As many of you now know, the status of the student organization MECHA (the Spanish word for wick or spark) was changed from “sponsored” to “registered” on Friday, November 10. Since that moment, tensions have been very high—including last Wednesday when the student organization held a “sit-in” at the University Union, confronting staff in the Center for Equity and Student Belonging (CESB) offices.
There have been a great many questions (and more than a little confusion) about why we’re now in this place. But I want to assure you that the decision to withdraw our sponsorship of MECHA was not easy and was made only after thorough deliberation over many months (going back to April ‘23), including careful consideration of the chances for an alternate solution. I am deeply saddened that this situation could not be resolved in another way.
I also feel the need to make one point abundantly clear: MECHA’s status was not changed because they decided to participate in protests or because of their message. The division for Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion; CESB; and the entire university stand firmly in support of MECHA’s right to speak out on important issues and to make the voices of its members heard. That is fundamental to a democratic society.
But we cannot allow any student organization to shut down, interrupt, or disrupt another group’s registered event, speech, or programming, no matter how vigorously they oppose the message. To do so would jeopardize the legitimacy of the university’s free speech protections—and would undermine our commitment to student expression. That also is fundamental to a democratic society and a civically engaged campus community.
Additionally, according to university policy, Sponsored Student Organizations must meet specific expectations; most importantly, they must communicate clearly with their sponsoring office or unit on campus and be willing to take direction from that office. As university policy dictates, “[Sponsored Student Organizations] are so closely aligned with the mission and culture of the University that their actions will be considered the actions of the University. This [has] legal risk and other implications for the University” (Rule 6-401A(I). Also, because of this very close alignment, Sponsored Student Organizations must “[o]perate under the direct and constant guidance of the sponsoring department or office which must be committed to supporting the student organization’s mission and activities” (Rule 6-401A (III)(D)(1)(b).
Additional guidance and answers to frequently-asked-questions regarding recognized student organizations can be found in this helpful article (“How are student groups formed at the U?”) and on the University of Utah’s Regulations Library website.
EDI and CESB made several attempts to demonstrate their support for the student organization and its mission, but requests to have open dialogue and share guidance with MECHA were regularly rebuffed, and directives were continually ignored. The repeated refusal to receive guidance from—or be advised by—EDI or CESB over many months ultimately made it impossible for the sponsor to continue its sponsorship relationship with the student organization.
MECHA will maintain its “Registered Student Organization” (RSO) status on campus, and EDI and CESB hope we can continue to partner with the student organization around those issues that are so important to all of us and where we remain aligned. Most importantly, this includes the High School Conference, an event started by MECHA in 1995 and supported by the U as a vital part of university programming since 2009. EDI has directly supported the conference since the division was created in 2019 and will continue to do so.
Despite the challenges we sometimes face, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion remains committed to building a campus community where everyone knows they belong. Part of this requires us to ensure all voices are valued, but we must do so in accordance with university policy. As we commemorate Native American Heritage Month with our friends in the American Indian Resource Center, continue advancing our Interfaith Initiative, and prepare for the 40th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Week at the U, we invite you all to join us. And we hope your holidays—however you choose to spend them—are revitalizing and filled with abundant warmth and love.
Mary Ann Villarreal
Vice President for Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion