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Astrid S. Tuminez and Kyle Reyes: Juneteenth is a time to commemorate and to act

(Emily Branvold) Pictured is the UCCU Center at Utah Valley University lit up in rainbow colors for an LGBTQ graduation celebration for 2021.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, with nearly 2,000 Union soldiers to announce the end of slavery by enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is a day for us to celebrate the delayed freedoms given to Black Americans and reflect on the immense obstacles that they have faced throughout our nation’s history and which they continue to confront today.

Juneteenth is especially important in light of persistent racial divisiveness and injustice. The observance encourages us to celebrate Black liberation, reflect on the enduring impact of systemic racism, take action to support racial justice and educational opportunity, and renew our commitment to upholding the noble truth enshrined in America’s founding: that “all [people] are created equal.”

The Utah Board of Higher Education recently passed a resolution encouraging colleges and universities within the state to celebrate Juneteenth — a motion that received unanimous support from all university presidents. We are committed to improving our educational systems and working together to “[close] opportunity and attainment gaps for African American, African, and Black students, staff, and faculty persisting within Utah higher education.”

Education plays a crucial role in correcting injustice and promoting equity. Institutions of higher education must actively oppose racism and provide opportunities for all students to develop their knowledge, skills, and competencies on the path toward pursuing their dreams.

At Utah Valley University, we are dedicated to providing accessible and equitable educational opportunities, no matter a person’s race, religion or sexual orientation. Everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue their personal, academic and professional goals without experiencing the harmful effects of racism, biases or stereotypes.

We practice Exceptional Care by maintaining an open-admissions policy, offering culturally diverse and affirming learning experiences and resources, and supporting students from historically underserved and underrepresented populations. We promote Exceptional Accountability at the institutional and systemic level, while encouraging individual choice and responsibility. We believe that care and accountability, together, will bring Exceptional Results in preparing students for success in work and life.

UVU has numerous multicultural student services, groups and clubs that specifically support students from the Black community, including the Black Student Union and the African Diaspora Initiative. These organizations provide mentorship, community connections, leadership opportunities, academic support and other resources designed to foster student success and promote an inclusive campus culture. To celebrate Juneteenth this year, our students will participate in the Utah Juneteenth festival in Salt Lake City and meet with groups from Howard University and other universities in Utah.

Talking about inclusion is easy, as is celebrating Juneteenth and making declarations. But the most important way to advance change is to take action. Last year at UVU, we engaged in difficult conversations after the tragic killing of George Floyd. We hired our first full-time director for the African Diaspora Initiative, and we established a Racial Justice and Safety Committee that worked on several actions to create a safer and more welcoming environment at our university.

UVU created scholarships for our African Diaspora Initiative, reexamined the UVU Police Academy’s Police Officer Safety Training (POST), formed a community task force led by our Academy’s Chief John McCombs, developed a new course in our Criminal Justice Department on Racial Justice, analyzed student racial representation within the UVU Police Academy, developed strategies to increase diversity of students, aligned our program with the nine mandates in the Justice in Policing Act and implemented anti-racism book discussions and other trainings within our College of Health and Public Services.

In the last couple of years, we have also worked on our second four-year inclusion and diversity action plan with students, staff and faculty. This plan includes 75 action steps that seek to foster greater diversity, equity and inclusion across UVU. Last year, we updated our Foundations of Inclusion workshop series designed to promote greater awareness and empathy among faculty, staff, and administrators. We have seen record enrollment numbers in these workshops in the past year.

UVU’s efforts to build an inclusive campus culture will support our students from the Black community and help us become part of the solution in forming a “more perfect union.” The strength of a democracy and a thriving society begins with high ideals, but becomes forged in reality only through the kind of hard work that we strive to do daily.

Astrid S. Tuminez, president of Utah Valley University.

Astrid S. Tuminez is president of Utah Valley University.

Kyle Reyes | Utah Valley University

Kyle Reyes is vice president of student affairs at Utah Valley University.

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