Skip to content

Stronger Than Hate

Jan 18, 2023

Hatred is a social dilemma that has recently received increased attention. Violent attacks on African Americans, Asians, and Jews—and the growing prevalence of hate online has generated a great deal of concern in the past few years. Although it is a nearly universal human experience that has existed throughout history, hatred is also a highly irrational and volatile emotion that’s been involved in catastrophic destruction—from the mass killing of the Tutsi in Rwanda in ‘94, to the Armenian genocide, to the slaughter of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas. Of course, it’s also played an outsized role in the US history of slavery and the racism of Jim Crow segregationists in the 20th century.  

But the emotion doesn’t just threaten the object of hatred—it also poisons and corrupts the individual who carries the hate. As Dr. Lobsang Rapagay, a research psychologist at UCLA says “[if] left unchecked, [hate] intensifies from intolerance to a wish to annihilate the other. Hate strips us of our humanity.” Indeed, dozens of local and national health organizations, including the American College of Physicians, the American Public Health Association and the American Medical Association  have condemned the activities of White supremacists and other hate groups in recent years, calling hate and racism “a public health crisis.”  

Aligning with the MLK Week 2023 theme, “Choose Love Over Hate”, in the January 2023 installment of the Reframing the Conversation series, panelists discussed the challenges of countering hate and examined how communities can move collectively away from it. They also examined hatred in its various forms and discuss how the smaller seeds of hate can be recognized and stopped before they transform into larger and more dangerous problems.

  • portrait of Jason Ramirez

    Jason Ramirez

    Associate Vice President for Student Affairs & Dean of Students
    The University of Utah


    Jason (he/him) is a member of the Student Affairs Leadership Team and provides supervisory oversight and leadership to the Office of the Dean of Students, Student Support & Accountability, Student Athlete Advocate, Student Leadership & Involvement, Fraternity & Sorority Life, and the Bennion Center for Community Engagement. He also serves on various University committees and serves as a Deputy Title IX Coordinator. Jason has been with the University of Utah since Fall 2019, and has been working in Higher Education in various roles at public and private Universities since 2000.

    portrait of Jin Heo

    Jin Heo

    The University of Utah


    A recent graduate of the University of Utah, Jin (he/him) graduated with a degree in Medical Laboratory Science. Throughout Jin’s undergraduate career, he was involved in multiple student activism focused on racial and social justice.
    He is currently working with a group of students through the Asian Collective to create an Asian Cultural Center on campus.

    portrait of Curtis Johnson

    Curtis Johnson, MSW

    Assistant Professor (Clinical)
    College of Social Work
    The University of Utah


    Professor Johnson joined the College of Social Work in January 2021. He is currently an Assistant Professor (clinical) and Faculty Field Liaison. Prior to joining the College of Social Work, Curtis worked in the State of California as a Child Protection Services social worker and taught simultaneously at Touro University Worldwide. As a faculty member at TUW, he taught Bachelor of Social Work undergraduate courses in social work practice and child welfare. He earned a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in Criminal Justice Studies with a minor in Spanish at Kent State University. After serving many years in the field of social services, Curtis decided to pursue a graduate degree in social work. While attending Howard University-School of Social Work, Curtis was awarded recipient of the student Intramural Research and Training Award (IRTA), at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health-National Cancer Institute.

    portrait of Cesaria Selwyn

    Cesaria Selwyn, MA

    Residential Education Coordinator for Social Justice Initiative, Housing and Residential Education
    The University of Utah


    Cesaria Selwyn (they/them/elle) is a passionate social justice practitioner with over 10 years experience driving initiatives in higher education. Cesaria was excited to join the U in August as the Residential Education Coordinator for Social Justice Initiatives. Within their role, Cesaria manages Housing and Residential Education’s Equity Lounge, Equity Living Room, and Social Justice Advocate student leadership program. Additionally, they also write curriculum for their department, and establish relationships with campus stakeholders. Cesaria is excited to hold a role where they are able to utilize both their passion for equity and inclusion and their education. They have two masters from New Mexico State University; one in Curriculum and Instruction, and the other in Communication Studies. If you have not had a chance to work with Cesaria, they invite you to reach out to them


Dan Cairo: Hello, everyone, again. Glad you could join us today. My name is Dan Cairo and I serve as the assistant vice president for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. And I’m really excited to be here with you all. And I’m glad that you are joining us. On behalf of the university, the entire University of Utah community, I’m excited to welcome you to the 39th annual MLK Week celebrating the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thank you for joining us in a very, for a very special Reframing the Conversation: Stronger Than Hate. Before we begin, I would like to share the University of Utah’s Land acknowledgment.

We acknowledge that this land, which is named for the Ute Tribe, is the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute Tribes. The University of Utah recognizes and respects the enduring relationship that exists between many Indigenous Peoples and their traditional homelands. We respect the sovereign relationship between tribes, states, and the federal government, and we affirm the University of Utah’s commitment to a partnership with Native Nations and Urban Indian communities through research, education, and community outreach activities.

So the theme of MLK this year at the University of Utah is “Choosing Love Over Hate.” And today’s discussion focuses on a specific part of that equation, the overwhelming presence of hatred and division in our society and the power that comes from choosing a different path. Everywhere we look, from social media to politics and from our neighborhoods to schools, we seem to find division and distrust. It’s a little exhausting, but as our panelists today will discuss, there are choices that we can make that are stronger than hate, that we can even help our communities start to heal from so much of the bitterness and discord. So I’d like to begin by introducing our moderator today, Dean Ramirez. Dean Ramirez is an associate vice president too — title.

Yes. All right. Stick to the script, Dan. All right. Let’s do that. So Jason Ramirez is a member of the Student affairs leadership team and provides supervisory and oversight to the leadership of the Office of the Dean of Students, Student Support and Accountability, Student Athlete Advocate, Student Leadership and Involvement, Fraternity and Sorority Life, and the Bennion Center for Community Engagement. He is also the co-chair of the Racist and Bias Incident Response Team, which is especially established the protocol for addressing bias incidents on campus. He also serves as the various University of Utah committees and is a deputy Title IX coordinator. So Jason has been at the University of Utah since the fall of 2019 and has been working on higher education in various roles at public and private universities since the 2000. Thank you for moderating today. Thank you.

Jason Ramirez: Great. I’m good; I got a mic. Thanks, everybody, for joining us. A couple housekeeping comments. First, we will have a question and answer session, and so we ask that you hold your questions to the end and we will have a mic that is being passed around. Please speak into the mic for those that may need the assistance of the microphone. And then in addition to that, for you online that are following us and watching, please add your questions in the box on the livestream, and we’ll get to those as well. We’ll have someone paying attention to those.

So before we start, I’m going to go ahead and introduce our panelists that are here. First, Jin Heo, a recent graduate of the University of Utah. Jin graduated with a degree in medical laboratory science. Throughout Jin’s undergraduate career, he was involved in multiple student activism focused on racial and social justice. He is currently working with a group of students through the Asian Collective to create an Asian cultural center on campus. Welcome to you.

Curtis Johnson. Professor Johnson joined the College of Social Work in January 2021. He is currently an assistant professor and faculty field liaison. Prior to joining the College of Social Work, Curtis worked in the state of California as a child protection services social worker and taught simultaneously at Touro University Worldwide. As a faculty member at TUW, he taught Bachelor of Social Work undergraduate courses in social work practice and child welfare. He earned a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in Criminal Justice Studies with a minor in Spanish at Kent State University. After serving many years in the field of social services, Curtis decided to pursue a graduate degree in social work. While attending Howard University – School of Social Work, Curtis was awarded the recipient of the student Intramural Research and Training Award, the IRTA, at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health-National Cancer Institute. Welcome, Curtis.

And then Cesaria Selwyn. Cesaria is a passionate social justice practitioner with over ten years experience driving initiatives in higher education. Cesaria was excited to join the U in August as the residential education coordinator for social justice initiatives. Within their role, [they] manages housing and residential Education’s Equity Lounge, Equity Living Room, and Social Justice Advocates student leadership program. They also write curriculum for their department and establish relationships with campus stakeholders. Cesaria is excited to hold a role where they are able to utilize both their passion for equity and inclusion and their education. They have two master’s from New Mexico State University, one in curriculum and instruction, and the other in communication studies. If you’ve not had a chance to work with Cesaria, they invite you to reach out to them at Welcome, Cesaria.

All right. So with introductions done, we’ll get to our first question or first prompt for the panelists. From your unique lens, how do you perceive the climate at the University of Utah and surrounding community as it relates to our ability to engage in dialog and discourse on the topics of equity, diversity, and inclusion?

Curtis Johnson: Well, first, I’d like to say we as the College of Social Work, we are definitely engaging in anti-racism. We acknowledge that not only that, but our College of Social Work website there’s a land acknowledgment statement regarding Indigenous people, that we have lived here on this land as well. Excuse me. According to the National Association of Social Workers — because I am a social worker — We adhere to a professional code of ethics that guide our practice as social workers. And I would just like to name three of those important values that we value as social workers. One is the importance of human relationships. Number two is the dignity, dignity and worth of the person. And number three is social justice. And as the College of Social Work, we are definitely doing our due diligence to integrate curriculum that includes anti-racism statements not only that, but curriculum development and embracing culture diversity.

Recently, a couple months ago, we had a field instructor meeting that included all of our community-based partners. The field instructors are instructors who provide supervision to the students who are in internship placements. That field instructor training was a huge outcome of practicing about more than 100 students — excuse me — yet field instructors attended that event. With that being said, we have community-based partners who are also social workers and other professional practitioners licensed marriage and family therapists as well, who also attended that event. We invited Florida State University’s College of Social Work, two experts Dr. Bull and Assistant Dean Mathis, who was also an expert in anti-racism and diversity, equity, inclusion. So with that being said, the College of Social Work, we are doing our due diligence to embrace multicultural in the College of Social Work as well. With that being said, reaching out to our community-based partners is very significant and important in making sure that we are making a change in the state of Utah.

Cesaria Selwyn: So I’ll be honest, the first time I read that question, my first thought was, “well, y’all are trying to get me fired.” Right. So, I mean, realistically, if you unpack that thought, what does that tell me about the community in the area, right? Is my thought is if I do talk about the truth, if I do say the issues that a lot of marginalized folk that I support experience on a daily basis, it is not going to be received well, right? So the first thing I thought it was like, “well, okay, the nail that sticks out has to be hammered in.”

So I feel like because we do work in a Predominantly White Institution, it is in a state that is very conservative and usually has a lot of religious context, right, there’s not a lot of receptivity to hearing the issues that happen and the ways that we can fix it. I talk to students a lot of times, and there’s a lot of people say “I’m not racist,” but it’s not really enough — and great book, you should all read it — but don’t feel like it’s enough to say “I’m not racist.” I think you have to say “I’m anti-racist.” I have to put it intentional work on a daily basis to unpack the lived experience you have that has created stereotypes on general populations of people. And so we start to unpack that. So I would say we tend to say, “yes, inclusive excellence. We want to go there. We we love it.” But how many of you on a daily basis are actually reflecting, being self aware, asking yourself what generalizations do you have when you look at a group of people and writing off a stereotype? How many of you are doing active work to engage in diverse populations and not just race or ethnicity, but the full spectrum of human existence? To try to acquaint yourself with the reality that people are just people and we can attribute specific qualities to a group of people? So that’s what I think of.

So I think that we are definitely starting to do the work, as you said, but I think that we can do so much better because the reality, you know, because we are in this space, we are in a Predominantly White Institution. There is a lot of cultural context that does push back people of color and other marginalized folk. So you have to ask yourself, like when you look around this room, who do you see, right? So there is a narrative in that because there is a dominant culture here. So you have to actively push back against that in a way that’s respectful and ask yourself, how am I trying to engage in diverse perspectives? So I feel like that’s kind of part of the practice. So I do think that we’re doing a great job. But I would say, you know, how can we try to do a little bit more? How can we be more active and intentional in our work?

Jason Ramirez: Jin, anything to add?

