stories, I will never be able to experience what the other party has been through. I can only get the “outsider” view and try to grasp the situation.

I have enjoyed my time with Voices of Utah, even if it was cut short because of COVID-19. This course made me realize the progress I have made and the long way I still have to go. I am so excited to keep discovering and sharing stories that need to be seen. The path to becoming a professional journalist is scary but I’ll only pause for a cup of tea before sharing my truth.

ABOUT ME:

I am a journalism major graduating in the fall of 2020. Writing has always been a passion and I will continue to tell stories throughout my career. I have written for The Globe, The Daily Utah Chronicle, and Her Campus Utah.

Writing for Voices of Utah has been an enriching experience and one I will remember for a long time. Asian American issues have always been a topic of interest and I will strive to be a professional voice for the Asian American community after graduation. When I’m not writing, I enjoy cooking, dancing, petting my dog, and traveling.

Hunter Thornburg

ZM4vqeFNSWubLs2VzERoxAMY STORIES:

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For this beat, I chose to write profiles about three coaches at West High School. This topic was important to me because I’ve had a positive connection with every coach I’ve interacted with, and I believe that they play an important role when it comes to the development of character and values in student-athletes.

While reporting on this beat, I actually did feel like an outsider while conducting my interviews at West High. I am not much older than the students there, and I feel like I look almost the same as I did in high school. However, the students and staff at the school somehow managed to identify me as someone who didn’t belong there. I got a lot of looks despite thinking that I was blending in. I had used a specific analogy when telling Professor Mangun about my experience in the school that I personally think is spot on.

Imagine if you took your dog to the same dog park every day. Your dog spends the whole time interacting with other dogs, running free without a worry in the world, and then goes home. But one day, someone brings a wolf to the dog park. Your dog doesn’t watch Planet Earth. Your dog has never seen a wolf before. But somehow your dog knows that there’s a wolf there. As a result, your dog starts acting really nervous around the wolf. That’s what it was like being a college student interviewing students and staff at West High School.

I would say that it was difficult to remain objective while writing these stories to an extent. Discovering the various styles of these coaches made me want to compare them to my personal experiences. However, the most difficult part of remaining objective was containing how impressed I was with these coaches. For example, when I interviewed the head football coach, I was amazed when I found out that West High’s football coaching staff conducts home visits to make sure the students’ needs are met.

My biggest success with covering the beat was getting in contact with West High’s Athletic Director, Rachel Townsend. She was massively helpful throughout the entire semester. She made sure that all my questions were answered and played a crucial role in connecting me with coaches and student athletes for each of my stories. I can’t imagine how the whole interview and writing process could have been smoother.

ABOUT ME:

I was born in North Ogden, Utah, on Jan. 17, 2000. My dad was in the Air Force, so we moved a couple of times before I graduated high school. At age 9, my family moved to Italy. We lived there for three years before moving to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. In 2018, I graduated from Mountain Home High School, but I was completely unsure what I wanted to do with my future. Part of me thought about enlisting into the Air Force, but another part of me felt that wasn’t what I truly wanted.

I began my attendance at the University of Utah in Fall 2018, but started out majoring in political science with a minor in Air Force ROTC. After one semester, I decided I wasn’t really wanting to join the military at all. So, I sat down and thought about what I was truly interested in. My mom used to always say that she could see me being a sportscaster. I always thought that it was just a little too far out of reach, so I never bothered to give it a shot. But I have since changed my major to communication with an emphasis in journalism, and I am pursuing a career in the sports journalism field, a field I’ve always dreamed of getting into.

Following my college graduation in May 2022, I am hoping to become a sideline analyst for college football. Wearing flashy suits on TV, traveling weekly to the biggest games, seeing the beautiful stadiums, etc.  That’s the goal. I am excited to see what the future brings.

Palak Jayswal

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When I first learned that our beat would be the “west side,” I was immediately excited. In my career as a journalist so far, I’ve learned that the best way to learn about a community is to immerse yourself in it entirely and find the stories that reflect the heart of the areas. The west side, unfortunately, is one of those communities in Salt Lake City that is often forgotten about. I’m happy to reflect and say that through my reporting for Voices of Utah, I’ve not only learned about this community, but have also had the opportunity to share what I learned with others through my writing. This is my favorite part of being a journalist.

