How a 21-day challenge encouraged Utahns to create new social justice habits

The challenge is archived by the YWCA for those who missed it.

(Juliana DeMay | Amplify Utah) Ariane Barboza, left, and Ken-tay Lee stand in the JEDI Hub at Salt Lake Community College’s South City Campus. The college and the YWCA created a 21-day challenge to explore racial equity and learn more effective social justice habits.

This story is jointly published by nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune, in collaboration with Salt Lake Community College, to elevate diverse perspectives in local media through student journalism.

Social researchers say it takes 21 days to build a habit.

Salt Lake Community College and the YWCA have created a digital challenge, giving students, faculty and staff an opportunity to learn more about racial equity and social justice and the role they play.

According to the event page, the challenge was designed to “create dedicated time and space to learn about racial equity and build more effective social justice habits.” The goal was to fulfill SLCC’s vision that, “Salt Lake Community College will be a model for inclusive and transformative education.”

Over the span of three weeks, participants received an email with three choices, depending on the time they had available on any given day. The “21 Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge” began Oct. 4 and ended Nov. 1. For those who missed the event, they can find the information on the YWCA’s website — ywcautah.org.

Ken-tay Lee, an intern with SLCC’s justice, equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives (JEDI), said it’s good that this program exists, but it needs to be followed by actionable items.

“I look for this challenge to be just that — a challenge,” he said. “Any time we can talk about race and talk about how to undo what racism has done, then that is positive. Any time we only have those conversations and they never lead to action, then that is where we find ourselves stagnated, unable to grow.”

Lee used the Black Lives Matter movement as an example. It’s one thing to show support and have BLM flags around campus, Lee said, and another to create opportunities to support Black lives.

“I would like to know what actionable items we are doing in a Black life that matters,” Lee said. “Where on campus can we directly build bridges for people who have been disenfranchised and make sure that they make it to success?”

Ariane Barboza, who also works in the JEDI office as an intern, said it’s important for SLCC to bridge the equity gap for students.

“Being a successful student is a challenge for us, because we don’t come from privilege … [and can’t] just go to school and focus on studies,” she said.

Data from the Office for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at SLCC showed in 2019 the six-year completion rate for Black students was 19%, in comparison to a 27% completion rate for white students. For Asian students, the completion rate was 33%, 21% for Hispanic students, and 10% for Pacific Islander students.

Students of color, Barboza said, disproportionately have obligations outside of school she doesn’t often see in her white peers, like caring for younger siblings, helping family who are unsheltered, or who are dealing with addictions.

“Even if you want to take it seriously,” she said, “life is still probably going to win.”

One actionable item Lee is proud of is SLCC’s Utah Reintegration Project, which focuses on previously incarcerated men and women returning to society.

“We foresee in the future that it will be a very bright beacon for students, or for people who want to become students,” Lee said. “We’re asking for the culture to make sure we graduate, we get careers.”

As a jumping-off point and educational tool, the 21-day email event can provide value to participants and their communities.

“I think SLCC is a safe space to talk about racism,” Barboza said " We can start with a 21-day challenge [and build from there]. We have to start somehow.”

Samantha Herrera, journalism and digital media student and digital editor at The Globe, participated in the challenge during the spring 2021 semester.

One lesson stood out to her.

“They had one day when they were talking about alternatives to police presence, like de-escalation and mental health resources,” Herrera said. “Alternatives to police is something I’ve been hearing about for a while, especially after last year, but I had never heard the ideas behind how to do it. The actual steps that people could take.”

Since doing the challenge, Herrera said she questions herself more.

“Whenever I think about an emergency situation, my first instinct was to call the police,” she said. “But now, is that the right answer to certain situations, or any situation? It makes you take a pause. It makes you question why you think that and whether it’s something that’s been taught to you through our society, or if it’s something you actually believe.”

At the end of the 21 days, Herrera formed the habit of questioning her past thoughts, helping shape her actions in the future.

Juliana DeMay wrote this story as a journalism student at Salt Lake Community College. It is published as part of a new collaborative including nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune.