How society plays a role in the way Black women express vulnerability 


Black women are more likely to struggle in society than white women because of systemic racism, discriminatory practices in healthcare and employment, and stereotypes that perpetuate those beliefs. As a consequence, Black women can become desensitized, and harbor more trauma that ultimately leads to physical health afflictions. All of this can also be linked to rapidly deteriorating mental health and emotional stability. 

Most Black-identifying women struggle with vulnerability because being open implies losing their shield of shelter. A protective shield learned as a child to combat the systemic inequalities that manifest themselves in different ways. There is a cultural expectation that Black women need to uphold the notion that they are strong and able to tolerate more trauma. This is why Black women battle how vulnerability shows up in their lives

When people pay close attention to Black women around the world they may wonder, “How often do they speak about their wellness? How often do they speak about their mental health? Have they been able to cry and let go of everything they can’t say aloud?” 

When Black women face difficulties or trauma, there is a high chance that it can escalate to physical, mental, and emotional distress. They cry behind bathroom stalls and walk out as if nothing happened or shed tears in front of their steering wheel, while constantly repeating “I need to be strong.”

Other phrases include: “Keep your head up”; “You must be brave”; “Black women never cry.” 

“I am my mother’s daughter, white, resembling purity, embracing the slightest slither of hope to reach these heights.”
A quote from a journal entry.

 “These messages are carried and internalized by Black women, and they influence their adulthood,” said Fathi Kofiro, a therapist and owner of Daryeel Therapy.

Kofiro has a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work and is a licensed graduate in private practice. She also is a certified clinical trauma professional trained in Eye, Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Motivational interviewing, which is trauma training of a combination of advanced training for trauma victims.

Black women have grown up in traumatizing environments due to a variety of factors such as family, financial challenges, health, and school. These factors grew so strong that Black women keep spiraling in the same negative mindset, and they eventually become desensitized. “It pushes them into a state of survival mode,” said Kofiro in an email interview. With that being a result, Black women internalize a set of assumptions about themselves and the world. 

Kofiro added, “I assist clients with resourcing and unlearning maladaptive coping systems to transition from survival to safety.”

Young Black girls in school try to suppress their feelings for fear of being humiliated. For example, when school isn’t going well, they tend to become overwhelmed and refuse to seek assistance. “I’m afraid to ask for help,” “If this individual looks at me like this or that,” “Would the class laugh if I raise my hands,” and so on.

Sabrina Abdalla said in an interview on Oct. 11, 2021, that even though these issues have existed for a long time, the pandemic has made it more difficult for Black women. She said it made them realize how essential their health is and how critical it is to look after themselves.

“When they wake up every day in isolation, they are confronted with their demons and fears,” said Abdalla, founder of Cirri, a creative wellness platform for Black girls, women, and femmes. “All sense of normalcy is thrown out the window when you wake up to yourself, sleep with yourself, and chat to a computer. All you have are your thoughts and a place to consider them.”

Kofiro said, “Trauma does damage your attention and the quality of your life, women have been failing school due to the stigma of not being able to have rough moments because they are used to being looked at differently, depression and anxiety can be symptoms of trauma. It has an impact on your capacity to do effectively in school. Because trauma alters our neural system, trauma work is essential.” 

Kofiro said, “Outside experiences will affect you if those experiences are cyclical and negative. Resiliency means overcoming adversity, but it also means being a change agent in your life once you have overcome adversity.” She continued, “Many people overcome by adapting to their circumstances; however, we sometimes require support and resources for change to occur. For good reasons, the Black community does not always ask for assistance.”

The older these women get, the more they realize how disparities manifest in their daily lives, impact their mental health, and how exhausting their lives can be.

When it comes to healing completely, Black women turn to their communities, finding support groups, therapy, social media of women who look like them and know its education. 

Abdalla has fostered a social community to stimulate communal dialogue and inspire, encourage, and give hope to the Black women who come onto the platform. “It’s important to have a community that supports and uplifts you,” said Abdalla, who was profiled in an October 2021 article. “It’s necessary because your community is a reflection of you and your potential. Recognizing a lack of space for creative wellness, particularly for Black women, Black girls, and Black femmes, inspired me to create Cirri. I created it to build the social advancement of Black women through art programming, creative engagement, and collective empowerment. I wanted it to be a space to share resources and encourage everyone to live a creative, well life. My message is to amplify voices and be the mountain created for people to lean on for support in their creative endeavors.”

Each month, Abdalla shares reflective journaling prompts to her community. “The Secrets to a Creative Month is a post of reminders and check-ins at the beginning of each month,” she said. “The words are centered around what Cirri values and intends to promote through our work and content. Reflective journaling prompts, affirmations, and other resources are included in the range.” 

October 2021 focused on having an abundant month by cultivating a solidarity mindset to encourage a collective mentality rather than an individualistic outlook on life.

Abdalla creates monthly promotions and workshops for women to learn life skills like writing and becoming the best version of themselves. Weekly and monthly check-ins are vital for Black women’s mental health because they allow them to be vulnerable, and sometimes allow them to open up to others, realizing that they are not alone. 

Before the pandemic, Abdalla would host workshops centered around wellness and creativity to give Black women a chance to show their artwork and space to feel comfortable. “Our workshops challenge the stereotype of strong Black women, as well as other damaging stereotypes that limit our expression, and create a space for us to be more vulnerable and reclaim our narratives,” she said.

Support groups, workshops, and social media show hope that Black women will not be in that cycle forever. 

Practicing self-care and building the woman they want to be, not waiting for the right day to come but including daily habits to increase that mentality that they deserve to be treated with love, respect, and equality. 

Abdalla recommends the following self care tips: creativity, water and healthy eating habits, surrounding themselves with a community of friends that care for them and help them succeed, and to check in with themselves and identify what has been hurting them. 

Naag Nool is a Somali phrase that means “Grown Women.” It is used to describe a resilient woman. Mezii means moon in the Chimini language. The author and her sisters say “I Love You To The Moon and Back.”

To break from the cycle, individuals must confront the obstacles they face. Once the storm has passed, they’ll forget how much they have suffered in silence. 

But one thing is for sure. Once the barrier has passed, they become more knowledgeable and informed. They can encourage children to live the life they wish they could. And break the cycle.

Utah Humanities aims to bridge political polarization across the state


A month before the 2020 election, roughly 8 in 10 registered voters on both sides of the aisle said their differences with the other side were about core American values such as the economy, racial justice and climate change, according to a 2020 study done by the Pew Research Center.

“I feel like we sort of lost that ability to have a conversation without feeling like we have to convince each other of our side,” Caitlin McDonald said in a Zoom call.

Utah Humanities, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit, created the Community Conversations as a space for respectful dialogue. But is it enough to help alleviate the political polarization plaguing Utahns across the state? McDonald, the program manager in charge of the Conversations, knows that bridging the gap is not a painless task for participants.

“It’s not an easy thing. It’s not all puppies and rainbows. It’s not all hugging each other. It’s hard, and it’s emotional, and we’ve had people cry,” McDonald said.

Participants attend a Community Conversation in person pre-pandemic. Utah Humanities, a Salt Lake City nonprofit, has been hosting hard and uncomfortable conversations about relevant and polarizing topics to create meaningful dialogue in the Salt Lake Valley. Photo provided by Utah Humanities.

Utah Humanities has been hosting hard and uncomfortable conversations about relevant and polarizing topics such as racial justice, climate change and civic participation since its inception in 2015. Pre-pandemic, these conversations were held in person. Currently they reside within the virtual walls of Zoom. Regardless of the meeting space, McDonald said she believes the process of creating meaningful and productive dialogue is more successful than regular town halls or other forums where people come ready to argue and yell at one another.

Part of the Utah Humanities’ success can be attributed to its Conversation Agreements that serve as a code of conduct for these monthly meetings. The agreements outline expectations for how the conversations will be held and how participants are expected to conduct themselves. The guidelines include “respecting all participants, … thoughtfully considering perspectives which are contrary to their own and behaving courteously should a disagreement and/or non-closure occur.”

McDonald said all participants must sign the agreement before any dialogue can begin. This weeds out anyone who is looking to come with pitchforks in hand.

The Conversation Agreements are meant to serve as a guideline that all participants must agree to before attending a Conversation. The Agreements help weed out agitators and trolls looking for an argument, not constructive dialogue. Photo provided by Utah Humanities.

“Because as we’ve seen, people’s rules for behavior seem to have changed recently. What’s acceptable in public and what’s acceptable in how we treat each other? I’ve seen it change in the past few years,” McDonald said.

She also said that weeding out the agitators who are looking to throw gasoline onto the political fire has proven to be beneficial, as they have never kicked out a participant. The agreement also helps alleviate some concerns of first-time participants, while also providing them with a space to be vulnerable and listen openly to perspectives that they might disagree with.

“These conversations just give them a chance to come somewhere where you don’t have to come with your guard up,” McDonald said. “You can come knowing that you’re in a space where you can express yourself, but also hear somebody else express themselves without fear of being yelled at.”

One participant is openly looking for this challenge of ideas and values. Steven Olsen is a senior history curator for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said he embraces aspects of the humanities such as diverse thinking and the civil interchange of sharing ideas. Olsen said he is especially interested in the perspectives that differ from those around him. 

“I really am interested in sharing that perspective with others in a kind of an academic setting or from an academic perspective, but also gaining other insights that I might not get from my own tribe, as it were,” Olsen said in a Zoom interview.

It might seem as if Olsen has found his happy place within the virtual walls of the Zoom Conversations, but the problem is, he has had a hard time garnering a new perspective from these sessions.

“Unfortunately, there hasn’t been the kind of diversity of perspectives that I had kind of hoped [for] going forward, I would say it’s mostly centered left of center,” Olsen said.

The lack of contrasting opinions interests Kevin Coe, a professor with an emphasis in political communication at the University of Utah. But he believes the problem is bigger than a conversation.

“It’s useful to think in terms of some of those interpersonal solutions [Community Conversations] as small-scale acts of goodness, that are useful. They won’t ultimately be enough to solve the problem, right? Because the problem is structural,” Coe said in a Zoom interview.

The structural problem Coe is referring to involves the amount of information and misinformation that can be found on social media, and how that changing information environment is shaped and influenced by political structures and those in power. Social media and news outlets could be to blame due to the number of opinions that are now in the marketplace of ideas. But Coe said he thinks the real problem lies within the curators who are controlling the release of questionable content being cultivated for public consumption.

“The deeper problem is that people are toxic because people are creating that information environment, and particularly people in power, who often have an incentive to put out misinformation, for example,” Coe said.

Power isn’t the only incentive to deceive the public.

“To get that misinformation to circulate and that might be a monetary incentive as a way for them to just increase their own personal wealth, say, unscrupulous journalists … an unscrupulous participant in the media environment who benefits financially from having their message, which … they know is factually inaccurate, circulate widely, because it builds attention for them,” Coe said.  

This could be applied as well to politicians who use misinformation or inflammatory remarks to influence their following and maintain power. Coe also said it would take a broader reform of the political and information system to reach the overarching goal that those interpersonal acts of communication like the Conversations are seeking.

It might seem like the deck has been stacked against the participants of the Conversations like Steven Olsen, who look through the lens of the humanities to navigate these uncomfortable conversations and polarizing topics. But there is consensus and hope among those who attend, that the Conversations will continue to provide participants with the opportunity to not see a political enemy on the other side of the aisle, but a vulnerable person who also wants what is best for the country.

“Those conversations can rise above the particulars of our contention, you know, the differences of our points of view,” Olsen said. “To see the human underpinnings of even the necessity of having differences of opinion, in other words, it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, but it’s about the meaning of the truth that we’re seeking from the conversation.”

The Utah Humanities building, located at 202 300 N. in Salt Lake City, was once the home of the Community Conversations. The Conversations are currently taking place on Zoom and have allowed people from across the state and nation to participate. Photo provided by Utah Humanities.