My biggest takeaway from this experience is an epiphany of going back to the basics of journalism. The outlining, the process of getting to know someone, the ability to get hands-on with a community or person. Journalism, and more so writing in general, is my passion. Through this passion, I’m able to help highlight and share the passions others have. This was my favorite part of this experience. I love seeing the light in people’s eyes, the way they talk proudly about their passions and art. My second piece with Ballet Folklórico de las Américas reminded me to focus on the basics of journalism — how interviewing someone in person is so different from a phone or email interview. I learned to fall in love with my passion again, or at least remember the curiosity that made me fall in love with it originally. 

Working so closely with the members of the dance group was eye-opening for me. The story wrote itself just from the interactions I had with these kind people. Even if I was only able to be with them for one practice session, I felt like I was a part of the group. The passion I have for writing is the same they have for dancing, for sharing the cultures and traditions of Latin America. It resulted not only in a wonderful piece, one of my favorites throughout my career, but a newfound respect for the interviewing process. 

I’m not sure where life will take me after this class, after my time at the University of Utah. But I do know I will always be writing and I do know I hope to continue my focus on arts journalism. It’s not necessary for me to point out how drastically our world has changed this spring, but as always, the one thing that has kept me grounded is my writing. No matter where the stories take me, I will remember this beat, what it did for me, and how it reminded me of what is most important. 

Utah will always be home for me and when I’m here, I will do my best to support the arts across the state. I’ll continue to seek and share the stories of passionate artists like me. Voices of Utah reminded me of why I decided to pursue journalism.

ABOUT ME:

Palak Jayswal was the arts editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle from 2019-20. She has been a writer for the desk for three years. She’ll graduate with a B.A. in Communication and a minor in creative writing in May 2020. Palak is a big fan of the arts, but especially music and all things One Direction. She aspires to be a music journalist and to one day write for a publication like The New York Times, Rolling Stone, or Billboard.

Cassandra Rosenkrantz

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When I signed up for Voices of Utah, I was so excited to see what our beat would be for the semester. Friends who took the class in previous semesters said how fun it was to write about a certain group of Utahns. They also said how much their writing had progressed throughout the semester. On the first day of class, I was excited to learn that my beat was the west side of Salt Lake City. Not knowing much about the area, I was interested to learn more but scared that it might be difficult. Now, nearing the end of the semester, I have had so much fun navigating the area and finding unique places to visit and people to talk with. For some reason, I thought it was going to be a drastic difference on the west side. There are differences, but for the most part, we are the same. The greatest thing I learned from this beat was to not expect people to live a certain way. Even though many negative things are going on in the beat area, most people were positive and wanted to tell stories about the improvement of their cities and their neighborhoods.

This class helped me realize how much I miss writing. I haven’t written in a journalistic way for quite a while because I have been focusing on design courses for the last year and a half. This class made me see how much I enjoy talking to people about their life and learning about others. It made me see how fun it was to dive into a story and to become more knowledgeable about the world around me. One big thing that I learned about myself was that I not only love to write but I also love to listen. I have never really liked interviewing others in the past, but this semester has been an absolute blast. I don’t think I have ever bonded with other interviewees like I have for this beat. The west side of Salt Lake City offers the most interesting people who have such unique and diverse lives.

I plan to continue my adventure around the west side. It is so close to where I live, but I never really went there. The west side has many hidden gems that will take your breath away. This class has made me want to explore other areas of town that I don’t visit often to experience this feeling again. Taking a walk or a drive can show you everything you are missing. One of my favorite places I discovered on the west side was Ruby Snap, a bakery. Supposedly this is a huge Utah company, but I had never heard of it. I popped in one day after an interview and they have the most delicious cookies. I go there very often now. It is so rewarding to find a community filled with great places and people. Exploring more of the west side will be on my to-do list for the summer.

ABOUT ME:

Cassandra - photoApplying for the University of Utah, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I decided to try out the Communication degree because it was so broad and I would have the opportunity to connect it to anything. Once I started taking classes, I was able to write with more passion that I ever had before. I never knew that I would enjoy being so creative and open with my writing.