Jin Heo: Um, I mean, both of y’all spoke so well. I prepared a paper because this is my first time speaking, and I didn’t want to make any mistakes. And I think both of you touched on great things. And I think I would just like to say as a student, I haven’t been a part of anything larger than the university and something that’s like wider. And so speaking as a student, I think I can say that the University of Utah did employ a great number of beneficial programming. And I think one of them is Operation S.U.C.C.E.S.S. that I’ve been part of, and it does impact our campus climate and it really could matter. But I think sometimes these successful programs are solely burdened by students and staff of color, and I think it could be really emotionally and physically taxing to be burdened by those things. And I think, you know, the campus is slowly changing to become a better and safer, inclusive environment. But I think at the end of the day, I think these movements should not be solely spearheaded by minorities or by those who are persecuted. And so I think that’s what I would like that.

Jason Ramirez: And this is for anybody. As a quick follow up, do we believe that the university is creating enough opportunities for dialog and discourse? So let me put a finer and no one’s getting, no one is losing their jobs over this. I think honesty and truth is best in these conversations. But I am curious, do you believe the university is creating outlets for opportunities for dialog and discourse in appropriate ways, or do we have more work to do?

Curtis Johnson: Well, I would like to say I think we are on the right track. Again, speaking for the College of Social Work in not only that, but being new to the state of Utah. I’ve been here for about two years now. I relocated from southern California. When I look at the university’s website, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, I see the different offices: LGBT Resource Center, the Black Cultural Center, the American Indian Center, the Dream Center. I also see University of Utah Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Center. So when I see those resources available on the University of Utah College campus, that shows me and I can see that we’re headed in the right direction towards embracing our dialog and regarding racism, addressing racism. And also, I just wanted to add, I also just echo what a Cesaria indicated to us as well. One of my favorite books that I’ve read is by Dr. Brenda McNeil and the Reverend Rick Richardson. It’s titled, “The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change.” And so speaking for myself, you know, we have to, I have to change my heart when I see someone who may perhaps have wronged me or offended me. I have to extend and receive forgiveness in order for me to truly embrace and to become the person that Almighty God created me to be.

Jason Rameriz: Wonderful. Thank you.

Cesaria Selwyn: So my perspective working in social justice. We can always get better. Honestly, like there’s so much room for improvement. So while I would say I do see a lot of intentional conversations like this one, I would ask like, who are the people going to those, right? Are the individuals that genuinely need to be educated coming in voluntarily, going to participate and try to do the work, or people that are choosing to be separated from that? You know, they’re the ones who are definitely leading it. So I think the question becomes, and this is a really hard thing in Utah, is what are we mandating in education? You know, when we talk about different community principles is, really enforcing social justice is like what we’re really educating on what equity is versus equality and what we can do to create genuine inclusion, so every person feels safe in their identities, feel seen and heard on campus, right? Because I work in Housing, and I can tell you a lot of students that I work with do not feel that in their dorms, right.

So in particular, what I can think of is two semesters ago I was presenting at a conference and it was best inclusive practices and we had a video from another practitioner and there was a Black student who was talking about, you know, “when I came into the dorms, the first thing I do is I see another person, especially if they’re White, I jiggle my keys. I need them to know that I’m here and I need them to know that I know that they know that I’m there. So they don’t see me as a threat.” So just the fact that this happens and I don’t have personally an experience of this on campus, but does it happen? I have to say, I’m guessing yes. So the idea is we can always create that space because people need to feel safe beyond the idea of like, what your personal beliefs are. We want to make sure that that’s happening. So, yeah, I do think we can do better. But I also agree that we are starting and I think for a USHE institution, we’re doing great.

Jason Ramirez: Thank you. Thank you for your candor. Moving on to the next question, and I think you’ve touched on some of the challenges, but based on your work in your roles, what do you believe are the primary challenges facing our communities as they work to build positive relationships across different identities, cultures, and backgrounds within our own communities?

Curtis Johnson: Let’s see. I would have to say that, you know, ponder and think about that is the lack of multiculturalism and equity in diversity and inclusion training. Now within the communities, within the corporations know that, but organizations that you know, serve other people as well, there’s definitely a need for engaging in anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion and belonging as well. But that’s going to require a change of heart, a paradigm shift for people to be really open and say, you know what, is not only about the ethnocentrism or the one world way view, it’s about multiculturalism, embracing other differences. Now that, but of course, that could be said that it’s okay to disagree but it’s not okay to shame or blame. And so with that being said, once we embrace that, we are still learning and being able to engage in that type of practice is really important and we’ll see the difference.

Cesaria Selwyn: Would you like to talk next? Jin Heo: No, go ahead. Cesaria Selwyn: Okay, I think that our culture is obsessed with looking at symptoms rather than the root cause. So I would ask what culture where you raised and what was the narrative that different marginalized communities present? Because I was raised in the community of color and there was definitely an anti narrative, but it wasn’t toward people of color, it was toward like White culture and White community. So I grew up with that being a very different perspective. And I have to imagine that most of us in here did. So I think it’s looking at that and unpacking it as an adult and saying, “okay, now I’m an adult the responsibility is to almost parent myself.” Something I really see a lot, I see terms weaponized almost in the sense like people are terrified to be called racist, right? It’s almost like it’s become weaponized. But the reality is, is that somebody can have a racist perspective. They can have a generalized view over a community, over a race that is unfounded, right? Because people do things that communities do things, not an entire race does things. So I think that well, a lot of times when we have those perspectives, it’s being willing to engage in an actual conversation rather than a debate.

What I do with the students that I support a lot of times is try to teach them how to have conversations on allyship. And it’s really hard because for most people, what ends up happening is they start to have a conversation and it turns into a debate. They double down, and it’s like, “no, no, no, I need you to agree with my perspective.” I don’t think that’s a conversation personally. That’s a debate. To me, a conversation is two people expressing their ideas, their opinions, their lived history, and you try to understand the other one. And to do that, I think the most important thing, communication is to spend your own personal beliefs, your views, and just hear somebody, without the lens of your personal lived experience, trying to impact what they’re saying. So I think a lot of times when students of color may say, you know, “this is the racism,” this is the experience I hear on campus.