Salt Lake City is determined to take charge of curbing homelessness: Who is putting in the work?

Story and photos by PAIGE NELSON

As the weather warms up, tents are beginning to line the downtown streets of Salt Lake City.

Tents lining streets, garbage in flower beds, needles scattered across public parks. This is the picture that is painted in most individuals’ minds when thinking about homeless people. 

Stripping down any perception of a human living in these conditions, all the public sees is unshaven men sleeping on sidewalks and drug addicts pushing stolen shopping carts full of personal belongings. 

While this stigma surrounds low income Utahns, there is work happening behind the scenes actively trying to help individuals get off the streets and back into the community. 

Kat Kahn, director of development at The Road Home, has had ample experience helping the homeless population of Salt Lake City. 

“Our No. one goal is to move people out of emergency shelter and into housing as quick as possible,” Kahn said in a Zoom interview. “The majority of the people we serve stay under six months.”

The Road Home is one of the oldest homeless centers in Salt Lake City, established in 1923. It has grown to having three emergency shelters across the Salt Lake area, not including overflow shelters used during the winter. 

The Road Home stresses housing first. Each emergency shelter is tailored to the individual in need, and there are three options to choose from:

The Men’s Resource Center in South Salt Lake is located at 3380 S. 1000 West and houses 300 single men. 

In Midvale, another shelter is located at 529 W. 9th Ave.,where 300 beds are provided for families. 

Finally, the Gail Miller Resource Center is located at 242 W. Paramount Ave.and is a 200-bed split shelter for both men and women.

The public perception of the homeless community is one of the most challenging factors that Kahn deals with on a daily basis. Upward of 100 children facing homelessness at a time may have to jump through extra hoops to not feel the embarrassment that comes from lack of housing. School buses in Salt Lake City pick up the children at the shelters first on their way to school, and drop them off last so that their peers don’t see their living conditions. 

The Road Home helps families and individuals pay their first months’ rent so that they can get their feet under them and start providing for themselves again. Kahn explained, however, that for about 13% of homeless people that won’t work. Those who face disabilities, have substance abuse disorders, or who are chronically homeless might not make it out of the shelters in that six-month period. 

Homeless shelters in Salt Lake City work with each other, as well as apartment companies, food banks, and mental health facilities to create a healthy environment for those who come to seek help.

Volunteers of America, Utah, is a nonprofit that works with homeless shelters in the area, including The Road Home.

Andrew Johnston, chief strategy leader at Volunteers of America, said in a Zoom interview, “We’ve been doing street outreach for a number of years … there are a lot of folks who are outside all year round who don’t have housing, and we are just offering basic needs and services to them … and trying to get them housing.”

These basic needs are things like getting homeless people IDs so that they can get medical help and subsidized housing. Volunteers of America also helps people get into detox centers and off substances they might be abusing.

While lots of work is happening out in the city, there is another, smaller, community that is making great strides in helping people experiencing homelessness as well.

The basement of the student union at the University of Utah is in the process of building a new basic needs office to help students facing financial hardship and homelessness.

The University of Utah, home to 25,000 undergraduates, works daily to help find affordable housing for its students. The Student Affairs Division acts as an umbrella to multiple departments and centers on campus, including those focused on student diversity and inclusion.

Kimberly Hall, an associate director of development for Student Development and Inclusion, explained in a Zoom interview that the U helps students facing food scarcity and financial problems, and experiencing homelessness. 

“We want to take that concept and ideally help students learn to negotiate the university system as well as community resources to address their needs,” Hall said.

Student Affairs is creating a new office in the student union basement. It will be located next to the Feed U Pantry with the goal that more students will start to utilize the resources that they are paying for.  

The renovated area will be child friendly for parenting students, and will contain a financial wellness office to help with issues ranging from rent assistance to domestic violence situations. Because of its close proximity to the Feed U Pantry, students will also have access to food if they don’t have the money to cover that extra expense.

All across Salt Lake Valley the community is getting involved and making a difference in curbing homelessness.

Kat Kahn, director of development at the Road Home, is one of those individuals who is working hard every day to help people experiencing homelessness. Kahn believes that, “Anyone that wants to be housed should be able to be housed without it being really problematic.”

Community during COVID: How University of Utah student groups are staying connected


Students at the University of Utah, much like the rest of the world, were sent home in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic forced classes and extracurriculars online. In the fall of 2020, students were partially brought back to campus with classes offered in a hybrid-style. This largely consisted of online teaching, and classes that were able to meet in person had spaced-out seating and mandated masks.

A return to in-person academics was made a priority, but the lack of in-person community was a persisting challenge. Campus organizations, which rely on student engagement, have worked hard to stay connected to undergraduates during the past year.

The Panhellenic community, made up of seven sororities, has found success in not only staying connected, but also in growing its community. The Panhellenic President Erin Doyle said in a Zoom interview that rather than decreasing their sisterhood events or weekly chapter meetings, sororities have worked hard to adapt these events to be online.

In August 2020, Panhellenic hosted its yearly recruitment completely virtually (although they were able to have a partially in-person bid day). Despite this unprecedented challenge, it had more women register than in 2019, and several houses saw the largest member classes that they had seen in years.

Part of Delta Gamma’s fall 2020 new member class at their bid day, wrapping up a fully-virtual recruitment. Photo courtesy of Anna Henderson.

In February 2021, several sororities participated in a successful spring recruitment. Notably, Doyle said Delta Gamma was able to welcome a spring member class of 15 women, the first spring member class that it’s had since 2015.

Members of the community miss being in person. However, Doyle said that through social media the “supportive aura of the community has been making everyone feeling more connected.” Doyle also praised the houses for their creativity. Rather than just meeting up in the park for a picnic, women have hosted virtual Jeopardy games and Zoom “speed dating” events for new members of the house to meet everyone.

The LGBT Resource Center is another resource that is “making sure there are still opportunities to be in community,” said Shelby Hearn, the coordinator of education and outreach, in a Zoom interview. Its members had to think more creatively. Similar to the Panhellenic community, one of its biggest challenges has been the loss of its in-person offices and its student lounge.

Hearn said that pre-pandemic, “my door was open and students could come through. I definitely saw a lot more casual conversations — they see a picture of a cat on my desk, and talk about that, then eventually are talking about a coming-out strategy.”

The center has responded to this challenge by offering drop-in hours, Zoom appointments, and a virtual student lounge hosted via Discord. Discord will likely continue as a resource post-pandemic, Hearn said. “It remains really relevant to our students. They can dip their toe into the community while still remaining anonymous.”

Discord also allows students to find a more a relevant community. “Students can sign up for more specific channels, i.e., queer students of color, or a channel just for grad students,” Hearn said.

Although the center has seen a decrease in participation in its one-time events like its movie screenings and panel events, it has still seen consistent participation in some of its other events like its “fab Friday” hangouts (now over Zoom). It has also seen an increase in its one-on-one scheduled meetings along with the successes from the Discord channel.

Another community that has seen successful connection despite the pandemic is the Bennion Center.  BobbiJo Kanter, the associate director of student programs, said in a Zoom interview that several of its programs have had more student involvement than they did pre-pandemic.

A wall in the student union building (where the Bennion Center is located) dedicated to the Public Service Professor Award given by the center. Photo by Miranda Lamb.

The service corner located in the new freshman residence hall, Kahlert Village, has been heavily used by students. She said in an email interview that “students (and anyone from the campus community) have the opportunity to participate in projects that do not require any previous training or a significant time commitment.”

Bryce Williams, the student programs manager at the Bennion Center, said in an email interview that students have taken advantage of “ʻgrab and go’ opportunities” while still being safe. He said that they will “participate in some of our projects while watching a movie in their residence hall rooms or while they’re in a virtual class to keep their hands busy.”

Kanter said in a Zoom interview the center has also involved more students with its Alternative Breaks programs. These used to be offered at various locations across the world. However, due to travel restrictions, it has shifted to “hyper-local breaks” taking place in Salt Lake City. These are offered at no cost, which has allowed them to be accessible to more students. Kanter said this option may remain post-pandemic.

Despite its current success, getting up and moving after the initial shutdown was a challenge for the Bennion Center. Kanter said at first, “everything stopped, there were groups of students who were ready to help, but didn’t know how to.”

The Bennion Center emphasizes serving its community partners, focusing on listening to and serving their needs. Kanter said for those partners, “their priority has to be their community and their staff, so those people take priority then volunteers come after that.” It took some adjustments on both the part of the Bennion Center and its partners to navigate how to allow volunteers to help in the way they want to, but also in a way that is safe for and serves those in need.

The center has had to shift the way that it hosts its larger service projects as well. For example, the Legacy of Lowell service project typically brings in 800 to 1,000 people. However, this year participation was capped closer to 200 people, with volunteers broken into groups of 10 at each site.

Kanter said because of the smaller sizes, “we don’t get that same sense of community. People were still interested, we reached capacity. There is a demand, but for safety, we have to keep things smaller.”

Beyond just pandemic-related changes, Kanter said that the murder of George Floyd and the surrounding protests in May 2020 “mobilized students to show up — whether physically or mentally and internally,” and brought attention to “some of our systemic issues.” She said “this year had brought people together around activism. I’m not really sure we saw that with our students before.”

To serve this increased interest in activism, Kanter said in interviews that every two weeks, the Bennion Center has been virtually hosting monthly “community conversations” with other on-campus partners, namely the American Indian Resource Center, the Black Cultural Center and the Peace and Conflict Studies program in the College of Humanities. They are focusing on dialogues about “about what is happening and what they can do to change it.” She said these talks have been received well by the campus community.

Dean McGovern, the executive director of the Bennion Center, said in an email interview that “the topics vary and sessions have attracted more than 825 faculty, students, staff, and community members over the course of the dialogue series.”

Despite the changes and challenges from the pandemic, these communities were able to stay connected. The creativity and resilience of their members even resulted in solutions that will continue to serve students when in-person life continues. As Kanter said, “This year gave us an opportunity.”

How US public schools are lacking with the teaching of history regarding race


Why is it that students can recite the 45 presidents of the United States yet when asked to name important events of the Civil Rights Movement that becomes a challenging task?

History teaches us about our past, why things are the way they are today and most importantly it helps us shape our future by learning from our mistakes. 

“I think history is one of the most important subjects our kids can learn about,” said Michelle Bias, the parent of two Utah high school students, in a phone interview. “We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for our past.”

All across America in May 2020 following the death of George Floyd and continuing protests and riots, the public got a rude awakening to how little it truly knows about America’s history regarding race. 

George Floyd memorial in downtown Minneapolis. Photo by Abbey Dibble.

Slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement are all vital moments in our country’s racial history. Yet, many have only ever heard of these things. Teachers think that most high school students do not have an adequate understanding of America’s racial history. 

And why is that? Why is our knowledge lacking?

Currently, across the U.S. there is no unified standard for U.S. history curriculum. Each state sets its own standards. However, there is a set standard for what types of things should be studied generally, according to the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

And several states don’t mention the Civil Rights Movement, slavery or other related matters. In a recent analysis by CBS, the network found that “seven states do not directly mention slavery in their state standards and eight states do not mention the civil rights movement. Only two states mention white supremacy, while 16 states list states’ rights as a cause of the Civil War.”

Per the Utah Core State Standards for Social Studies for grades seven through 12, there are only two standards in the curriculum regarding race:

“Students will use case studies involving African American civil rights leaders and events to compare, contrast and evaluate the effectiveness of various methods used to achieve reform, such as civil disobedience, legal strategies and political organizing. … Students will identify the civil rights objectives held by various groups, assess the strategies used, and evaluate the success of the various civil rights movements in reaching their objectives, paying specific attention to American Indian, women and other racial and ethnic minorities.”

Megan Spencer, who is currently a student at the University of Utah who attended Alta High School in Sandy, Utah, said that she believes that her history education was lacking. 

“The ongoing events in our society have made me aware of so many issues regarding race that I have never learned before,” Spencer said in a Zoom interview. “I wish I would have learned this while I was in high school but now, I am left to take classes in college to learn about these important issues.”

To gain knowledge on these issues students are left to do their own learning and research or take additional classes where information is highly specific to a certain topic. 

The U offers classes regarding the history of race in the U.S. Some of these courses offered include American Slavery, American Revolution and Race, and Gender and Incarceration.

What can we do better as a society and how can we fill in this gap of knowledge? One place to start is with how the curriculum is written. 

“Cheap politics should not write our curriculum,” said Dave Harper, a Utah high school history teacher, in a phone interview. “Curriculum is and ought to be constructed by a number of groups such as parents, political leaders, teachers, and yes, student input, but not agenda-driven proponents. And such proposals must be based in accurate evidence.”

Within the history curriculum, there needs to be as much emphasis on subjects such as slavery, the Civil War and treatment of American Indians, as there is on the founding fathers and the U.S. Constitution. 

And it’s never too early to begin this teaching. Andrew Platt, an AP U.S. history teacher, said, “Children are raised in a country that is already inundated with messages about race both explicit and implicit. Children are already learning about race whether we like it or not.” Schools are a place where we can shape this teaching and inform children so they are well educated. 

Teachers are hopeful the events in the months following the death of George Floyd have taught the public and Congress that there need to be changes made with our public-school history curriculum. 

Platt said in a Zoom interview that he recently read “Caste: The Origins of our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson to better inform himself on issues regarding race. “I think this is the best way to understand America’s history with race. I think that we should teach the history of America’s racial caste system.”

Clearly, there is more work to be done. However, over the last 10 to 15 years, the United States has made improvements. TV host John Oliver said in a segment regarding the U.S. public education system, “History, when taught well, shows us how to improve the world, but history, when taught poorly, falsely claims there is nothing to improve. So we have to teach it well and continue to learn it.”

Dave Harper, the high school history teacher, said, “No school is ‘good’ the way things are and we strive to improve. Teachers constantly read and study the latest developments in their field, especially in U.S. history.”

How three Salt Lake City women are fighting modern day gender inequalities with their social media platform, Fluence


A Salt Lake City-based company is combating gender inequalities with empowering social media posts. Nicole Wawro, Alba Fonseca, and Sinclaire Pierce are the three women behind the social media platform known as Fluence

In a technologically driven world, Fluence is discovering innovative approaches for practical solutions geared toward women.

The idea of women being at a disadvantage in society is a concept that many consider to be antiquated. But for Wawro, Fonseca, and Pierce, this was one of their founding principles — to educate and advocate for women who always felt as though they were falling behind, but couldn’t figure out why. So, after sitting down together and coming to the same realization, they decided to start a company designed specifically for women. 

Nicole Wawro sits in the Fluence podcast studio. Photo courtesy of Fluence.

The three shared similar experiences of gender-based workplace discrimination. This was a huge factor in what drove them into their research. “They fired all the women in my firm who were eligible to take maternity leave because they didn’t want to pay it out,” Wawro said in a FaceTime interview. This was what ignited her desire to stand up for women in the workplace. 

Fonseca shared instances in which she would bring up good ideas that were instantly dismissed. In later meetings a man would bring up the same idea and it would be labeled as “genius” and “perfect.” 

Pierce had always struggled with being interrupted, and it wasn’t until their research was conducted that she realized maybe there was a gender piece to it. “I always thought people interrupted because they were mean, not because the person talking was a woman,” Pierce said in a FaceTime interview. 

These new realizations led to a shared understanding — that until they made people recognize there is a problem, they couldn’t begin to solve it.

The company experienced immediate growth, quickly gaining the attention of thousands of people. “Part of it was timing, and part of it was strategic,” Pierce said. “We saw an opportunity with TikTok and we jumped on it.” They attribute a large majority of the growth to the fact that the stories they were sharing resonated with so many women, and TikTok was becoming an incredibly popular app for young women.

Fluence’s TikTok account has more than 308,000 followers.

The inequalities women face tend to remain swept under the rug, and for Fluence this seemed controversial. The entire purpose of the brand is to achieve more influence and affluence for women, which is why these inequalities are publicly recognized. “We believe that when women have more influence the world becomes a better place,” Wawro said.

Upon obtaining more recognition, Fluence received an overwhelming amount of responses from women who didn’t even understand that these were real issues. And since they didn’t understand they were real issues, they didn’t understand there were real solutions. 

Emma Watson, the actor and feminist advocate, said in her 2014 speech to the United Nations that what many young women fail to realize is that they are living in a society that for hundreds of years has been working against them.

This ideology has become a huge focal point for Fluence. “A lot of people don’t even know where to find information. Being a platform that challenges a perspective to see things differently is something so powerful,” Fonseca said.

The company produces content across Instagram, TikTok, and even music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. A recent video addressed a hand signal used to signify domestic violence in the home.

A main goal of the company is to create refreshing and accessible content that can reach a diverse group of people. Its success is based upon how many people Fluence is able to reach in terms of followers and views.

“Our audience is global — the U.S., Canada, Germany, the UK, Australia,” Pierce said when asked about its demographic. It strives to appeal and market itself toward young women. “If you can catch a 13-year-old before she experiences these horrible things … before she decides, ‘I’m not going into STEM’ — that’s so powerful,” Pierce said.

Fluence targets high school women, educating them on topics such as building confidence and fighting the stigma. From lower left: Katya Benedict, Isela Ayala, Jackie Helbert, and Karen Bruce.

Ultimately, the goal for this company is to change the world, and these three founders believe it has the power to do so. When women are lifted, when women become more active in their homes, communities, and businesses, the result is better for everyone, Pierce said. 

Alba Fonseca wears the Women’s Empowerment Pullover, which features the names Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Serena Williams, and Aretha Franklin. Photo courtesy of Fluence.

Fluence understands that to reach a global market, it has to keep in mind how differently women live in different parts of the globe. But the first step begins with education in order to help women feel more independent, valuable, and capable, no matter their situation.

“I want to empower women to do something about these issues. I want to enable them with very specific tools and resources and practical solutions to then make changes,” Pierce said. Fluence is a community, and the more people it is able to reach, the stronger this community can become. 

Alba Fonseca, left, and Sinclaire Pierce working behind the scenes for a TikTok video. Photo courtesy of Nicole Wawro.

The company does not define itself as the stereotypical feminists people most often picture. The image the owners want to portray does not include feelings of anger or distaste, but rather optimism. The brand intends to be fun, sarcastic, and lighthearted but based on high quality information.

“This company helps people feel validated and understood,” Fonseca said. Fluence centers around being a positive light for women everywhere, no matter what inequalities they might have experienced. So whether it be an informative Instagram story based on well-detailed research, or a goofy TikTok video mocking sexism in the workplace, Fluence is changing the lives of women everywhere.

LGBTQ+U: The community at the University of Utah

Story and photos by ANDREW LURAS

Salt Lake City is known as being one of the most Mormon cities in America. And to counter the common knowledge of that, it’s also known as one of the “gayest” cities, which many people find hard to believe.

With it being known as this type of city, many different students from out of state are probably wondering how the University of Utah may reflect those values.

The conversation of the LGBTQ+ has always been around, but it’s become such a widespread debate through politicians, news, and just everyday conversation. This community is constantly fighting for its well-deserved rights in this country, as well as the freedom to walk around safely without the lingering fear of running into the many hateful people who reside within America. 

LGBTQ+ students are seeking out which colleges and universities to attend based on many differing factors such as how accepting toward them will their future campus be. With the U, at new student orientation, the staff will kindly ask you to state your name, without it even having to be your birth name, and your pronouns, such as he/him, she/her, they/them, etc.

The LGBT Resource Center is located on the fourth floor in room 409 inside the U’s A. Ray Olpin Union building. The center was founded in 2002 by Stayner Landward and Kay Harward, both retired and moved on. This was during a time when the Mormon church was “anti-gay” with many of its teachings and practices showing some distaste toward gay marriage, according to Whit Hollis, the director of the Student Union. It started out as just an LGBT student organization with weekly meetings garnering a range of 80 to 250 students. 

Hollis attended a few of these meetings. “There was a clear need for services for that group of students, faculty, and staff of course due to the sheer size of the student organization,” Hollis said. When creating the resource center, Landward and Harward found support from the student body and administration at the U but it wasn’t always like that. 

Proposition 8, also known as Prop 8, came about during 2008. It was a ballot proposition against same-sex marriage. During this time the LGBTQ+ found themselves being targeted for hate-speech and microaggressions. “They would tell us, ‘Why do you need more rights, you already have equal rights,’ which was bullshit,” Hollis said. 

“Things have definitely been better recently. There’s still these microaggressions going around but the U has improved since the resource center first started,” Hollis said. He commented on the many different locations the resource center has occupied as it’s grown. “There was a point where I had to convert a storage closet to be the center’s main room which was ironic for the gay director to put all the gays in the closet,” Hollis said as he laughed at the idea. 

“Right now it seems to be quite successful, but we all can strive to do better, no matter where we are,” Hollis said. “The U isn’t as safe as it needs to be and that we must always strive to make the U a safe campus for all students, faculty, and staff who attend or work here.”

As of February 2019, the resource center’s director is Clare Lemke, the former assistant director of the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success at Iowa State University. “I was looking for my next step and Utah wasn’t on my radar,” she said. “I’ve been looking for different opportunities in the West and this job came up.” Lemke had been moving in order to try to find something closer to her partner’s career. When this job opportunity appeared, she became surprised by the vibrancy of diversity in the U’s campus with the many queer and transgender people she has been able to meet on campus. 

Originally, she thought she was studying to become a professor but over time she found that working in a resource center felt more “collaborative” than being a traditional educator. Currently at the resource center there are three full time staff members and two student staff members. “All of our staff here bring a wealth of different backgrounds and personalities. It’s refreshing to see for the students who visit the center,” Lemke said. 

When it comes to the changes the U has gone through in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance, Lemke feels as if the U “isn’t just a place you go to and leave at 5 p.m. anymore.”

Lemke finds that the U is very different from her previous institution. “I don’t think I’ve been anywhere with so much of its influence being made by the different cultures within the U.” She added, “We’re constantly striving to make the U a safe space for queer and trans students, we just want to make sure we don’t let these negative experiences an LGBTQ+ student might have affect the rest of their life here.”

One student in particular, who asked to be identified as “G,” said she had some pretty odd experiences at the U as an LGBTQ+ member. “I’m a business major and a lot of the students in those buildings in particular are pretty discriminatory towards my sexuality.”

G also said her Mormon peers have invited her to church. “They would be overly friendly at first,” she said, but she felt like they were only inviting her to change her sexual orientation.

G doesn’t know how accepting the rest of campus is, but that experience left her with much anxiety. She found it harder to reach out to many of her peers or professors about this issue but she found solace in the many other friends outside of school who were LGBTQ+ accepting. G used to go to Westminster College and she felt the transition from there to the U was “an odd experience.” G said there is room for improvement at the U and we should be looking for ways to help students have an overall great campus life.

“I’ve been to the resource center a few times,” G said. “Clare [Lemke] and the staff at the center are very helpful, though I had trouble finding it at first. If you are a part of the LGBTQ+ you should definitely check out the resource center, they’re a really great group of people, especially if you had an experience on campus like mine.”  Even with G’s experience at the U, she has decided to stay and not let it affect her pursuit of a business degree. This is just one in the many cases of what it’s like to be a student at the U who is a part of the LGBTQ+. 