Focusing on journalism for my first two years at the U, I took beginner and intermediate classes where I was able to get to know my peers and professors. Once I hit my third year, everything changed. I had a sudden passion for learning graphic design. I loved being creative but I wasn’t good enough to draw on paper. This is where computer graphics came in handy.  I took classes online to help me with my knowledge in Adobe. I fell in love with designing. Being knowledgable on this subject helped me land my current job in fashion marketing for a local clothing store, where I handle all graphics and social media for the company.

Halfway into my third year, I decided to finally take action for my love of sports. I applied to be a sports marketing intern for the University of Utah Athletics Department. After interviewing, I was immediately put onto the team of hard-working interns. Once I understood how everything worked, I wished that I had started the sports internship earlier in my school career. Being involved with the sporting events and being able to be close with the sporting teams was great. It helped me see what I could possibly do for a job in the future with sports.

After I graduate in Spring 2020, I plan on starting my own fashion company that is already in the works. I’m very excited to see where my degree in Communication will take me, because after all, it has endless possibilities and I am ready to take on those challenges.

Kathryn A. Hackman

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My greatest lesson learned over the past semester is not to be fearful of the unfamiliar. I had never been prompted to wander so far outside of my comfort zone when it came to building personal connections within the community. However, in my time writing for Voices of Utah, I found truth in taking perceived risks to promote personal growth.

Professional Headshot

When I learned of our beat, the west side of Salt Lake City, I was unsure of what to expect! I had no established roots in any of our assigned neighborhoods. Therefore, I had difficulty envisioning my place, telling the story of those living on the west side. Would I be able to genuinely connect with strangers in this journalistic setting?

As the semester comes to an end, I am happy to report that my original uncertainty could not have been further from my actual experience.

What roots I lacked on the west side prior to taking this class, have now grown. I found that journalism allowed me to build connections with strangers through observation and great conversation. I learned that my place as a journalist was not to rewrite someone’s story. Rather, listen and learn. And only once I’d developed an understanding of the narrative they wanted to share, did I go on to use the platform I’d been given to help let their voices be heard.

I realized the importance of building a community with those who travel outside of my circle. Because through these efforts to gain an understanding of others, I gained a better understanding of myself.

I found a new way to further my own confidence when in new and unfamiliar professional settings. I learned how to add boldness to my life. I discovered that one can be bold while still managing to be polite and professional. While I learned about it through my time in journalism, I look forward to adding this newfound boldness to other aspects of my life.

ABOUT ME:

I am a strategic communication major heading into my senior year at the University of Utah. Whether on the stage or through a painted canvas, storytelling has always been a part of my life. The opportunity to write for Voices of Utah and expand my storytelling ability has been an exciting one.

After graduation, I plan on pursuing a career in public affairs. However, I do have a love for all things Disney. And if I never want to work a day in my life, perhaps that’s a career path worth exploring!

Looking to the future, I see a lot of possibilities. But no matter what happens, I know that my time spent writing for Voices of Utah helped me grow as a writer and as an individual.

Jacob Rueda

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MY BLOG:

Spring 2020 has been one of the most challenging semesters yet. The outbreak of COVID-19 plus a 5.7 earthquake were among the things that made this semester a particularly difficult one.

Jacob RuedaDespite the drawbacks, there were highlights as well. Receiving recognition for work I did the previous semester was something that felt good. I worked hard to carry on the dedication and focus of the previous semester in the face of whatever challenges took place this year. Needless to say it was tough but I got through it as best I could.

One skill I developed throughout the semester is the ability to self-correct and refine my work to improve my storytelling ability. In some instances it’s easy to state the obvious or use clichés to accentuate a point in the story but it takes greater skill to do something different that might get readers not just to keep reading but to develop their thinking about something, be it a situation, a person or a condition of their environment.

When this beat was announced, I was not sure how I felt about it. I had low expectations of the area and of what I thought I would be reporting on. My perceptions ultimately stayed the same after reporting on Salt Lake City’s west side but there were a few bright spots. I was able to get more in-depth views of the area and there were some things that were interesting. In the end, exposing marginalization in all its forms from the socioeconomically and politically imposed to the self-imposed is one thing I learned working this beat. I tried to show a reality that was honest and factual but not without triumph from those who experience it. In other words, I wanted to show that despite the conditions that give way to marginalization, individuals still thrived and were helping others do so.

Covering a beat like this was a great way to learn about reporting issues of strife like drug abuse, poverty and perhaps, I would say, war and social conflict. One doesn’t learn anything about the world covering routine or commonplace things unless it’s done in a manner that evolves the perception or function of what one is covering. I also believe that reporting on strife improves how positive stories are reported which I think is important.