And because somebody else hasn’t heard that, they’re like “that’s not true.” Right? So they just they just completely disregard it rather than saying, “wow, that’s horrible. That happens to you.” That’s known to be my experience. But that doesn’t change the experience that you’ve had. And I think just learning how to do that on both sides when it comes to like having that, because I think that there’s a lot of times in any society that we create the other. There’s always somebody that’s outside, there’s always somebody that we have to have that juxtaposition. “They’re not right. We are. We’re doing this the right way.” And I think when we say that there’s multiple perspectives, and just because two perspectives may not align, it doesn’t mean either one is going to be less valid because somebody is opinion. As long as it’s an honest opinion, I don’t think can be wrong. It’s just their perspective. So I think it’s just kind of learning to de-train the way that we engage in conversations and communicate with others.

Curtis Johnson: Is it okay if I can echo Cesaria? She’s really inspired me. I’m still learning, so, but with that being said, I just want to kind of reframe back early when Cesaria indicated that, you know, there are stereotypes and misconceptions what we believe to be true about particularly people. Specifically pertaining to African-American male or men, excuse me, sometimes we are, I am judged based on my race, my ethnicity, and gender and so the media portrays us in certain ways. And people in our society look at me and feel that I’m social threat or social dynamite. And so that’s not the case. But the key is or maybe one of the techniques or strategies is reaching out to someone who’s different from you, building relationships and learning about their specific culture and how you can embrace that culture and find out, as Cesaria indicated, what are the stories? People’s stories matter. Our narratives really matter. We need to, people need to hear from us, our experiences that we have lived in the harm that, for example, someone has caused us. But at the same time we’re receiving and extending forgiveness to build a healthy, multicultural community.

Jason Ramirez: Jin, anything you’d like to add?

Jin Heo: Um, I think that all I have to add is that I think for me, the biggest struggle that I had kind of having dialog or these kind of conversations was funding, which I think is a bit different take. And I think in order to have these conversations, to have this dialog, we need space, we need to have these people come in. And I think all that boiled down to funding and I think a lot of times these cultural centers or these inclusion organizations on campus don’t necessarily they don’t get enough funding both from the state and from the school itself. And I think that kind of challenges us to like treat, and it prevents us from changing the status quo because at the end of the day, institutions like ours, they need money, they need funding to move and to sway. And without it, nothing changes. And so I think that that was the biggest barrier that I have faced as a student activist, was getting that funding from the institution.

Jason Ramirez: Great. Thank you. So moving on to our third question and keeping on pace, how do you think campus culture compares to other communities you’re familiar with — specifically as a recent graduate, currently in housing staff, as a faculty member? And how might these differences or similarities be instructive? In other words, are there any strategies you’ve seen used elsewhere that you might think would be helpful at the University of Utah?

Curtis Johnson: Well, I would have to say within the last maybe two or three years now, I’ve seen there’s been a paradigm shift. With that being said, with the growth of the offices of diversity, equity, and inclusion. They’re throughout the United States of America now, different colleges and universities and campuses as well. And so with that being said, that is an indicator that we are moving in the right direction as well. As far as what I think is needed in some situations, we have, as I mentioned, named a few of the centers here on campus, the Black Cultural Center, the LGBT Resource Center, and the American Indian Center as well. But with that being said, when incidents do occur, hate, violence or threat towards others, we need maybe, perhaps I’m not exactly sure, maybe a campus of ministry or healing where people can go right to that resource immediately, maybe for perhaps for prayer, you know, based on your faith, whatever it is. But some people want some immediate action to come together as a people for healing and restoration.

Cesaria Selwyn: So my hometown is Las Cruces, New Mexico. I’ve been really lucky to work at several institutions in New Mexico, in Colorado, and in Utah, and they’re very, very different cultures and different climates. I don’t think I was as nearly like socially conscious when I was going to to my alma mater. But I do think the difference is, is my hometown is 80% Latino population, right? So living in a community of color, having both people that would identify as being Caucasian, being the least demographic that you see there, I think the manifestation in that right. And this is something I talk to students all the time about. How many of you have professors, like more professors than that, that are people of color? Look around. Is anyone raising their hand? Not one person. Almost every single professor I had was a person of color. I think in grad school I had two White professors. Now one of my degrees was focusing on multicultural education. So the perspective, I think that that happens and that impacts is going to be very different in my education. How many of you think you have a textbook that’s written by a person of color? Has anybody looked? Right? What about being queer or being undocumented or being international or having a disability, right? So our live perspective impacts the narrative that we give over and over again. But if we’re not conscious of, we don’t think, “oh, who wrote my book, what intention that they have with that? What’s their lived experience? How did that bias their perspective and how we’re teaching it?”

And that becomes the issue. So I would see CSU when I was there, had communities. The principals of community, when every staff member and faculty member was hired, that they have to sign on to supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion. The reality is that I worked with a lot of people of color there, and that was not the case. I think every institution I’ve worked at has talked about really furthering inclusive excellence. And I think that the first step in that is hiring an incredibly diverse staff. If you’re having teachers that have had the same lived experience, that have the same identities that you do, that doesn’t change, then that’s reinforcing your lived experience. So I think intentionally having that narrative and changing it and making sure that we have diverse textbooks, for example, and we’re looking into who’s writing them and whether the lived experience they have will change that. I also think that something that’s really needed is buy in from the top down. So every single level, if your supervisor is reinforcing, “hey, every month, are you going to an EDI training, are you consuming this information?” That’s something. But I would question how many supervisors on campus intentionally push and keep their staff accountable to engage in that type of development. So I would say that’s a good start.

Jin Heo: Um, I think mine is, I think all my answers are heavily based, on student experiences and speaking from it. I think one thing that I have, I think, that should kind of be implemented is this kind of mentorship in the sense that lots of organizations that I’ve been part of didn’t really have a mentor or a guiding figure, and I think we have faced additional barriers compared to other organizations that did have professors, staff, or faculty kind of lead them towards or give them advice. And I think there are valuable skill sets to be learned through mentorship or just navigating the institutions. And that could be taught that could be learned by yourself. But I think that takes trial and error and that requires time. And time isn’t really something a lot of students have. And so I know that the U is implementing a lot of mentorship programs, but I think it’s equally important to integrate mentorship into a preexisting program so that students could learn these skill sets.

Jason Ramirez: Yeah, and don’t devalue your experience as a student. That’s incredibly important and especially as you perceived it. I am curious, though, as you’re transitioning into your professional role post University of Utah life, what are the differences? Have you, have you seen much difference? Is it more supported, less supportive? I’d be curious of your thoughts on that.

Jin Heo: Um, as I slowly transition, I think it is it is a drastic change from what I’ve imagined it to be. And I would say that organizations I’m part of outside school, I think they’re very supportive of that change and I think they offer a lot of advice, a lot of mentorship on kind of how to navigate that transition and how to build your plan out of school.

Jason Ramirez: Wonderful. Thank you.

Curtis Johnson: Oh, yes. Again, just enjoy it. Love being on the panel with my colleagues here. But just to echo what Cesaria indicated as well. Of course, the College of Social Work, the accrediting body and accredits all the colleges and universities in the College of Social Work, which is the Council of Social Work Education. We have educational policy accreditation standards.mAnd with that being said, we have these new educational policy accreditation standards, which is going to require all colleges in schools of social work to implement an anti, engaging anti-racism, diversity and equity inclusion social work practice. And so this is going to be a movement is huge for the United States of America and of colleges and universities of social work. And with that being said, we are going to have to revise our curriculum. We are going to have to order textbooks with people of color. We’re going to have to hire more faculty of color so we can begin to implement this major requirement responsibility for counseling, social work education.

Jason Ramirez: Thank you. I be, so this next question is very selfish. As RBIRT chair, I wanted to make sure that we added one in here about communication of, of some of these negative incidents and hateful incidents that are quite frankly plaguing our campus at the moment and continue to cause strife within our communities. While the university is getting better and is making progress towards communicating out these issues, I’d be very interested from your perspectives of what ways you would like to see the university respond to these situations that restore or support these communities that continue to be impacted. And what would you like to see more or less of in terms of both the communication and the response to that?

Curtis Johnson: Again, as I mentioned, you know, new to University of Utah Faculty, College of Social Work, I’ve noticed like I’ve seen a number of emails from RBIRT regarding incidents. But not only that, text messages on my cell phone. And so I think that’s really, again, a great start because it’s new to me as well. Again, I think that’s being really proactive, you know, in keeping people aware about what’s going on on campus. So as far as improvement, it would take me some time to do a little more research, you know, give it a more in-depth thought. But again, you know, making people aware what’s going on on campus, the incidents in not only that, but keeping us informed is very important. So I appreciate it.

Cesaria Selwyn: Yeah. So in Housing, RBIRT writes the reports typically unless we’re the ones responding first. And for us I always say, you know even if it hints of racism or any type of bias like please write the report, it’s not our duty to investigate to figure out if this is true or not. Other people get paid a lot more to do that. So I think sometimes there’s a question of like what constitutes racism? Right? Or other people think that certain things are jokes, especially in Housing. That’s the things we do, the roommates. So like, “Oh, it’s so funny to put this type of so-and-so cultural food supposedly on their bed” or do this or that, and they just don’t see it in the harm and the pain that it causes individuals within Housing. We have our own use of residential outreach coordinators that essentially serve as social workers for our department, and they will contact the residents. They will reach out, they will support them with their temporary services.

The reality is, I think that a lot of the students that are victims of our cases do not have the finances to have mental health support on a continual basis, right. Because even at our counseling center, there’s a limit of how many sessions that you can have. Realistically, somebody that has been the victim of racism, especially like systemic racism their entire life and trying to fit in in college and find their place and still survive and holding potentially multiple jobs, right? This is somebody that could use mental health support on a weekly basis. How many people can afford that? I’m a professional staff and I don’t think I could afford weekly therapy, right. So it’s very exclusive. So I think we can create some more supportive services that help to address the financial inequities that happen, as well as some of the cultural barriers that exist to accessing mental health care and normalizing it. I think it’s really important. I also think it’s really important to normalize that the RBIRT cases happen on campus and talk about it more. A lot of times I think that there tends to be a divide in people that believe victims and people that in saying like, “that’s not what happened, they must’ve misunderstood.” Right? So I would say with individuals that that happens to is maybe just having that question of why aren’t you believe in this person that you’ve never met? Why don’t you believe the victim? So I think taking into account that those things really do happen is really important.

Jin Heo: Um, I think, um, personally for me, I haven’t received the emails or texts from all these cases. And so most of the time I heard about these racial bias incidents or hate crimes through my friends. And so I think I wish to be more updated. And I think, um, maybe, maybe there were some issues or errors, but I think I would like to see that fixed. And I think another thing that I want to change or critique is just being more transparent with accountability of those who did commit incidents or biases and understand that there might be some legal issues because hate speech is still protected under the First Amendment of free speech, but still being more transparent about what, what the school did under the legal system and what kind of actions they’re taking. And just on an and on a bigger scale for accountability, especially with the, um, I think it was — sorry, looking though my notes — but just as delay in releasing statistics such as a campus housing safety report. I know that that was delayed for a couple of months and there was no actions taken. There was no explanation as to the delay in those statistics. And I would like to see more accountability in that as well.

Jason Ramirez: So shifting the question a little bit. So thank you. And it speaks to a lot of the responsive work and some of the communication pieces that the university is currently doing. I’d be interested in understanding kind of from a tangible standpoint, how can we support communities? What would you recommend as ways that we can be more proactive in supporting those communities that are impacted and affected?

Curtis Johnson: Um, let’s see. Could you repeat the question again?

Jason Ramirez: So yeah, how can we, what would be some ideas that you could share with our audience and friends here of ways that we can support impacted communities as opposed as, opposed to the first question was talking about responsive measures, right? How we’re communicating, how we’re responding, how we’re sharing with what the university is doing. I’d be curious if you have ideas on how we can be more proactive in supporting those communities and not having to always rely on an incident occurring to respond and communicate with our, our different marginalized and underrepresented communities.