As much as Salt Lake City has this good image on being an open and welcoming city to the LGBTQ+, students, faculty, and staff at the U are always working on improving upon the areas they may be lacking in. Whit Hollis believes we need to focus more on the safety of our LGBTQ+ members. And Lemke knows we must prioritize these students because the negative experiences they might have on campus may affect their education here. As Hollis, Lemke, and G have agreed on, the U should always be striving to do better in order to figure out the best way to serve its students so they can have an educational, safe, and happy experience here on campus. 


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Traumatizing aftermath of active school shooter drills

Story and gallery by EMMA WILLIAMS

The number of school shootings broke records in 2018. Today’s youth are growing up engulfed in an epidemic of violence. According to The Washington Post, more than 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence in school since the Columbine shooting in 1999.

Earthquake and fire drills have always been viewed by education boards as a precautionary step. Now lockdown or school shooters drills are being given the same priority.

Active shooter preparation can be extremely traumatizing for all students, especially those in younger elementary grades. School protocol and drills are leaving young students between the ages of 5 and 10 upset, ill-informed and scared to return to school.

For children in younger level schooling people carrying guns are simply “bag guys.” They don’t understand the importance of staying safe because their young minds can’t grasp the sincerity of the killer’s harm.

Madyson Skelton, second-grade teacher at Diamond Ridge Elementary School in West Valley City, says her school practices two drills each year, both “a hard and soft lockdown.” Soft lockdowns are for when there is harm in the neighborhood surrounding the school. Each classroom turns off the lights and continues teaching to keep the children calm, Skelton explains.

A hard lockdown is for when the shooter is inside the school. Skelton was taught through district training to have her students stay away from doors and windows and be quiet. Skelton is in a classroom with 28 7- to 8-year-olds.

“After the drills I can always tell what students feel anxiety,” Skelton says. The students are young and confused by the drills. They are cramped up against a wall and told to be quiet. “After the lockdown drill we talk about it with the students to let them know it was just in case of an emergency.”

Skelton says there aren’t any notes sent home to parents warning them of the day and time of the drills. “It’s always the girls who say it’s scary.” Skelton says there is always a lot of giggling and squirming during the drills.

In a hard lockdown practice drill in February, Skelton says she heard one of her students ask another student why they had to do these drills. The student answered, “This is if someone is going to shoot up the school.”

She says she hushed the student and told them the drill was to keep them and their classmates safe if someone were to come into the school. Skelton explains the concern of wondering if the children had discussed with their parents what was happening in schools all around the country or, if the chatter was a result of something they had heard from another or older student.

Barrett Brinkerhoff, a 5-year-old kindergartener at Eastwood Elementary School in Salt Lake City, says he has had two drills in his classroom this year. “We go somewhere to hide so we don’t get killed or something,” he says.

Barrett says his teachers tell the students what is happening and why it is so important to be still and quiet during the drills. Barrett says the kids in his class don’t take it seriously and tease one another during the drills. He says the teachers hush them “to keep them safe so they don’t get fired.”

According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network , the best way to get prepared is to run successful drills. It describes using age-specific language, to send handouts home with students and reassure all student concerns. Determining who will need additional mental or physical support will help successfully execute these drills and minimize student and parent upset.

Barrett’s mother, Jessica Brinkerhoff, feels her child’s school could be making a better effort at informing parents who can prep their children. “Nothing was sent home or posted online — and I wish there would have been.”

Brinkerhoff says she doesn’t know what her school is advising students to do to stay safe during drills. After both drills Barret has come home anxious and curious. “I just tell him there is only so much we can control and that we have done all we can to keep you safe,” Brinkerhoff says.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network advises informing parents of all specific protocol. Identify all types of drills and what each drill is helping to prevent. Conduct informal meeting so parents can ask questions to better inform their child and ease stress.

The FBI National Webpage reports 30 total active shooter incidents in 2017 across the United States, 11 being at schools. And 250 total shooter incidents from 2000 to 2017.

The solution to solving gun violence and improving mental health isn’t as simple as performing an in-school drill. Giving students of all ages the resources, regulations and information to help prevent a possible fatality is worth all the time and effort.

Remembering delicate young minds are at stake when participating in drills will help eliminate child and parent upset. Active shooter or invader drills are terrifying to people of all ages.

Photos curtsey of Madyson Skelton and Jessica Brinkerhoff

The most sustainable and ethical diet for people and the planet

Story and photo gallery by CAMILLE AGLAURE

With so much talk concerning diet in the media, many people find it difficult to know what to eat. What foods are ethically sourced and grown? What foods truly promote human health? What foods support the health of the planet? These are all questions that are fogging up the minds of so many people.  

One thing that Thunder Jalili, Ph.D., and a professor of nutrition and integrative physiology, and Anne Pesek Taylor, registered dietitian, at the University of Utah can both agree on is that, generally speaking, a healthier plate is one with more plants and less overly processed foods and added sugar. 

Pesek Taylor said in an email interview that balanced nutrition needs to account for individual food preferences, lifestyle factors, and include a variety of food groups so it can be maintained long-term. Pesek Taylor referred to the University of Utah’s Healthy Eating Plate, an adaptation of the government’s MyPlate created in 2011, as a useful guide to good health.

What does this mean for meat and dairy, though?

Studies like the popular health book “The China Study” and documentaries like “What the Health” and “Cowspiracy”detail the harmful effects to humans and the environment that come with the consumption of animal-based foods. Jalili said he believes that the absolute exclusion of animal-based foods is not necessarily vital. However, regarding meat, “a little still means a little,” he said. 

Jalili said the maximum recommended intake of red meat is 100 grams per day while the maximum for processed meat is 50 grams. “Once a day is still a lot,” he said, and as far as human health is concerned, many studies indicate that there is, in fact, a decrease in mortality rate among those who maintain a vegan and vegetarian diet. When considering environmental health, there is slightly more to be taken into account when writing out your grocery list.

As more media attention surrounds the question of climate change versus animal agriculture, many organizations and communities are reevaluating the importance of animal-based foods, particularly meat, in a standard, western diet. 

“Raising cows is an environmental disaster,” Jalili said. With animal agriculture accounting for 91 percent of rainforest deforestation, according to The World Bank, and more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector, according to the United Nations, Jalili said he believes that it is time for groups of people, like nutritionists, to not focus on health alone, but the bigger picture. “It’s just responsible,” he said. 

So, is a universal vegan diet the solution?

In the opinion of Christy Clay, Ph.D., an associate professor at Westminster College who teaches courses on subjects including biology, ecology, and environmental studies, “a homogenous, universal diet is exactly what has caused so many problems in our current food system.”

Clay said she believes that the current food system has created a monster of unequal distribution of foods, the elimination of native crops and variation, and potentially the loss of culture and professions. 

“We’re not understanding the limitations and values of local resources,” Clay said, as she explained the harms in seeking mainstream foods that do not naturally occur locally. Clay used the example of quinoa, a grain that grows in the Andes that is now exported to Western countries more than it is provided for locals who have depended on the grain in their diets for centuries. To be truly sustainable and ethical, Clay maintained that “diets should be bio-regional.”

For Clay, the ethical question of which foods to eat is not as simple as drastically lowering our consumption of meat. Rather, “there’s a whole dismantling of a current food system that needs to happen,” Clay said as she painted a picture of just how disrupted our way of eating has become. 

So, where do we begin?

Clay suggested that the first action to take is having the conversation about “how broken our food system is.” This consists of poor income for those in the agriculture industry, the cost and precarious nature of leasing land to farmers, a decline in community gardens, and loss of interest in crops that have fallen out of the mainstream.

“What does it look like to say we actually value this profession?” wondered Clay as she additionally suggested encouraging communities to be a space for local gardening. Already, there are a number of organizations working to do just that, including Green Urban Lunch Box, which goes from school to school, educating children on the value of local gardening while furthermore educating local farmers. 

Making a difference in your community requires collective action to encourage local agriculture and farming. Clay suggested gardening out of your own backyard. If you live in an apartment complex, ask your landlord or property owner about creating a roof garden. Clay also suggested engaging with other community gardens and protecting land to be used for local farming. Getting back in touch with a farm-to-table way of eating is imperative for a sustainable diet. Rekindling a healthy and community-based relationship with food is the best way for individuals to eat ethically, healthily, and in an environmentally friendly way. 

The “Me Too” movement and its impact on college campuses

By Laura Child

SALT LAKE CITYThe Me Too movement’s purpose is to help survivors of sexual violence find healing, particularly young women of color from low-income communities. The movement began to gain traction when the MeToo hashtag went viral on social media platforms in 2016. Subsequently, the movement’s goal has evolved to include the expansion of global conversations around sexual assault, and to find advocates willing to share their own experiences and seek justice misconduct.

These shared experiences remind everyone of what it means to be sexually assaulted. Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact that happens without consent.

The social media movement galvanized around the sexual assault case of Harvey Weinstein, but has resulted in many celebrities and individuals coming forward to share their own as victims of sexual misconduct. Men and women have found empowered and healing through sharing their voice and fighting for justice.

 Reports of sexual assaults in the workplace and on college campuses have increased since 2006. Universities have been criticized for a lack of enforcement and measure to protect students from misconduct. The social movement has forced universities to create new procedures, certifications, and resources for their students on campus. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 20-25 percent of college women and 15 percent of college men are victims of forced sex during their time in college. Unfortunately, more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses don’t get reported. Since 2017, however, there has been an increase in the number of sexual assaults reported on college campuses. Many universities have worked to develop campaigns and rallies to help make their students feel safe and heard.

In 2017, thirty-two sexual assault cases were reported to the University of Utah. However, these cases were campus-only reports, which means they didn’t include the off-campus sexual assaults of U of U students, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Police Chief Dale Brophy doesn’t believe the school is seeing an uptick in sexual violence; he thinks more survivors are reporting. “More reporting is a good thing,” he says. Following an investigation on how the U handles their assault reporting, the U launched the SafeU website last year in hopes of better supporting their students. The website’s goal is to inform and provide students with several tools and resources. This website allows students to file reports under section IX. The U has also added additional forms of counseling, reporting, therapy, medical services, and police reporting.

 The U has a variety of resources for students who have been victim to sexual misconduct. “The Student and Wellness Centers helps those who have suffered by allowing them to chose the best way of healing from their own trauma,” says Ellie Goldberg, Assistant Director of Advocacy. The goal is to be a students support system by creating a safe, confidential atmosphere.

Survivor advocates, provide resources for students on campus to help heal, provide medical referrals, help financially, inform on legal justice options, or provide free counseling.  “No one should ever have to go through this trauma. If they do, we will do everything in our power to help them heal in a sensitive environment,” says Darrah Jones, one of the Survivor Advocates at the U.

 As members of the university community, it is important to become involved in the prevention of sexual assault campus. The police department at the U has held various bystander certification courses to help inform students, raise awareness, and provide skills to recognize, intervene, prevent and/or stop inappropriate comments, actions, and behaviors.

The U also provides seminars and guest speakers to help inform individuals on how to prevent these situations. ”We must teach our young adults about sexual misconduct from a young age in today’s society. The hard conversations about safe sex, intimate relationships, and social-emotional learning are conversations that can truly make a difference,” said Anita Hill, in a recent forum held at the University of Utah Alumni Center.  

As students and members of the University of Utah community, we can help end gender-based violence on campus by becoming better educated. We must unlearn rape myths, such as the belief that rapes are only committed by strangers or that alcohol can justify sexual assault. Myths like these protect the assaulters and create an environment where survivors aren’t supported. If we are aware of someone who is experiencing this, we can be supportive by believing, listening, and educating. By doing so, we can help guide them to the resources they may need. If this movement has taught me anything, it has made me believe that when we come together and voice our opinions, we can be heard and make a difference.

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Women in Utah recently rank more sexist than men

Story and photos by KAELI WILTBANK

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has recently been ranked the second most sexist state in the United States. Leading the pack of sexist attitudes is . . . well, surprisingly, it’s women. In a study done by economists at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and National University Singapore, questions such as “Are men better suited emotionally for politics than are most women?” and “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and [the woman] takes care of the home and family” were asked.

