Dear U campus community:
When the University of Utah began the fall semester this year, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion—with the support of Student Affairs—launched its Celebrating U Completely campaign with the vision of a campus connected by bonds of engagement and respect. We know our entire country is suffering from feelings of isolation, division, loneliness—and we wanted to address those sentiments directly because we know those feelings, if left untreated, hurt us all. That’s why the message of Celebrating U Completely is “let’s build a campus community together where you know U belong.” The point is to remind our campus of our commitment to each other, to treat one another with dignity as members of a unified and flourishing community—a One U Thriving.
Several times this semester we have noted and responded to what seem clearly thoughtless and uncharitable representations of others. We’ve asked campus cohorts to reconsider their messaging and think about the climate they create. So, when we were alerted recently to message boards on campus plastered with several pastel-colored posters containing divisive language—we wondered again, what do we gain as a community when we participate in messages that are hurtful? That are meant to shame and exclude a vulnerable part of our community?
We are a campus made up of some 77,000 individuals, diverse across so many intersections of identity, and this includes our trans and LGBTQIA+ community who were directly affected by this situation. Our rules of engagement in disagreement cannot be embedded in hate and shame. They must be imbued by what our University Impact Scholar, Tim Shriver calls “an acknowledgment of the dignity of the other and an attempt to create a doorway into seeing oneself—and the other—with that dignity.”
When we ignore those bonds and disregard the foundation of respect on which every stable society is built, we risk the solidity and well-being of the entire enterprise. Hostility makes it harder to do the important work of a great scholarly institution—to learn, develop, and innovate together. It hurts our campus by sowing distrust, producing resentment, and making collaboration more difficult. And these forces can even hurt the well-being of the country: making it harder to govern, maintain civic health, and reach consensus to solve big problems.
The University of Utah is, of course, an institution of higher education—and that brings with it a vigorous commitment to free-speech protections. But we are also a campus and community that works, lives, studies, celebrates, and grieves together. In order for our community to remain healthy and whole, we must treat each other with dignity, respect, and compassion. We may not always agree—but we should always strive to see each other first as peers and co-learners, campus neighbors and friends who deserve to be treated with decency. Acts which violate this compact threaten that fragile balance between the intense discussion, debate, and investigation necessary for academic work and the respect on which community thrives.
The goal of EDI is to foster and promote a more inclusive campus environment—from the President’s office to the parking lot—so that every single member of our community feels respected and welcomed and has an equal opportunity to participate and thrive. To ensure the continued health of our campus, this work is vital and must advance. We encourage all of campus to join us.
Mary Ann Villarreal, Ph.D.
Vice President for Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion (EDI)
Lori K. McDonald, Ph.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs
A week of events are planned to support and celebrate our LGBTQIA+ community, November 27 through December 1, through the university’s LGBT Resource Center–including an art night (Uplifting our voices through art expression), QTea Talk, QTSOC Poetry Night, Healing Circle, and Fab Friday. To find out more, please visit the LGBT Resource Center webpage or the Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion events calendar.