Curtis Johnson: Uh, I would have to say that we would have to, of course, um, work with the communities together, not set plans for them. But not only that, it’s very important to just, it’s important for us to address the language barriers. And sometimes communities need to be, they need to understand and also to be understood. And so with that being said, we need people who speak the common language at these events so we can kind of bridge the, you know, maybe perhaps the racial gaps or disparity or discriminatory practices that we’re hearing from those people that involve their community. So the barriers to language, bringing people together as a group and again, of course, up front with the racism, we need to be upfront, you know, about oppression, racism and discrimination. And I think with that being said, we can begin to move in that direction and again, you know, bring that healing what is really needed, you know, a reconciliation. Thank you.

Cesaria Selwyn: I would say resources, education, and validating the experience, education for potential allies. I think that sometimes people think that regardless of how many privileged or even marginalized identities they hold, that they can be an ally to certain people, but they can just because of like because I’m Latina, just because another person is also Latina doesn’t mean they can’t be an ally to me and help to support someone when they’re speaking to me in Spanish by not misgendering, right? So there’s still ways that we can always be allies to each other. But I think there has to be like a genuine hunger for that. And I think that comes with like the culture and the climate of a university and an area. You know, if we have the climate and the culture of saying, you know, when you come here, the expectation is that you are going to embrace social justice, but you have to be educated, that you’re going to be informed, that you’re going to actively engage in anti-racism work and just trying to combat problematic behavior.

I am guessing many people in here at some point in the last year of their life has had a conversation or been a part of a conversation when you have heard something problematic said. But a lot of times is fear of combating that, right, and not being a bystander. So I think empowering people to do that with education and I also think creating resources for marginalized communities. You said it best earlier. Money is a really big thing. You know, when we look at fees, the fees for the gym are how much? A couple hundred dollars. How much does CESB get from fees? A dollar, maybe, maybe two. So I think like putting the money into inclusive excellence is a really big thing. Supporting the staff that do the work is a really big thing. Hiring more staff that do the work is a really big thing and also just validating experiences of people that happen, that experience a lot of pushback on this campus I think is a really big thing.

I think that there’s so many times, I’ll give you an example, right? I use they/them pronouns. I don’t think a day has gone by since I’ve been on this campus that have been misgendered in a conversation and a lot of times they correct people. And then what happens, I have to emotionally comfort them because I don’t want them to feel bad that I’ve corrected them on this gender, right? And that’s just a very simple example. I can imagine how many students experienced racial pushback here and then after they try to address it, have to comfort somebody. They go, “No, no, it’s okay, it’s okay. But you just said this very problematic thing or uses this racial slur. Just please don’t do it again.” Right? I think empowering people to feel comfortable in saying, “no, that was racist. Don’t do that again in front of me. That’s not okay.” And just being okay with that narrative and not having to constantly apologize for pushing out space in a Predominantly White Institution.

Jin Heo: Um, I think I said it again, and I’ll say it again. I think funding is the most important aspect. How do you make students here feel welcomed? By hosting events, by having these conversations, and requires funding. Funding that a lot of these resources on campus do not get. And so I think at the end of the day, these resources are doing a great job of helping students. And I think if the institution wants to help the students, I think it’s best to fund them more so they can help them more.

Curtis Johnson: Thank you. I just want to echo as well as social workers, we practice something that’s called cultural humility. And what that basically means is from a cultural humility perspective, we need to be able to embrace people whose culture is different from ours. Not only that, but learn from those individuals as well, because they are the experts in their culture as well. And it requires building those relationships as well. But with that being said, I remember, when I was invited to sit as a panelist — and this is my bias. I have my own personal bias as well. But I said, “Wow, MLK Week.” I clicked on the website, I saw the panelists and I realized that, wow, I saw the panelists who are multicultural from different racial, ethnic, cultural backgrounds and gender as well.

But my bias kicked in and I thought, “wow, should the panelists be all African-Americans?” So I have to set my biases aside and realize this is what the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, would want. He marched with people from different racial, ethnic, cultural backgrounds. So when I saw the panelists, I had to set my bias inside and say, “wait a minute, get it in shape, Curtis.”

Jason Ramirez: Thank you so much for your honesty. I so thank you for being an amazing panel. And the worst part of the moderator’s job is keeping us to time and the task. And so I need to make sure that we open it up for questions. And as I mentioned, I think Ian’s going to be helping us with some of our online questions and also has the mic. So if folks have questions, raise your hand and we’ll bring it to you. So that way you can ask the question.

Audience Member 1: Yeah, I recall, as the professor mentioned, you know, an episode that happened just last year where some I believe some university students from an other football team was harassing and making obscene things in the stands and statements regarding certain football teams, religious affiliation and so on. It wasn’t pleasant at all. I go way back to remembering the, you know, the Little Rock seven situation in Little Rock, Arkansas, when seven Black students, a couple of women so on, were harassed on campus for simply being the first there to enter campus. And I hope we never have to go back to that again. My question is that for anybody that wants to have to reply to this, what do you feel that should happen as far as the schools are concerned, as far as sanctions, things like that, when these episodes happened, and I know the university has a has it called a policy called [Fan Up] where we just we have a no tolerance situation here. And I’d just like to get your responses how do you feel that we could remedy the situation so that we don’t get into this embarrassing situation ourselves?

Jason Ramirez: Any thoughts?

Curtis Johnson: Oh, well, let’s see. I just have to recall, I believe there is a committee. I believe this coming semester, maybe semesters in the near future, there’s a committee called a Behavioral Response or Incident Committee. And basically, I believe from from what I know about that, that’s required any student who was engaged or involved in misconduct, they meet in front of the committee. And as committee members, we determine what should be, maybe the possible consequences regarding this racial hatred or event or type of physical assault or sexual assault that someone else experienced. So with this this committee or this behavioral kind of committee, I believe that’s moving in a direction that we need to and I’m not exactly sure who, you know, responsible for the consequences or, you know, what will happen regarding the student involved.

Audience Member 1: Do you think — this just goes to a follow up? I’m sorry. Do you think the school itself should be disciplined some way? I mean, for, for what students? I think they might not even be students. They could be just a lot of times, they’re not even students.

Curtis Johnson: Okay. Okay. You mean as far as administrators?

Audience Member 1: For like an incident that happened with that football team that was harassed?

Jason Ramirez: I’m going to jump in here as a, as the Office of the Dean of Students. We oftentimes deal with, all are the majority of accountability pieces that happen when conduct situations happen. And I think the short answer is that it’s complicated and difficult, right? That not one, any one situation is going to be the same and that there are a lot of variables and factors that have to be played into that to determine what the best response is. Obviously, the impact matters over the intent. If the impact is significant to the university, then restoring that impact is what our office is most interested in. How do we heal? How do we restore communities? How do we appropriately educate and teach in hopes that we can stop and correct behavior is going to be the big thing. In terms of situations where things like public situations happen, where something happens with a football team or, you know, I think I can think of many incidents that happened this year already across the country.

The universities are impacted. Our reputation, whether or not students from those marginalized populations want to come here because of those situations. And how do we then re-instill confidence? And if I’m being certainly frank, it’s we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do to restore confidence that when situations like that happen, that those as Jin has pointed out. We must be better at being transparent in our accountability standards and sharing as much as we possibly can, but then also making sure that outside of the community understands why we make the decisions we make and what’s the institution we want to be and why we’re moving on the path that we are. And so while there are some measures in place that hold the institution accountable, most of the time, that’s when students choose not to come here. Right? And that’s our that’s the biggest accountability piece and that’s the one that hurts the most as we lose in our and our ability to have the community that we want.

Jin Heo: I think might have something to add, I think, because I think, you know, the University of Utah is a public state, is a public school. And so we have to oblige by a lot of laws. And I think we have to understand that, that the law itself is not geared towards helping the minorities or the marginalized. And so, you know, like hate speech is still protected. Unfortunately, by freedom of speech. And there’s a lot of discussion about it. But the law still stands and the Supreme Court has made their case. And so I think it’s important for the school to foster an environment so that these actions are not tolerable. And I think that’s what the school should focus on, because the law isn’t on our side. And I think that’s what I would like to add.

Ian: All right. We’re going to take a question from one of our online participants. And the question goes, “there is a misconception that marginalized communities need to take the high road. However, this is detrimental to our mental health and physical well-being. As a panelist, can you bring awareness to that?”

Cesaria Selwyn: Yeah. So I think I touched on that earlier is the idea of having to apologize for just holding space for yourself, for trying to fight for just being addressed or seen in the identities you hold, and validating in that. And I don’t think that you have to take the high road. Absolutely not. But I would say the counter to that is that if both people take the low road, nothing would happen.
I don’t think either person should do that. I think it’s about a conversation, it’s about listening. And that’s not to say that if you experience racism or anything else that you shouldn’t have, that you don’t need to, to talk about it and and advocate for yourself. Absolutely not. It’s heartbreaking that, that even has to happen. But I would say, like, that’s not exactly that person’s job either.

I think that’s why a lot of those resources exist so that it is reported. Hopefully, there is that education piece. I think it’s heartbreaking that it has to happen. I don’t know if there’s a really simple solution effective, like how do you respond when somebody is problematic and somebody is racist and somebody is homophobic to you? Right? It’s incredibly triggering. It’s so hard to deal with. How do we, I guess the thing is how do we stop it from happening on campus?

Curtis Johnson: Can I add something to that? Could you repeat the question one more time?

Ian: Yes, of course. I don’t have it pulled up. Basically, when a marginalized community gets attacked, they often have to take the high road they feel like. And but this can be detrimental to mental health and…

Curtis Johnson: Okay. Yes. Thank you. Thank you. Appreciate that. You know, it’s going to require healing of memories. What that basically means is Black, Indigenous, People of Color in not only that, but who have experienced historical trauma. It’s going to take a collective community based basically what that means for reconciliation. It’s going to require those who harmed us participating with them as well, But not only that but receiving and extending forgiveness. And because in order to move forward, we have to forgive. But that is very difficult to do, particularly amongst people who’ve caused serious harm, oppressed us. But not only that, but as you experience a lot of historical trauma, so that’s a process that it takes. But when the person forgives extends that forgiveness, it’s a process that allows them to free themselves from the person who is causing harm.

Cesaria Selwyn: Can I, can I add to that really quickly? So I think that’s such a great point. Thank you so much for that, is that I think that when we hold hate inside of us, it kind of eats us up. I don’t think that’s a blanket excuse to forgive people for what they’ve done to you. Something I tell our student leaders that I work with is why would you validate the opinion of someone you would never take advice from? Right? So if somebody is pushing back on you, if somebody is being disrespectful to you, right, it’s completely valid to be hurt in that. But I don’t think that it is worth your time and energy to get upset about that. I think reaching out to resources, being able to heal from that is really important. But that reminds me, I think it was Malcolm X was doing an interview one time and they’re like, “we’re doing so well on combating racism.” And he was like, you know — I’m going to misquote this, so please don’t get mad at me. But it was like, “if somebody stabs me nine inches and then they pull out the knife three inches, that is not making progress. The knife is still in me.” Right. “And if somebody pulls out the knife all the way, that is still not progress because I’m still bleeding.” Right. It’s when we heal from something and there’s a lot that has to go on within our entire society to create those reparations to be able to do complete healing in marginalized communities. That’s really hard to do.

Ian: We can then do somebody in the audience.

Audience Member 2: How you all doing today? Doing good? All right. I had a quick question. So the game has changed today. We’re in a more digital atmosphere today where a lot of hate is not necessarily happening right in your face, but more online. We’re usually on TikToks, the Instagrams, the different Reddit’s subpages, where there’s a lot of hate and discourse happening in this day and age. As we’re on this campus, how do you how would we combat this digital age of hate?

Jason Ramirez: I’m not a panelist, but I’d love, I’d love a crack at that in some way. I’m going to take it Meligha. And I think part of it is you combat speech with more speech that, that we combat it with love and the support that we have on campus that we denounce those that are, that are making such hateful comments and statements and lift up the good things that are happening and focus on those pieces. I think the university has a great platform and an opportunity to use its voice that can empower and support our communities in ways that are incredible and amazing and uplifting. And so, you know, when I, I try not to click on the comments, I’m a big, big fan of avoiding the comments as much as I possibly can. But at the same time, when appropriate and when needed not to combat and return with hate, just return with love and try to share that, that, you know, the university is moving in a direction that isn’t that. We prefer to walk towards the light. And so that would be my quick way to answer that.