ARSEJ5B5MNESHCTVRLPYBSJE2UImage from Washington Post

The study showed that the queen bees of Utah held their position as No. 2, while the men dropped, granted, still quite low, but to No. 5 in the ranking of most sexist states. Yes, that means the women of Utah are more sexist than the men.

“You experience inherent sexism every day in Utah and I think a lot of it is stuff that you


Real queens fix each other’s crowns.

don’t really notice,” says Becca Rettenberger, Operations Manager at a Salt Lake City-based marketing agency, Friendemic. Rettenberger continues to explain how our communities, our workplaces, our homes are all tainted with gender inequality and have been for as long as we can go back in the textbooks. Unfortunately, we’ve become so accustomed to swimming in it that we can hardly distinguish what gender inequality looks and feels like.

“From a business standpoint, I can list several different instances where I was working alongside other women or reporting to women,” says Rettenberger, “it was very much not an ‘I’m up here and I’m going to pull you up here as well so you have a voice at the table, it was a stay in your lane conversation the majority of the time.”

Why did Utah rank so high in the study on gender inequality? 

Rachel Griffin, a professor at the University of Utah who specializes in race and gender studies, says there exists an inherent sexism in Utah.  “It’s not just gendered, it’s power-laden with religion.”

The strong presence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must be considered when analyzing the results of the study. “Akin to every major religion we have, Mormonism is deeply anchored in patriarchy,” says Griffin. “Feminism offers a critique of patriarchy, and most people aren’t a fan of being critiqued.”


Mother’s arms hold more than they realize.

Whitney Baggaley is a University of Utah graduate and stay at home mother. She is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “It’s such a social church. If every woman at church is a stay at home mom, there are a lot of social pressures surrounding that,” she says. 

Not only is Utah a very religious state, but it’s also a very conservative state. Still, this can’t simply be regarded a red vs blue issue. Typically conservative states such as Wyoming and Alaska led the country in gender equality. That’s right, these conservative states pay the same salary for the same job, regardless of gender. People feel valued in their workplace, regardless of their gender. There are equal opportunities for both men and women to lead the company meeting. n these conservative states, all of these rights and opportunities are offered, regardless of gender.

“Utah is the land of extremes,” says Baggaley, where stay at home mothers are extremely passionate about their role as wives and mothers, and the working women and the women in politics are equally passionate about what they do. Perhaps such an extreme spectrum anomaly creates an atmosphere where women have a hard time supporting other women who don’t do things the same way as them.

At an event hosted by the Communications Department at The University of Utah, Dialoguing Across Differences, a small group of community members discussed how to approach polarizing topics, such as politics, religion, and sex. The conversation turned towards discussing intentions. Perhaps you’re standing in line at the grocery store and someone in front of you takes a step backward, stepping on your toes. Did the person intend to step on your toes? Probably not. Nevertheless, those good intentions don’t take away the pain of your toes being crushed. Until we get the courage to tap our linemate on the shoulder and say “Excuse me, you’re stepping on my toes. That hurts,” the person may not see how their actions are affecting those around them.

There’s something to be said about intentions, they are a powerful driving force behind our thoughts and actions. While Utah is filled to the brim with well-intended women, perhaps we need to take a step back and see who’s toes we may be stepping on. No matter which side of the feminism line we stand on, there seems to be discord among the women of the state. How powerful a force we could be if we realized the pain we may be causing others by our good intentions, then found the courage to join together in mutual support, regardless of differences.

Reflection Blog

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Bags to Beds program makes a lasting impact upon the homeless community in Salt Lake City

Story, photos, and video by SPENCER K. GREGORY

A local student has created a service project that has impacted the homeless community in Salt Lake City.

Kaitlin Mclean, creator and director of the Bags to Beds program.

Kaitlin McLean, a fifth-year student at the University of Utah, has created a system in which the participant recycles plastic bags, creates plastic yarn, and produces mats that she said can then be used to “help our homeless neighbors.” This service project has been referred to as Bags to Beds.

“Bags to Beds is a community service project that’s looking to reduce waste for our community by breaking down plastic bags that can’t be recycled,” McLean said.

She organized this student-directed service project through the Bennion Center. The Bennion Center is a nonprofit organization on the U’s campus that serves the local community.

Since then, McLean is now the director of the program and has made a tremendous impact upon sustainability within the Salt Lake Valley.

She said that it averages about 40-50 hours of service per mat.

Students can get involved with however much time they want to spend.

One U student, Megan Peterson, said, “The project itself was really easy, and not hard to understand.”

Peterson is currently a third-year student who is studying communication with an emphasis in strategic communication. She specifically loves to help out the Bennion Center Scholars program.

Peterson mentions how she was first introduced to Bags to Beds at a Scholars social where they just ate pizza. In the meeting they casually discussed goal setting with students pursuing their work for their personal engagement within the community.

Afterward, the Scholars were unified in their efforts to cut plastic bags into objects that would later be used into “plarn.”

U students hard at work with “plarn.”

“Plarn” is the term that Bags to Beds has adopted to describe the unique process of creating the service phenomenon.

Bryan Luu offers insight as to the process and functionality of plarn making. He said, “Plarn is a form of plastic yarn. It’s what wove together these giant mats. All of it’s made from plastic bags that have just been cut into strips and tied together to resemble the yarn.”

Once the mats are made from the plarn, they are immediately distributed to a local resource center or to Project Homeless Connect.

Homeless Connect is a one-day event that helps provide services and outlets for those who are homeless. People can learn how to get involved in this project by visiting the website.

The program has a tremendous connection to the Project Homeless Connect happening in downtown Salt Lake City. “We’ll have all the mats we’ve finished throughout the year for those that are anticipating they’ll be outside this year,” McLean said.

McLean said they expect to help more than 600 individuals during 2018.
“It also gives us an opportunity to work with other people who work with this population, and also get to know the people we are serving,” she said.

This program has made a great impact upon a tremendous social issue.
Peterson said, “Even though homelessness itself is such a huge issue, they’re just trying to help a little bit by taking waste that can’t even be recycled, and then re-using them for something useful.”

Peterson added, “It also helped me focus in on an issue that I’m not thinking about all the time.”

Bryan Luu - FIXED_Moment2

Bryan Luu shares his experience with Bags to Beds.

Luu, a fifth-year student at the U studying civil engineering and urban ecology, said, “My time with Bags to Beds really has shaped a lot of my community involvement because I feel as if I can continue making a difference. Just having that knowledge, is just really important. Then I can be able to still give back to my community.”

Students or other patrons can visit Bags to Beds to get actively involved. Visitors can then fill out a volunteer interest form.

Bags to Beds has trained organizations and individuals to work independently on the service project at the Bennion Center or even at home.

Bags to Beds Website2 - Copy_Moment

Bags to Beds was founded by University of Utah student Kaitlin McLean.

So if you’re a community member, student, or local citizen in the community there are many ways for you to get engaged in this great organization. According to McLean, Bags to Beds can even personally deliver plarn right at your door.

Peterson said it’s an “easy way to get involved.”

Paige Remington, another student at the U, said, “Although I am not directly helping people who are experiencing homelessness, I am using my hands and my time to create something that will hopefully alleviate a small amount of suffering.”

Debbie Hair, the administrative assistant for the Bennion Center.

Debbie Hair is the administrative assistant for the Bennion Center. She has helped the founder of Bags to Beds from the beginning. She said, “This project went off miraculously with a lot of attention.”

Hair added, “There’s a couple of different reaches this program has, one is environment. We’re not just reaching out to the homeless to give them comfort, but we’re also repurposing those bags.”

According to Bags to Beds, the program has collected over 12,000 plastic bags for active sustainable use in the community.

Bags to Beds has a plan to prepare a model that is sustainable moving forward. McLean said, “The project will continue to flourish no matter how many students there are.”

Students through the Bennion Center and community members in the Salt Lake Valley have been the main community engagement resource, providing service hours for the program. However, the organization plans to spread to other cities.

Since the early years of the program, it has now officially become an incorporated business outside of the Bennion Center.

McLean said, “Bags to Beds is now in the process of becoming a tax-deductible nonprofit organization.” Bags to Beds has made a tremendous impact upon the homeless society in the Salt Lake Valley and will continue to change countless future lives.

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An nonprofit’s initiative to educate Utah about child abuse

Story and images by ALLISON PFERDNER

The statistic — one in five Utah kids will be sexually abused before they turn 18 — is one of the first things you’ll see when you visit Prevent Child Abuse Utah’s website. Prevent Child Abuse Utah, or PCAU, is a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate children and parents throughout the state in hopes of lowering Utah’s child abuse rate, which is three times the national average.

Child abuse statistics are framed and hung in the organization’s offices in Salt Lake City.

PCAU has developed an age-appropriate curriculum and staff go into K-12 schools to teach children how to recognize abuse and empower them to report it.

As the community outreach program administrator for PCAU, Gwen Knight trains adults to recognize abuse, understand the reporting laws in Utah, and support the students once they report. Knight said that according to research, once adults are taught to recognize abuse and report it, they are more likely to want their children to learn about it as well.

This is Gwen Knight in her office at PCAU’s headquarters in Salt Lake City.

This brings up the topic of how PCAU brings awareness to its organization and how it gets into schools to teach its curriculum. Through community outreach programs, booths at the PTA Convention, and the many presentations PCAU does throughout the state, schools will reach out to PCAU to learn more about having the nonprofit come teach its curriculum in specific schools.

While many schools want the organization to teach its curriculum, other schools are difficult to get into. Knight provides a few counterpoints for some of the common reasons why schools say no. First, schools use the excuse of not having time for the classes. Knight said, “It only takes 30 minutes and if a child is dealing with abuse, they aren’t focusing anyway.” Second, schools don’t want their communities to perceive that their schools have children being abused in them. However, research shows that abuse happens in every demographic.

This is Safetysaurus, the puppet mascot, which is used to teach children in schools.

Parents have the opportunity to review the curriculum before it is taught and if they don’t approve, they are able to indicate that they don’t want their child to participate. The age-appropriate curriculum covers every kind of abuse including sexual, emotional, neglect, and physical abuse. It teaches children that their bodies belong to them.

PCAU is a statewide organization with community partners in Box Elder, Cedar City, the Uintah Basin, Tooele, Park City, and the Wasatch area. It trains people in each of these areas on its curriculum. This helps the nonprofit reach more people.

This organization also provides a program called Parents as Teachers in Davis County. Staff go directly to the homes of pregnant women and families with kids up to the age of 5. They provide instruction on how to raise healthy children by teaching about nutrition, sleep, safety, and discipline.

PCAU’s Certificate of Charter is displayed on the front desk in the Salt Lake office.

Rebecca Virgo, the Parents As Teachers Program administrator, says that other than reaching out to households, the program gets referrals from hospitals as well as families contacting them. The program has a list of stressors that staff pay attention to in order to know who they should reach out to. Some of these stressors are: military families, incarcerated parents, teen parents, and any type of illness present in the home.

Virgo said the biggest challenge of going into homes and working with the families is the observation that “helping is not always helpful.” When some parents receive help, they often don’t feel like they are seen as capable or trustworthy. It is more important for the visiting staff to connect the family with resources that will assist them rather than doing all the work for the parents.

A pinwheel is the symbol for preventing child abuse in America.

The staff’s main goals when they work with families are to facilitate connection, help them achieve goals, and to supply them with a wide range of parenting skills. “Your story that you grew up with doesn’t have to be your story for your children,” Virgo said.

The program is helping 120 families right now and is looking to expand to help 45 more in the near future. Due to the labor-intensive nature of this program, it can’t expand too far but Virgo suggests an alternative to families who want the extra help.