Professionally speaking, I believe news outlets benefit from someone with varied experience. Beat reporting has a purpose and there are individuals who sculpt such reporting to provide angles never explored. For me, that’s fine for a while but I would want to cover something else after a time. For example, the opioid crisis was something I enjoyed covering. I also enjoy covering business and how it relates to seemingly unconnected topics. Like I mentioned earlier, I think it would be interesting to cover a war zone or the impact of war on various aspects of life. As a writer and a journalist, there is much more to see and experience than a single beat and although I may approach some assignments with trepidation, it will teach me something about the world and about myself.

I like shedding light on perspectives that are not explored. I believe that is a skill I am still developing at this point. The challenge in doing it well is finding an angle that hasn’t been explored yet. Most people know the basic information about the things they’re exposed to. If they look at something for a while and move just a little in any direction, they’ll encounter it from a perspective they’ve never seen before. It’s something that a lot of people take for granted but it is a phenomenon that, if taken more seriously, would reshape how we live our lives or relate to the environment around us.

ABOUT ME:

I am currently a junior at the University of Utah majoring in communication with an emphasis in journalism. I am originally from Quito, Ecuador, but I have lived in the United States the majority of my life. Aside from writing, I enjoy food, music and travel.

Utah’s air: Not good for what ails you

Inversion

Brace yourself — The inversion is coming. This is the text of a bumper sticker.

Story and photos by SARAH SAIDYKHAN

On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers of what is now The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived on the outskirts of the Great Salt Lake Valley looking for a new place to corral their wagons and set up camp. The church’s archives state that as Young gazed over the vast and barren land sprawled out before him, he said, “This is the right place.”

City View

Salt Lake City.

Nowadays we know that what Brigham Young was looking at were massive mountain ranges surrounding a desert-valley landscape. This mountain range design creates a makeshift bowl that protects the valley from strong winds and other harsh elements. Along with adventurous recreation, the mountains assist in creating high- and low-pressure systems that trap toxic particulate matter in the air during winter inversions and smoke-filled haze pollution resulting from possible summertime fires.

Kellie McCleve lives in the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley and is a mom to five kids under the age of 14. From her home, she is able to see the smog pollution that covers the Valley. She said, “Sometimes the sky’s so gross you can’t see anything but like, a yucky, brownish haze. It covers the whole Valley.” McCleve said that when she takes her kids into the city, she has a mask for each of them to wear. “It’s so gross! We shouldn’t be breathing that in. No one should be breathing that in.”

Smog Lake City

Light haze covering the Salt Lake Valley.

But every day, hundreds of thousands of people do breathe it in. McCleve said that when she moved, the inversions were something she could see from a distance. But now she knows her home was never actually immune. “I worry because when we moved out of the city, I really thought we escaped it, we didn’t. We just see it now from a distance. It’s always around us but it’s worse down in the Valley.” McCleve believes that no one person can fix the depleted air quality and for now, she continually looks for ways to lower her carbon footprint saying, “We’re all responsible for the problem and that means, we’re all responsible for cleaning it up. If we don’t, we’re all in trouble.”

Today, Utah is home to over three million people and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute projects that by 2065, Utah will be home to roughly six million people. Even as the state grows more diverse, there is still an environmental justice divide visible in the Valley.

The east side houses a predominantly white population. One can usually find new and remodeled schools and readily available public transportation. There are pricey coffee shops every few blocks and multiple grocery stores within walking distance where residents can purchase organic, fresh fruits and vegetables. The east side of the Valley also sits at a higher elevation and in a way, overlooks the west side. But even at higher elevations, the air is still filling with particulate matter from emissions, just not at the same levels as what accumulates in the air down on the Valley floor.

West Side Industry

Westside industry.

The west side of the Valley houses a large majority of Utah’s lower-income families. There’s more diversity in the communities and predominantly, most people of color live on the Valley’s west side. Grocery stores are spread miles apart from residents, creating food deserts, and there’s a significant lack of public transportation. Instead of coffee shops and farmers markets littered throughout the neighborhoods, there are factories, refineries and major transportation, and trucking hubs all contributing to the air quality.