Curtis Johnson: Just wanted to add, that is an excellent question. Of course social workers, we we work with different multiple populations as well but some social workers have area of expertise, a social media and social practice. And basically what that requires as social workers are able to integrate, you know, educate students regarding content on social media as well. But also we are looking for maybe perhaps students or colleagues who may perhaps who have something on a social media website that might be offensive to someone else. So I think that social media and social work practices, we’re at the beginning phases, but I think they will also be able to address some of the issues as well.

Cesaria Selwyn: To me, that’s the work of allies. So communication theory, it’s called anger theory, right? It’s the idea that people will only consume media or concepts that were within a certain threshold of their personal opinions and beliefs or world music values, right? So the way that I present, I don’t think that I can reach everybody and be like, “yes, social justice.” A lot of people that are, you know, very polar opposite of me and beliefs are going to be like and just hear that I have a narrative. I’m trying to persuade them of certain things. I have an agenda, right? So all people in here can be allies right now, right? You can help to have conversations with your friends when you see them consuming social media like that and help to educate them on why that is incredibly toxic and is furthering narrative and creating more divide and more racism. And it’s just creating so much harm for communities of color and other marginalized folk. So I think that is the work of the allies and here is how are you holding your friends and other people in your life accountable for the media that they’re consuming and posting.

Jason Ramirez: So we have time for one more question, and there’s a — yeah, he’s had his hand up a few times and so we’ll…sorry, Ella.

Audience Member 3: Thank you. I have one of the questions I wrote down anyway was how do we make noise at the top? And what I’d like to get at there is and it seems like we’re not shy about sort of poking fun at our own university here. As I scroll through the university leadership page on our website, I do not see a lot of color, and I think that’s true of a lot of different universities and institutions around the United States. And how do we combat that? Is it an issue of, you know, I think historically it’s been an issue of access to education. I think more recently it’s an issue of underemployment but I think there’s sort of a third issue, which — the book I’m reading now, called “Mediocre,” writes about. And the subtitle is “The Dangerous Legacy of White Male (Power),” and the tendency to keep people who aren’t necessarily the best but have been around a long time in positions of power. I’m just sort of interested in your thoughts and some ways that we can start to combat this in our generation.

Curtis Johnson: Oh, excellent question. Of course, I would have to say in academia, as an African-American male, there is only maybe perhaps 2% of people of color, African-Americans in academia. Of course, we have to keep in mind, as you mentioned, you know, the White privilege, the power and privilege and how we go about maybe dismantling racism in what we need to do to be more proactive in recruiting of faculty of color. That’s going to require being honest, you know, forthcoming, you know, in talking about our experiences and what can we do to set aside, you know, our ethnocentric worldview, meaning that our race is more superior to the others. And so when we begin to start unlearning and relearning again, I think we can move in that direction.

Cesaria Selwyn: The first thing I thought of as I looked over at that wall when you said that, and I was looking at the pictures over there and I was like, “you’re right, you’re so right. I completely agree.” I think when it comes to professors of color and staff of color, moving to a specific area, there has to be a lot of intentionality at recruiting, especially I am in a bubble because I live on campus. I work in social justice. Pretty much everybody I work with is down for the cause. So it’s really different. But I have to imagine like what’s happening to somebody who presents in a certain way and is having to move into a community that’s not welcoming, right when they move into a house. So there’s an issue there, but also looking at like for me personally, I want a mentor that holds identities that I hold. I want a Latino who’s nonbinary or queer in some way. It’s done through social justice. So it’s hard to look into my department and say, like, who’s here to mentor me? Who’s here to develop me? Who understands the lived experience of going through the things I have, and I may not have that here. So there has to be some compensation for it in other ways and resources and support and development that can happen.

But also recognizing the constant pushback. Like last semester I had a meeting with a student that and it’s not necessarily a person of color, so I can’t really because I’m very, very fair. I benefit from so much privilege right? So I can never understand what somebody else who presents in a different way goes through. But just on the gender component, somebody met with me and they’re like, “so what trauma did you go through because being nonbinary is not a thing, right?” So you have to imagine if somebody was so bold on something like that, that professors of color on campus and other staff members of color experience that on a regular basis, then it’s like, okay, well, how do I handle this? How do I handle constant pushback on a daily basis? But I’m just trying to survive.

Jin Heo: I think for me personally, I think that the first answer that pops up in my head is “burn it down.” [Laughs] But, you know, it’s hard, it’s hard to deconstruct something and rebuild it. And so I think personally, I think as students, if we’re talk about our university, I think it’s pressure. Pressure from the students. Pressure from the staff and faculty. And I think because without us, the university is nothing. It doesn’t matter if there’s people on top, if they have no one to teach or you know. And so I think it’s our duty and our responsibility to create that pressure from within so that change could happen from within.

Jason Ramirez: Great, thank you.

Dan Cairo: Thank you for joining us. And join me in thanking that wonderful panel for the conversation.


Before I get on the script, MarComm, um, don’t get mad. I want to add one part and really elevate some of the pieces that, that were being said, right? Yes, we want people that look like us, but I also want people who get it right, and that is work that all of us are engaging in, right? And so you have the ability to do that. I’m very glad that you were able to join this panel to have this conversation, because now you get to internalize this, you get to reflect on it. And then, you can go to the communities that you occupy with your peers and be that individual that we need. So I appreciate what you all brought, right. This is a complicated conversation. We’re talking at the federal level, right? We’re talking at the state level. We’re at the university level, at the interpersonal level. But at the end of the day, is the choice or the different choice to separate our biases from our behaviors that are going to make all these other pieces either work or not work. So it starts really at the individual and on a personal level. And so you have an incredible amount of power. And so I want to encourage you to reflect on that with one of your peers. Right? Continue to affirm each other, right? So that we can be the community that we want to be. And at the end of the day, it’s about being a better person. And so how do we be better people with each other? And it starts with this conversation. So thank you for all the work you do. Thank you for showing up and thank you for the work you’re going to do in building that great community.

Back to the script. And the script says, we thank the panelists, thank you. And so this was a special MLK Reframing the Conversation which was Stronger Than Hate. So today’s event is just one of many planned for MLK Week at the university. And for more details, please visit Thank you. Gracias.