If you text utfamily to 27448, you can subscribe to Bright by Text, which sends out messages to parents of children prenatal to 5 years old. The messages contain helpful information based on the age of the child on things like child development, health and safety, and tips.

In both of these programs, Community Outreach and Parents as Teachers, Prevent Child Abuse Utah is spreading awareness and making a difference in children’s lives around the state.

As the assistant to the executive director, Ashley Workman urges everyone “not to underestimate the importance of what we do.”

“You can never teach this information too much,” Workman said.

So much growth has already happened in PCAU and the communities it works with and so much more can happen, Workman said. She wants parents to “not be surprised by the fact that the majority of abusers are people the child trusts because it’s unfortunately common.”

Workman’s plea to parents is: “If they run into a child that’s been abused, beg them to support the child.”

Prevent Child Abuse Utah’s logo on the main wall in the office.

University of Utah fraternity partners with Rape Recovery Center

Story and slideshow by MADDY HOWARD

Don’t walk to your car alone. Don’t go on a run without pepper spray. Don’t make eye contact too long. Don’t dress like you’re asking for it.

All of these are “rules” young people have been told in hope of avoiding sexual assault.

Sexual assault is an epidemic that has affected campuses nationwide. Universities such as Stanford, Brown and Baylor all have an extensive history of sexual assault on campus. Many people do not believe universities are doing enough to keep students safe.

Well, what if someone told you a fraternity was speaking out against sexual assault?

At the University of Utah, Beta Theta Pi is dedicated to making a change. Beta is a fraternity which brands itself as men of principle.

These men excel in academics with an overall average GPA of 3.4. Additionally, they have the highest GPA out of any organization, club, or team at the University of Utah, according to the office of the Dean of Students. “These men hold themselves to the highest standard possible which makes them one of the most respected fraternities on campus,” said Josie Karren, a U student and Delta Gamma member.

Beta is partnered with the Rape Recovery Center in hopes of changing sexual assault not only at the U, but across the nation.

The Rape Recovery Center is a nonprofit organization in Salt Lake City. Services include support, testing and providing hope for victims from every walk of life. RRC helps people understand they are not alone, and understand that their attack does not define them.

Beta has been working with RRC for almost five years. Stereotypes tell the world fraternity men are part of the problem and are nothing but partiers. In 2014, the U’s chapter of Beta Theta Pi was featured on the Dr. Phil show. Phil McGraw’s wife, Robin McGraw, was in awe of what these men are trying to accomplish.

Philanthropy Week is full of fundraising for the RRC and happens every fall and spring. For Beta members, it’s a time to raise money for victims. Taking place from Feb. 26-March 3, spring 2018 Philanthropy Week was a huge success, according to Noah Carr. He is the current vice president of internal programming. His duties include planning events throughout the week. Many of these events take place at the recently renovated $2.3 million chapter house.

Beta planned fun events that brought all of Greek row, and even some non-Greeks out to support. From designing hoodies to creating pop sockets as a unique way to raise money, Carr was dedicated to finding ways to raise money.

“Handling the Philanthropy Week for Beta was an unbelievable and humbling experience. Working so close with the RRC and proactively doing things for the community is what makes all the work worth it. We raised $14,000 for this great organization in less than six days and it’s an awesome feeling to know you’re making a difference,” Carr said.

In addition to raising funds for RRC, many of the fraternity members spend time volunteering. Many of these men help however they can at the RRC in their free time.

Volunteering requires 40 hours of extensive training. Many Betas are hotline counselors. This means they act as an over-the-phone counselor to victims. These volunteers have saved lives by talking to victims.

“I started picking up shifts every week. I like the idea that I am there if someone needs me,” Ravi Sharma said in a recent recruitment video. Sharma has been a member of Beta for two years and is passionate about the partnership with the RRC.

On campus, Beta started organizing sexual assault forums once every semester. These are open discussions about sexual assault that are open to anybody. The forums are designed to be a relaxed environment to talk about intense subjects.

Members of Beta Theta Pi believe men need to do more to stand up against sexual violence. During an interview, there was a clear theme. They want victims to know they are not alone. These men want to speak out on an issue that has been swept under the rug for far too long.

Anthony Panuzio, 20, the current president of Beta, said the partnership with RRC is a main reason why he even chose Beta in the first place.

“I am honored to represent a group of men that are dedicated to change. Sexual violence is something many people just don’t want to talk about. Talking about it is the only way we are going to make a difference. It makes me proud that Beta’s aren’t afraid to be the ones who speak out,” Panuzio said.

In America, someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. One in three women and one in five men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, according to RAINN.

It is time for serious change.

Everyone knows someone who has been affected by sexual assault. In a recent video Beta Theta Pi released, John Moffitt, vice president of recruitment for Beta at the U, says, “The slogan we came up with is: to the brave survivors of sexual assault we believe you.”

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Their brothers’ keeper — Utah charity targets refugee men

Story and slideshow by PETER JOHNSTON

Leul Mengistu hits the gas pedal of his company van. The light has turned green and he is late for an appointment with Julia, a female refugee from South Sudan. A banner with a blue, yellow and red logo that reads, “Catholic Community Services,” has been slapped onto the van’s side.  

Though Mengistu helps female refugees like Julia at Catholic Community Services (CCS) he has a new focus demographic: refugee men.

“I don’t want them to fall between the cracks,” he says, one hand on the steering wheel. There are programs for women and children and youth, but men are often forgotten in refugee assistance efforts.

The International Rescue Committee reports that “refugee men, a category not prioritized by the humanitarian system for support, are often not able to access support that they need and, even more often, feel themselves to be excluded from it.”

According to CARE International, a relief organization that primarily targets women, “among humanitarian actors, donors and government agencies, there is a common perception that men are best able to look after themselves and negotiate the complexities of displacement unaided.”

The report says this perception leads to less attention for the problems of male refugees.

Mengistu acknowledges that women and children are often the most disadvantaged groups fleeing conflict in their home countries. However, he also says he deals with many refugee men who have not received needed support from other organizations because of the common belief that men are “best able to look after themselves.”

Mengistu has responded to widespread ignorance toward male refugees with the Men’s Wellness Support Group — a program that will bring together 10 to 15 refugee men for weekly classes. Each “cohort” of men will learn about topics ranging from building a budget to coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Weekly instruction will be led by men: Mengistu, a couple of class facilitators, and guest speakers specially tapped because of their area of expertise. David Harris is one such guest speaker. He is slated to teach the class on physical health and comes from a background of pediatrics and insurance management.

Harris says he sees cultural adjustment as the greatest priority of the Men’s Wellness Support Group. “They [the refugee men] need to protect their own culture,” he says, but they also “need to understand how stuff works [in the U.S.] so that they can get along.”

Mengistu once directed a support group for women that focused primarily on health. However, he too says the new support group’s objectives go beyond just physical wellness. “I want them [the refugee men] to be very competitive,” he says. “Everybody’s smart, but now it’s camouflaged!”

That intellectual camouflage refers to the invalidation of refugees’ prior work experience and professional talent in the United States.

Mengistu’s boss, Aden Batar, is the director of Immigration and Refugee Resettlement at CCS. He explains the “camouflage” problem from his own perspective.

Batar left Somalia with his family in the mid 1990s with a law degree from his home country. He says that degree and legal experience went unrecognized in the U.S.

“Can you imagine how frustrating that would be?” Batar asks. Today, he says, refugees can more easily get college degrees that match the ones they earned previously because NGOs and governmental agencies provide financial help. However, “back then [he] was lost in the middle because [he] didn’t have those systems.”

Even with revamped nonprofit and governmental aid, Batar says the Men’s Wellness Support Group “fills a gap.”

Eighty percent of CCS cases are women and children, Batar says. Men aren’t seen later unless they have a demonstrated problem.

Despite widespread apathy on the issue, Utah’s history with refugees makes it an appropriate birthplace for the program. In 2015, when 30 governors called for the cessation of Syrian refugee resettlement, Gov. Gary R. Herbert announced Utah’s continued commitment to assist refugees.

Batar also highlights the strong public-private relationship among CCS and local religious organizations as a positive sign of Utah’s tolerance of refugees. “The most welcoming state in the U.S. is Utah,” he says.

While the Men’s Wellness Support Group has public backing, it faces significant challenges.

For one, cultural conflicts between refugees’ old way of life and their new one in America could foster misunderstanding and resentment. David Harris, the guest speaker who will handle the physical health section, underlines that the program’s facilitators and guest speakers may not understand all cultural nuances of refugees’ backgrounds. “We may say something that we feel strongly about or think is obvious when they disagree or don’t think it’s obvious,” Harris says.

The key, he says, will be for facilitators to “listen really closely to what [the refugees] have to say and what their concerns are rather than being very dogmatic.”

Participating refugees will come from more than three countries. Mengistu has recruited men from Burma, Somalia and Democratic Republic of the Congo for the support group so far. His proposed solution to bridge cultural divides is to recruit participants who speak one of only two languages — Karen (a language spoken in Burma) and Swahili.

Logistics also pose a problem. Mengistu will need to resolve the scheduling conflicts of refugee men who work night and day shifts and CCS interpreters who work business hours. The program director says he and the guest speakers will adapt to the schedules of the refugees.

Regardless of the program’s potential problems, Mengistu envisions far-reaching implications for the Salt Lake City community. He says refugee men will integrate with the larger community, enjoy more family unity and become more self-sufficient fathers.

The first of the weekly classes launched April 5 with a cohort of seven participants — two from Burma, five from East Africa. If all goes well, these seven men will walk away from the CCS classroom on May 24 with the skills to start a career and find daily joy. A tall order — but like Mengistu says, “I don’t want them to fall through the cracks.”



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Can a Mormon be a feminist?

Story and photos by MEGAN CHRISTINE

When members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are excommunicated, they are stripped of their membership, much of their personal identity, and the chance to see their loved ones in heaven after death.

This is what happened to Margaret Toscano, 69, when she wrote and spoke about issues regarding women’s place in the Mormon church and related topics such as the priesthood.

Many people like Toscano have been raising their voices against the inequities they feel women experience in the Mormon church, whether that be through research and writing or making small changes in their home churches.

Toscano conducted research as an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University on church history and found that “the women that received their temple endowments through Joseph Smith all knew that they had priesthood.” Toscano believes that in the 1800s, Smith ordained women with the priesthood through religious ordinances called temple endowments.

According to the Mormon church, the temple endowments are considered “a gift from God whereby He bestows sacred blessings upon you.” Today, these gifts do not include priesthood.

The priesthood is a power given to males in the Mormon church. It is believed to be “the eternal power and authority of our Heavenly Father.” Through the priesthood, various ordinances can be administered, such as baby blessing, baptisms, temple marriages, and more. For many leadership positions in the Mormon church, it is a requirement to hold the priesthood. This excludes women from these positions.

“If there’s going to be any equality for women, then you have to question the notion of priesthood,” Toscano said.

To Toscano, women need to be granted the priesthood again in order to be equal to men in the church. She has found that church leaders disagree with this.

Toscano spoke out about her beliefs and church leaders claimed she was in opposition to the teachings of the church. She was summoned to a religious court, conducted by local church leaders. She was told that she could either denounce everything she had written, apologize for the testimonies she had destroyed, and never speak out on these issues again, or be excommunicated. She chose the latter.

Marjorie Smith, 35, and Joseph Peterson, 35, are a married couple located in Salt Lake City who have similar views to Toscano. Smith is a member of the Aspiring Mormon Women group on Facebook.

Smith views the priesthood as an “entry between you and God.” To her, it seems unfair that women have to go through another person just to achieve that connection.

Peterson agreed. He has the ability to give his son and wife blessings when they are sick, but realized that when he is sick he cannot receive this same blessing from his wife.

“As rooted in selfishness as that was, it was a light switch that opened my eyes to a lot of other things. Women are not visible in this church,” Peterson said.

