Adrienne Andrews said they were all at a conference together when they realized it.
“Wait, there are four black women in this room doing this work at the highest levels in our institutions. That’s phenomenal, right?” Andrews said.
Andrews, Tasha Toy, Schvalla Rivera and Tamara Stevenson lead the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at four Utah universities. Andrews is at Weber State, Toy at Dixie State, Rivera at Southern Utah and Stevenson is at Westminster College.
“It’s overwhelming and it’s fantastic and wonderful at the same time,” Toy said.
The four women work on their schools’ diversity policies, curriculum, hiring, enrollment, trainings, resource centers, community events and building relationships, among other things.
In July, Andrews met with the Weber State women’s basketball coach to talk about how to better connect her players with the community. It’s a chance for the female students to support others, particularly young girls who might look up to them, she said.
“There’s a lot of power in that. Growing up, I did not see a lot of people who looked like me,” said Andrews, who was raised in Layton.
“Utah is not going to look the same” in the future, Toy said, and people need to learn how to interact and work with someone who is different than them in the global economy.
In 2065, 1 of every 3 Utahns will be a minority, according to a study by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
Minorities made up 20% of enrollment at Utah’s public colleges and universities in fall 2018, the Utah System of Higher Education reported. Like USHE schools, Westminster College and Brigham Young University had mostly white students, followed by Hispanic, then multiracial, Asian/Pacific Islander, black and American Indian/Native Alaskan students.
People come from all types of backgrounds, with different religions and sexual orientations, Stevenson said. A diversity officer can help college leaders, students and community partners figure out what they need to do for everyone to have "a healthy, respectable learning, working, living environment,” she said.
"As long as we have society, there’s going to be equity and inclusion issues,” Rivera said. "…There’s always going to be misunderstandings and disagreements.” That’s why it’s important to have people trained in jobs like hers, she said.
“There’s some people who don’t understand the positions who may think that they just place people of color in these positions," Rivera said, but there’s research and theory that goes into helping schools and corporations navigate these issues.
Last year, clothing retailer H&M apologized after a black child model wore a sweatshirt that said “coolest monkey in the jungle.”
“People in my position, we speak truth to power. We are the people in the room that say no, I do not advise that, and this is why,” Rivera said.
Andrews recently looked over plans for a Weber State campus building and was glad to see that they included a gender neutral family bathroom and wheelchair ramps, issues she would have brought up.
“A lot of times … there is not an intent to leave people out. There’s not an intent to make it difficult for one group over another. Sometimes that just happens because that’s what we’ve always done, or because people haven’t thought it through,” Andrews said.
Generally, people “want to know more” and be educated, Rivera said.
“Especially for this area, we have a lot of very, very nice people who are well-meaning,” she said. “They just haven’t been exposed to a lot of different people. And so a lot of misunderstandings occur not necessarily because an individual is intending to be evil or malicious in any way.”
When people do make mistakes, “I think we should have grace and understand that we didn’t always know everything that we know now," Rivera said.
Sometimes it’s tough, though, to help people “understand that free speech is free speech,” Andrews said. “And how do we navigate speech that feels hurtful or hateful, and is hurtful and hateful, but still is able to to be spoken?” she said.
It’s helpful to have each other for support in this job, Andrews said, because “when something happens on one campus, it’s usually a matter of time before it happens on another campus.”
“If racist signs appear on your campus or in your community, you’re on, because people expect a response or a discussion, or they want to know how to respond and seek your support in figuring that process out,” she said.
Police shootings of African American men that made national news in the summer of 2016 led to a community discussion at an Ogden coffee shop and town halls that continue in 2019, Andrews said. She still tears up thinking about the people who gathered for a vigil held at Ogden Municipal Building after the mass shootings in March at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“I try to find ways to help people connect with each other. I try to find common ground. It doesn’t always work, but I still keep trying. Because when it works, oh my gosh, it’s glorious. It is. It’s absolutely life changing when it does work,” Andrews said.
MEET FOUR UTAH INCLUSION LEADERS
Where from: Layton, Utah
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science and women’s studies from the University of Utah; master’s degree in women’s studies from Minnesota State University and political science from Rutgers; post-graduate degree in conflict resolution and mediation from the U.
Previous jobs: Director of the Center for Youth Policy and Programs for the State of New Jersey; instructor at Rutgers and Minnesota State University Mankato; U.S. Supreme Court intern.
How long at Weber State: Since 2005
Where from: Terre Haute, Indiana
Education: Bachelor’s degree in social sciences and history from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College; master’s degree in political science and international affairs and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Indiana State University
Previous jobs: Dean of students at Western Nebraska Community College; assistant dean of students and director of intercultural life at Cornell College; director of international and multicultural student affairs at Vincennes University.
How long at Southern Utah: Since 2018
Where from: Detroit, Michigan
Education: Bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s degree in organizational communication from Wayne State University; specialist of arts and doctorate in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University.
Previous jobs: Corporate communication in the automotive and health care industries and public education; adjunct instructor in communication and higher education administration.
How long at Westminster: Since 2012
Where from: Augusta, Georgia
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history and master’s of education in instructional technology from North Carolina Central University; doctorate in higher education research and policy from Seton Hall University.
Previous jobs: Director of multicultural and international student programs at Berry College.
How long at Dixie State: Since 2018
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today.