With the depleted air quality in the Valley, who is affected the most? Anthony Sudweeks is one of the principals at Wallace Stegner Academy (WSA), located on Bending River Road on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. The school offers a free, college preparatory education for grades K-8. With over 600 students, the majority of kids attending WSA are Hispanic, students of color and/or from low-income families who reside in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.

Sudweeks said he is asked by parents frequently, “Can you keep all the kids inside for indoor activities?” As much as he wishes that were possible, it’s not a reality. A few days of inside play are OK, but kids need to run and expel their energy so they can pay attention and learn while the teacher is instructing. Instead of packing hundreds of energy-filled kids in a crowded lunchroom like sardines in a can, the school adheres to strict guidelines on how the red, orange and yellow days are handled.

utahblueskyslc

A “green day” in Utah.

Sudweeks said, “On red days, no kids play outside. On orange and yellow days, students with asthma or heart conditions, who have to have a doctor’s form filled out, don’t go outside.”

The school uses one of the state’s outdoor air quality monitoring websites to decide who or if any students go outside during the orange and yellow days. “There are air testing monitors that the state funds all over the place,” Sudweeks said. “There’s one about two blocks from here.” He and the other employees at WSA are vigilant in making sure that the kids are not outside when the inversions are happening and when the air quality monitors show that any unnecessary exposure to the air would not be safe.

WSA checks the air quality website multiple times daily because, even though the weather is not the culprit, the pressure systems may change from morning to afternoon. But Sudweeks said, “It’s not really dependent on the weather. High- and low-pressure fronts can change it, but the air quality’s not very unpredictable. It’s predictable. In the morning we know what it’s going to be like in the afternoon, it doesn’t randomly change. It doesn’t predict green and turn into a red.”

Sudweeks did say that during the winter inversions the forecast will sometimes show a yellow day in the morning, but by the afternoon it will have turned into a red day. Those days, he said, “It’s a constant check, constant.”

An inversion builds, trapping pollution.

The area of WSA is surrounded by four major freeways. Sudweeks explained that the neighborhoods around the school are some of the worst polluted spots in the state when it comes to bad air quality. So, why knowingly put a school in an area that suffers from some of the most polluted air in the state? “Because this is where our students live,” Sudweeks said. “This is Glendale, and most of our students live in Glendale. If we moved the school somewhere else, what we’d be saying is, these kids don’t deserve a good charter school.” Glendale is a suburb of Salt Lake City and according to Statistic Atlas, roughly 40 percent of the population living there is Hispanic.

Sudweeks quickly affirmed, “This is their neighborhood and these kids absolutely deserve to have a great school in their own neighborhood.” He said that one of the reasons why the school’s location was decided was “to make sure that the kids living in some of the most polluted and lower-income parts of the city still have access to the best education possible.”

Sudweeks explained the environmental justice issues the school and area are facing. “It’s a nationwide phenomenon where the lower the income neighborhoods are, the more likely they are to live in bad air quality. Nearer to freeways and industrial areas.” He said that’s also particularly true in Utah. The area is economically growing and with that growth brings large diesel-fueled trucks, more traffic, congestion and, overall increased pollution.

Winter Smog

Eastside winter smog — University of Utah’s family housing.

Sudweeks also ran for state legislature in 2018. One of his platforms was Utah’s air quality, more specifically, the air quality monitors and their need to be updated. He said, “They need about $3 million invested into them because they’re falling apart. The session before the last, they voted to not put any money into them and this last session they put $1 million. But they are in desperate need of upgrades on the monitors themselves.”

Sudweeks said he feels like the majority of the legislature just doesn’t care because it would mean truly facing the air pollution problem. “They just pretend like it’s an issue we have no control over, which is not true.” Sudweeks said the state could completely move to Tier 3 fuel, which is low in sulfur and according to the EPA, reduces carbon dioxide emissions into the air.

Sudweeks said the state is also needing a revamp of the public transit system to meet the needs of the people. “Buses don’t get people on public transits, trains do,” he said. “We’re a big enough county where we could justify a large investment into public transits. Because of our air quality needs, we have no business not investing heavily in public transits.” Sudweeks referenced the recent legislature and said, “No money for public transit, but a lot of money for widening and expanding roads.”