Smith and Peterson made the decision together to give their son a baby blessing after he was born. Smith felt excluded from this important moment, because according to church doctrine “only worthy men who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood may participate in naming and blessing children.”

Peterson included Smith by naming her as a blessing giver by stating that the act was “our blessing to you.” This small but meaningful act received positive feedback from fellow churchgoers.

Smith also taught lessons to young women in the church. She had to teach lessons on the law of chastity, which “prohibits all sexual relations outside marriage.” While teaching, Smith reconstructed these values to be moral instead of religious. She also taught the importance of education whenever possible. Smith avoided the subject of marriage, which is often the focus of many of these lessons.

Small steps can be taken to further the feminist movement in the Mormon church. Smith and Peterson believe visibility for women is crucial. Smith also values hands-on fathers and hopes the church will honor women’s need for education and women’s skills by utilizing them.

“If we mean what we say about women, they need to be visible,” Peterson said. “It’s that sort of over-syrupy, benevolent praise that is used as a tool to keep the structure the same and to defend the status quo.”

Peterson is referring to a 2018 article by Salt Lake Tribune reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack. While interviewing the new all-male leadership about women’s roles in the church, Russell M. Nelson began by saying “We love ’em.” Leadership continued to praise women as mothers and daughters, but did not mention steps the church is making toward gender equality or “even hint at the word ‘feminist.’”

Similarly, Toscano said that feminism in the Mormon church comes in waves, and at the end of each wave a woman is excommunicated to subdue the movement. In the 1970s, it was Sonia Johnson, Equal Rights Amendment advocate. In the 1990s, it was Toscano herself. In 2014, it was Kate Kelly, co-founder of Ordain Women.

Toscano firmly believes that the movement will resurface again soon. “You can’t keep women down.”


Stop the silence, end the violence: a spotlight on the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition

Story and gallery by RACHEL BEUS

Domestic violence is an extensive problem in the U.S., but most people may not know that the problem is even more prevalent here in Utah. In the U.S., 1 in 4 women will become a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, while 1 in 3 women in Utah will become a victim of domestic violence. This statistic helps expose how serious of a problem this is in Utah.

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition is an organization that raises money and allocates those funds to various shelters and organizations all across Utah to provide goods and resources to victims of domestic violence. The UDVC has a motto that summarizes what it does: advocate, collaborate and educate.

Christopher Davies, the current associate director of UDVC, has been involved with the organization for approximately two and a half years. Davies decided to join UDVC because he has a 15 -year-old daughter and he worried about the culture that surrounds women and how dangerous domestic violence is. “I wanted to help women, however I could,” Davies said.

With his background in business, most of his duties and responsibilities as the associate director pertain to logistics that keep UDVC running properly. Davies said, “I do things like grant management, administration support, work with the board of directors, make sure we are stable and have permits.” He likes to refer to the UDVC team as the “watchdogs” when it comes to domestic violence.

Samantha Candland is the volunteer coordinator at the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. She has been involved with UDVC for almost two years. Her primary responsibility is to manage the LINKLine, which is a 24/7 anonymous and confidential crisis hotline where volunteers answer calls to help anyone experiencing domestic violence. All volunteers participate in an extensive 32-hour training before they take any calls because they are dealing with dangerous and highly sensitive situations. Volunteers help callers with everything from information, safety planning, advocacy and referrals to services.

Candland said UDVC is an “umbrella organization” that works to provide information to the community and provide referrals to services that any victims may need. Candland said there are three levels that organizations and services fall into the micro level, mezzo, level and macro level. The UDVC falls under the macro category because it works at the state level.

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition doesn’t make all of these important strides all by itself. One of its biggest tactics toward fighting domestic violence is collaboration. The UDVC works with a variety of different organizations to help support and aid survivors of domestic violence and abuse. UDVC collaborates with a variety of other organizations including Soroptimist Women’s Organization, Allstate Insurance and Alpha Chi Omega women’s fraternity. Davies said Alpha Chi Omega Beta Nu chapter is one of the UDVC’s biggest private supporters and collaborators.

Mackenzie Turner is the current vice president of philanthropy for Alpha Chi Omega. She works very closely with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition and acts as a liaison between AXO and UDVC. With her position, Turner is in charge of organizing and running Alpha Chi Omega’s philanthropy events that raise money to help fund UDVC. “We put on events like our walk-a-mile in their shoes and doughnut let love hurt campaign events,” Turner said. She mentioned the Purple Ribbon Benefit AXO put on in the spring of 2017 that raised over $13,000 for the UDVC.

Turner said she and Alpha Chi Omega love working with UDVC and Candland, Davies and the whole UDVC team because they are hardworking and kind. She said that all of the women of Alpha Chi Omega are very passionate about the awareness and prevention of domestic violence and are glad that UDVC is just as enthusiastic as they are about what they believe to be a very important and crucial cause.

Davies said the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition’s mission is “to make domestic violence in Utah intolerable.” If we do not make it clear that domestic violence is not only illegal but also unacceptable and educate our community and really the whole world, then it becomes an obstacle that we cannot conquer. The UDVC knows that this problem with domestic violence will not go away overnight and that as far as it has come, there is still farther to go. But, by continuing education on this topic and spreading awareness, it will continue its goal of preventing future cases of domestic violence and abuse.

If you would like to volunteer to help UDVC, you may complete an online volunteer application.



The New Colossus: a glimpse on the values of Lady Liberty

Story and slideshow by REEM IKRAM

Photos courtesy of Somali Community Self-Management Agency

Integral, passionate and admirable: these can be the three words used to describe Abdirizak Ibrahim. Ibrahim is the founder of the Somali Community Self-Management Agency. The agency is a refugee help center located on 1361 S. State St. Established in 2005, the small organization continues making constant efforts in helping with refugees and those who are in need of assistance and support.

The focus of the service organization is to provide a smooth transition to refugees who are creating a life within the Salt Lake Valley. It offers monthly food drives, labor opportunities and classes on how to be self-sufficient.

“It was very important to me, to have an environment where you could feel safe in,” Ibrahim said. He pointed to his wall of certificates displaying his involvement within his community. “I was a refugee too, when I came into the United States, and after I was able to get on my own two feet, I wanted to help others who used to be in my position as well,” he said, while giving a tour of his department.

SCSMA helps over 100 refugees each month. And as it starts to grow, Ibrahim has begun to reach out to other nonprofits, churches, and organizations to discuss whether they are willing to share their resources with the Somali refugees.

According to PBS, there are 60,000 refugees living in Utah, all of whom are learning how to manage a lifestyle here within the state. But following Trump’s executive order 13769, most have begun to fear their prospects.

Refugees are under major stress due to the current political climate. With no routes to follow, most are wary of what will happen after resettling within the U.S.

“With this new political climate, everything is extremely polarized but that’s been happening for a long time. And specifically, in my expertise, in respect to immigration, there is a lot more fear and a lot more uncertainty within the refugee communities,” said Daniel Black, who has immigration law experience doing consular processing, asylum, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, U Visas, cancellation of removal, adjustment of status and other immigration cases. Black said he is very passionate about helping people and ensuring they receive the best representation possible, which is why he works at a firm that offers multiple resources for those in need, such as legal assistance and English classes.

“It’s very important to give people who are a part of your community a helping hand, that’s how you can ensure you have a functioning society,” Black said.

The United States is one of the few countries that is allowing refugees to come in for safety. But with more rules and rather strict regulations, it has become a hassle for refugees to feel secure and feel comfortable enough to live properly within the States. But with the increase of centers and agencies that help refugees, this hassle is slowly diminishing.

“It’s important to help and be involved because all refugees contribute to our society, whether it be by culture or perspective,” Christina Andino said. Andino is an intern for the Somali Community Self-Management Agency through the University of Utah Neighborhood Partners. “Refugees are just like us, they live life day by day. They’re a part of our communities. That’s why I enjoy spending my time with them,” she said.

Ibrahim, Black and Andino aren’t the only ones out there helping refugees cope with living within the state. There are approximately 21 other programming partners that also try to help out. Each partner offers various resources for the refugees. They successfully have managed to help an average number of 1,901 participants per month, all according to the Utah Refugee Services Office.

“Refugees are people who, rather than give up or give in, have chosen to take the higher and harder road and are grateful for the generosity of strangers who reached out with a willing and helping hand,” said Pamela Atkinson in a report to Gov. Gary J. Herbert..

Atkinson has been an advisor to the last three governors in Utah and has been a tireless advocate for the homeless and the refugees. She actively volunteers and personally engages within the community and is always trying to make a positive difference for those surrounding her.

Making a positive difference in the world is how we can rest assure that good things are still happening in this life.

To quote Emma Lazarus and the promise of the United States (as engraved on the Statue of Liberty);

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

For more than twenty decades, this has been the largely prolonged promise to those who come from near and far into the United States. And to have communities, agencies and organizations gather together to help those in need is a great tribute to that promise.

To be a part of keeping the United States’ promise alive while also helping with refugees, try to reach out to your local workforce department and resettlement agencies. They are always seeking out opportunities for aid either through volunteer work or generous donations.

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Immigrants with pockets full of dreams

Story and slideshow by MARIA HERNANDEZ

A reckless 20-year-old. Lying inside a car carried away by a loud train. He couldn’t make a sound. Breathing was already dangerous. Standing up at the wrong moment meant the end of his adventure. Hours passed, and Manuel had nothing but himself in the darkness of that summer night. With nothing in mind but the American Dream, Manuel lay patiently in the car, waiting for the right moment.

This is the story of Manuel Valdez. A motivated entrepreneur who came to the United States with nothing but the clothes he had on, and his pockets full of dreams.

His Life in Mexico

Valdez lived his whole life in Zacatecas, Mexico. Raised in a big family of seven children, mother and father. They all lived together on a small ranch, living from selling what they grew on their farm. Valdez has a passion for horses, cars and farming, like most people in his family. However, Valdez was also passionate about adventure. He had finished high school and continued to pursue a technological degree in Mexico. But after graduating as a technologist in electricity, Valdez struggled to find a job. He knocked on many doors, only to find disappointment. Employers kept rejecting him because of “lack of experience.”

“Ironic. How did they expect me to gain experience when they wouldn’t let me work?” Valdez said.

It was a hot evening, and after so many rejections Valdez couldn’t stop thinking about his future. Ramiro, his best friend, made a surprise visit from the U.S. “Manuel, let’s go north,” he said. “Your life and the life of your loved ones will change.” This wasn’t the first time Valdez heard the so-called pláticas, or talks about America. But this time, the idea kept echoing in the back of his mind. Adventure’s flame had been turned on in Valdez, and nothing now could make it stop.

Crossing the Border

Full of courage and passion, Valdez decided to leave everything behind and come to the United States. Through contacts, Valdez found himself sneaking into a new car that was transported by a train into the United States.

First try.  Caught.

“I went with Ramiro, and they caught us in Chihuahua trying to board the train to El Paso. They drove us on a truck to the opposite side of the city just to be mean,” Valdez said, laughing. “They really thought that was going to stop us from trying again. Silly immigration.”

Second try. Caught again.

Third time was the charm. The friends made it. After two days and one night in the train, they finally had arrived to Los Angeles.

New Adventure in Los Angeles

Valdez started working on a lime farm in Los Angeles. He worked long hours and earned 30 cents per box of limes. He would collect around 18 boxes per day. “Those hours were hell, man. I knew how to work the land, that was all I had been doing back home. But the pay was terrible there, and after all the fees they charged, I ended up with just enough to pay rent,” Valdez said.

Salt Lake City

Tired of strenuous hours of work, Valdez was ready to quit. Why was he struggling here when he could be comfortable at home? Wasn’t this the land of freedom and opportunity? In search of new adventures, Valdez moved to Salt Lake City, where some of his relatives lived. He started working in several restaurants, at least three jobs at a time. After work, he would also ride his bike every night to the Rose Park neighborhood on the west side of the city to take an English as a second-language class. And then he’d cycle home to the block of 400 West and Main Street to get ready for a new day.

