The U celebrates education as one of society’s greatest change-agents. Higher education can profoundly shape the economic health of individuals and their vitality of thought, understanding, community, and compassion. The university also recognizes the very real barriers to education—rooted in historical, contemporary, and persistent structural racism, sexism and other biases—that are faced by students. The university tackles these barriers in three distinct ways:

The U celebrates education as one of society’s greatest change-agents. Higher education can profoundly shape the economic health of individuals and their vitality of thought, understanding, community, and compassion. We also recognize the very real barriers to education— rooted in historical, contemporary, and persistent structural racism, sexism and other biases—that are faced by students. We tackle these barriers in three distinct ways:

  1. by increasing access to meaningful, rigorous educational opportunities for underrepresented and underserved students;
  2. by building and sustaining a climate of equity and justice within the learning environment so that all students can succeed in their goals and identify fully as members of the campus community; and,
  3. by leading in shaping (not passively conveying) the national dialogue surrounding injustices and changing the way we talk about equity: away from platitudes surrounding “diversity” toward frank talk of oppression, its costs and negative impact on students, staff and faculty of all backgrounds.

The University’s efforts to improve equity in student outcomes and improve the climate for equity began decades ago, through the creation of the Office for Equity and Diversity in 1986. In recent years, collective efforts have accelerated rapidly. Multiple student-, faculty- and campus-community- centered actions are advancing simultaneously as the University works to implement its equity vision.

As the flagship institution for the State of Utah, the University plans for a diversified student body that represents all residents, inclusive of all economic and social standings. We foresee an institution where access truly means access-for-all, where achievement is shared among all students, and where students are presented unique pathways and guidance to ensure timely graduation. We look to inspire faculty and staff to craft a student-first agenda that compliments a research institution, comprised not only of the nation’s biggest thinkers but of those representing a true diversity of experience, intellectual perspective, and background.

The U has long embraced the charge to remove systemic barriers for underrepresented students. In 1968, passionate advocates created Black, Chicano, and American Indian Studies programs. By 1977, these entities became the Ethnic Studies Program. In 2016, Ethnic Studies joined the Gender Studies Program (established in 1979) to form the nation’s first and only School for Cultural and Social Transformation (Transform). Transform is an intellectual pillar of the U’s proactive efforts to think intersectionally, model justice, and debate thoughtful practices surrounding anti-bigotry.

In November of 2015, the University of Utah held a town hall meeting filled with students, faculty and staff members throughout campus. The meeting was an open forum for students to address their concerns and challenges on campus. The outcome was a list of 13 initiatives that students, faculty, and staff members have worked together to address.

Currently, the University is enacting numerous diversity initiatives to cultivate an environment of greater inclusiveness and engage the community through greater outreach and leadership development. A sampling includes: expanding the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs to allow for more space for student meetings and informal gatherings; increasing staff resources in the Office for Inclusive Excellence to collaboratively address racial microaggressions; and forming Your Voice Moves Us Forward to provide a platform for students, faculty and staff members to voice ideas and engage in ongoing, critical conversations.

The University recognizes that diversity in the staff and faculty ranks is essential to ensure equity in student outcomes. Through the Faculty Hiring Initiative, beginning in 2014, we have increased the total number of faculty from underrepresented groups by 27%, with domestic faculty of color growing from 13% to 23% of the total faculty body. We have crafted a complementary staff hiring initiative to accelerate hiring of staff from diverse backgrounds.

In the past half-century, the University has made great strides and learned important lessons along the way. We have learned that institutional change can be successful only when embraced by the highest levels of the administration; that closing equity gaps is accomplished by promoting the type of intellectual ambition that includes all students and is powerfully informed by the talents of those historically underserved; and that while output metrics and student outcome data are important for measuring key successes, improvement in justice and equity is not found in a ‘moneyball’ approach to managing the numbers. Rather, it results from providing an exceptional experience for all.

These lessons are now integrated into planning—and they are paying off. In 2017, we welcomed the largest, most diverse, and most academically prepared first-year class in history. Mirroring the demographics of Salt Lake County, nearly 33% of incoming first-time first-year students were domestic students of color.