He said Utah’s inversions give residents a false sense of security in believing the air is only bad when inversions are happening. A large study by Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health agrees. The study found that EPA standards may not be strict enough in preventing premature deaths from air pollution. The research showed that if particle pollutions in the air could be lowered by roughly 10 percent, the death rates of people 65 and older would be lowered, possibly saving 7,000 to 10,000 lives each year.

Hazy City

Haze building over the Salt Lake Valley.

Improvements to the air quality in Utah have been made over the years. Technological advancements created cars that run on natural gas and batteries. Electric vehicles, trains and buses are carrying more people around the Salt Lake Valley, reducing the need to get in a gas-operated vehicle for a quick drive to the store. More homes are being powered through renewable solar energy, and in general, more people are aware of the issues of air pollution and what contributes to it. Still, with all the improvements, there is a visible racial divide when it comes to air we breathe.

Rep. Angela Romero represents Salt Lake Valley’s House District 26. She is also one of the many advocates fighting for clean air in Utah. Of the roughly 39,000 people living in her district, almost 60 percent are Hispanic and people of color.

Romero said in a phone interview that when the topic of air pollution comes up, people have to realize there’s more to it than just air pollution. “There’s an environmental justice concern for those affected the most.” The EPA recognizes environmental justice as the fair treatment of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, and income with regard to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulation, and policies. This means that every person living has a right to a fair and meaningful life and protection from environmental and health hazards. This is not the case for hundreds of thousands of people living in the most polluted parts of the Valley bowl.

Romero said, “Most working-class communities and communities of color, live in areas that are more industrial, so they’re going to be exposed to more toxins in the air than others.” She and her colleagues are looking at the intersectionality of all issues facing people of color and marginalized communities. “We’re not looking at how they collide and how they displace people, it’s how they all work together,” Romero said.

As the Valley becomes denser in population, Utahns must continue being vigilant in finding and implementing ways to stay ahead of the added pollution. Romero said, “It’s kind of hard for us to solve the problem if we’re not coming up with innovative ways to address it [air pollution].”

Public Transportation

Riding public transit lowers dependence on fossil fuels.

Cleaning up the air is not a one-person job. It’s everyone’s job to work together to make it better. Romero said that a lot of time people want to put all the blame on industry and other heavy air polluters. But, she said, “We don’t look at ourselves and what small things we can do when we’re looking at air quality and energy. How do we play a role in that? What are some practices that we can change in our own lives?”

Romero said she’d like to see the state focus on using more renewable energy sources like adding roof-top solar panels to all state-run buildings and offering higher discounts to homes using solar panels. Businesses and homes can also update their heating and air-conditioning units to function more efficiently. Romero said it comes down to all residents making the commitment to change the habits that are contributing to the depleted air quality.

Utah has over 200 sunny days a year. Roof-top solar is an important investment for Utah’s future economy. More importantly, using a 100 percent renewable and clean energy source can help to improve the long-term health of all residents.

In the Salt Lake Valley’s mountain landscape environment, there will always be air pollution concerns. “We have inversions,” Romero said, “and they’re never going to go away, but what can we do to be more proactive, so we don’t make them worse?” Romero said that people can make little changes like taking public transit. Even though it may take a bit longer to get somewhere, plan for it and make it part of the routine. Walk or ride a bike if only going short distances and carpool whenever possible. The more we drive, the more we’re creating dirtier air with our cars. Romero said, “Getting people out of their vehicles and onto public transportation is a great way to start.”

Bikes are readily available around the city.

About the future of Utah’s air quality, Romero said, “We’re trying to be more proactive. We’re looking at inversions and air quality and we’re looking at it more from a public health perspective.” She also said, “If we truly want to change the route we’re going, we have to reevaluate systems that are in current existence. It’s not only about communities of color and marginalized communities. It’s about us as an entire community.”

Romero said all it takes are small changes in everyday routines to help improve air quality. Any day is a great day, to start a new and healthy habit.

To make improvements to Utah’s air quality, follow the CLEAN AIR plan:

C: Carpool whenever possible
L: Limit cold starts on cars and combine trips
E: Engage in clean air advocacy
A: Access public transportation
N: Navigate smog ratings and engine types
A: Avoid unnecessary commutes
I: Idle less or not at all
R: Ride a bike or walk when possible

To learn more ways to help clean up Utah’s air, visit the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Utah Department of Health, or Air Now.

 

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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.