Citizenship and New Challenges

Through his hard work, Valdez gained his citizenship through the amnesty decree. He could now not only pay taxes, but also enjoy their benefits. He could go back home and take presents to his nieces and nephews. He could finally live a life free of fear and uncertainty. This only inspired him to keep going, to work even harder and for longer hours. To save enough money to start building a stable life.

After several years of hardship and long work hours, Valdez learned English and made enough money to go visit his mother in Zacatecas several times. Some of his brothers followed him to the U.S., and life was almost stable.

A New Business Proposal

While in between jobs, Valdez met Susan Harris, a businesswoman who wanted to start a new business together. Harris saw Valdez’s potential and knew he was the guy she needed. Harris contacted Valdez and following this phone call, Valdez’s life changed.

After many discussions, Harris and Valdez started a Mexican restaurant. A very small shop in Cottonwood Heights, a neighborhood in southeast Salt Lake City. Valdez, with some of his brothers who were in Salt Lake too, created the recipes, decorated the place and did all the finances to start this new business. Little did they know that 23 years later, Lone Star Taqueria would be one of the most popular Mexican restaurants in Salt Lake Valley, with hundreds of customers desiring the family’s famous fresh fish tacos. Lone Star Taqueria was even featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Drives by Food Network, and has appeared in several magazines.

“I had heard wonders about this place, but I always thought it was overrated. What could you expect from a hole-in-the-wall place?” Lora said, one of Lone Star’s regular customers or amigos, how they are called by the employees. “However, when I did come, my world changed. Lone Star has the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, and I’m from California! It is authentic and always fresh. I come here at least three times a week, and they treat me like family!”

Testimony from a New Adventure

In 1994, the same year that Lone Star was opened, another adventure came into Valdez’s life: His son Antonio Valdez. “I grew up at Lone Star. My dad would pick me up from daycare, bring me to the restaurant and put me in a tomato box so I wouldn’t crawl away. I remember seeing my dad working so hard and still being there for me, and since then I have admired that man to death,” said Antonio, 23, who recently graduated from Utah State University and works as an internal auditor for Goldman Sachs Group Inc.


“It has all been worth it. I see my children being successful, and it feels good, you know. Laying down on that train, every lime I picked up in LA, every plate I washed in restaurants; every sacrifice was worth it,” said Valdez, when reminiscing about his life. “I’m glad I jumped on that train and waited in that car. Life is stable now, and I hope it continues to be.”

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An opportunity for success is taken away

Story by Citlali Jauregui

SALT LAKE CITY – On a chilly morning in April, 2005, Abimael Lopez crossed the border from Mexico to the United States. He ran seven to eight hours up and down the hills as prickly bushes scratched his feet. There was no time to stop.

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DACA recipient Abimael Lopez while telling his story. October 24, 2017, Salt Lake City. (Photo by Citlali Jauregui)

Lopez and 23 others finally took a break from running after they found an underground cave. They rested for about two hours and were awakened by the sound of a helicopter. “We got caught,” Lopez said. They were taken to a Border Patrol station in the U.S. where no food or water was provided until deportation. “Kids younger than me were crying, because they were hungry, tired, and cold,” he said. Lopez waited for two weeks in a town called Agua Prieta in Mexico before trying to cross again. When it was time he began to run. This time he was successful.

Lopez left behind his friends and the rest of his family at 14 years old to reunite with his parents, who had been living in Utah for 10 years. His parents came to the U.S. to provide for him and his siblings.

“I was happy in Mexico, but I wanted to be with my mom,” said Lopez, now 26. “I don’t think my life would have been better if I had stayed in Mexico, jobs are extremely hard to find and the pay is not that much.”

Leslie Olivo, 20, and Lourdes Rosas, 21, each shared similar experiences to Lopez.

Born in Venezuela, Olivo came to the United States when she was eight. “I lived a pretty good life in Venezuela,” she said. Venezuela was in the midst of a financial crisis, however, and soon thereafter her mother lost her job.  Olivo, her older sister, and her mom decided it was time for a better life. After living comfortably in Venezuela, they came to the U.S. with nothing. “The language barrier was a struggle, just because you feel so useless and lonely,” she said.

Lourdes Rosas, who is from Guatemala, says growing up there was hard because they didn’t have much money for food. Rosas came to the U.S. with her parents and siblings at age nine. “I had to leave my whole family in Guatemala, and if I had stayed I would not have had the opportunities that are available to me now,” she said.

In 2012 President Barack Obama issued an executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which enabled many children who came to the U.S. without authorization to work and attend college. Those who qualified for DACA were also protected from deportation, but were required to renew their permits every two years. DACA gave Lopez, Olivo, and Rosas the opportunity to apply to college and to obtain higher paying jobs. “I applied to have a bit of peace of mind of not being deported” while she pursues a degree in biology or chemistry, Olivo said.

On September 5, 2017 the hopes and dreams of many DACA recipients and prospective participants were shattered when the DACA program was ended by the Trump Administration. “I felt an awful feeling of dread,” “I was in shock,” “I got scared,” said Olivo, Rosas, and Lopez, respectively. “This placed has become my home, we were raised here, the only difference is that we weren’t born here,” Olivo said.

Since the removal of DACA, many in the media have blamed the parents for bringing their children to the U.S. “As a parent it is terribly hard to be apart from our children,” said Mercedes, a 47-year-old parent of a DACA recipient. “We bring them along to give them a better life while being by their side.”

Mercedes decided to come to the U.S. knowing the struggles she would face in a country that she didn’t know, but her children were her motivation. “I worked hard so I could give them an opportunity to study and not worry about money,” she said. Christy, 43, is another parent of a DACA recipient. She came to the U.S. with her husband and children after her husband lost his job. “We want our children to be better than us,” Christy said. “We brought our children here because it was beneficial for them. There are more opportunities for them here.”

Congress has until March 5, 2018, to act on a law that will protect all of the DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers,” from deportation. Christy says that many of the Dreamers are worried they won’t have a chance to finish their higher education. Olivo, Rosas and Lopez are hoping for a law that could provide a pathway toward citizenship.

“You’re used to believing that there is no difference between you and others, but moments like this make you feel like you are not equal or that you don’t belong here,” Olivo said.

Anticipation runs high among the Dreamers to see what Congress will do to protect them from possible deportation. “All we can do is wait,” said Lopez.


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Reflection Blog

Operation Rio Grande may not be prepared, or be the answer, for homeless addicts

Story and Photos by HOLLY VASIC

SALT LAKE CITY – Operation Rio Grande is ready to begin helping homeless addicts as part of its “Phase 2.” Law enforcement agencies are well into the first phase of pursuing active criminals from the area. As part of Phase 2, certain treatment centers have received funding to expand, but clinicians in the addiction field say this is not the answer and infrastructure does not exist to support the client load.

Sit in on any Salt Lake Area 12-step meeting and sooner or later references to “The Block” will be heard. The Block is the nickname for the area between 200 S. and 400 S. on Rio Grande St. in Salt Lake City’s downtown, where illegal substances pass fluidly from dealers to users. Operation Rio Grande is currently attempting to eradicate the drug trade from The Block and the questionable activities that seem to come with it.

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The Rio Grande street sign on a grey Sunday, November 26, 2017, in Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City District 6 Vice Chair, Charlie Luke, explained that the city, county, and state of Utah are working together on the operation, SLC is largely responsible for the “on the ground” efforts. “We can fund law enforcement, we can fund cleanup down there, we can do a lot with the zoning. That’s within our jurisdiction,” Luke said. “The county is the one who started moving money into treatment and things.” Law enforcement is arresting people who have felonies and those who sell illegal drugs, “we are not trying to arrest homeless, we are not trying to arrest addicts, we’re trying to arrest those who are preying on the homeless and the addicts,” Luke said. Cleaning up the block contributes to Phase 2’s goal of getting people help, however Phase 1 won’t officially end until June 19, 2019 according to the Operation Rio Grande website.

Odyssey House is one of the treatment facilities receiving funds from the county. It has multiple locations with inpatient and outpatient options. Odyssey House also offers “sober living” – transitional housing to help clients get back on their feet. Director of Operations at 7th Street Treatment Center and former support staff at Odyssey House, Melissa Welsh, has experienced Phase 2 first hand when people from Rio Grande first started coming in to Odyssey House. “We didn’t have enough employees to even keep up with everybody” Welsh said.

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Odyssey House office building on Sunday, November 26, 2017 in Salt Lake City.

Mary Jo McMillen, Executive Director of Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, has expressed similar concerns. “The homeless shelters are still experiencing drug use and intoxication.  The complaints I have heard are that there is not enough support staff for help with the complexities that people are dealing with.” McMillen said Operation Rio Grande was not prepared for the second phase.

Addiction has many dynamics and dimensions, Welsh said people who aren’t in treatment by their own choice are known as “compliance-based.” “They’re just trying not to go to jail,” she said. These clients are different than those in treatment by choice. “They go in there and they just bring the street into treatment, they bring the hustle into treatment, not necessarily the drug hustle but their hustle,” she said. Emily Abeyta, a Marriage and Family Therapy Master’s Degree student who is currently working on her practicum hours at Youth Care  – an adolescent inpatient treatment center – agreed with Welsh’s description. “I think that taking people off the street and dumping them in rehab is only going to be effective if that’s what they want for themselves,” Abeyta said. “The point is that you take them to treatment when they’re ready for treatment.” She knows this from being in recovery herself – with just over two years sober – and from her work and education. Since joining Youth Care she has experienced these situations repeatedly, parent’s put their kids in rehab but the child does not want to be there.

Yet, there are anomalies. A low percentage of compliance-based clients do succeed. “Some people, they don’t even know that there was help, and it’s like wow, there’s help, and then they rock it,” Welsh said. Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Lindsey MacFarlane, has also experienced this, she now works at a private practice but spent years at Wasatch outpatient. “I wish I knew what it was. If we figured it out, it would be like okay we solved addiction,” McFarlane said. McFarlane doesn’t know if what is happening downtown is the answer though she remains hopeful, “I think that there’s maybe people who will have the change that needs to occur and that they’ll get the opportunity to get help,” she said.

It is too early to tell if Operation Rio Grande’s Phase 2 will be a success or if addicts from The Block will receive and accept the help they so desperately need. Regardless, implementation of this phase was not as well thought out as addiction advocates would have liked. “There is not one size, or model, or approach, or intervention that fits for all individuals,” McMillen said. The importance of individualizing addition treatment may be something that Operation Rio Grande is only now discovering.

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Gay Straight Alliance of Pine View High School

By: Felicity Henderson

According to the ACLU, or the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah’s web page, “QSAs are often formed as non-curricular clubs, which are student clubs that are not directly related to a school’s curriculum. In contrast, curricular clubs relate directly to subjects taught in school. The federal Equal Access Act applies to non-curricular clubs. Under the Equal Access Act, if a public high school allows any non-curricular student group access to school resources, then it must provide all other non-curricular student groups–including QSAs–equal access to the school’s resources. If the school treats some non-curricular clubs differently than others, then it risks losing its federal funding.”

But, attending the school at the Local High School, there was a QSA that was denied, and with help of ACLU got approved after a long fight with the faculty of the Washington County School district in St. George Utah.

The QSA that is the topic of this paper is the small town High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance club. For people who don’t know what that would entail, it is a club that bands together LGBTQ and heterosexual students. And creates a safe space and time to talk about their school experience as well as find peers who they know would accept and befriend them.

A year before I joined the club, and became its Vice President and then President, my peers were fighting to start the GSA. The faculty of a St. George High School did not believe that it was an appropriate group to have on campus. And refused to let the club form. A fellow student, who we’ll call Jane, fought to have that overturned. She got into contact with ACLU and asked for help. Could they please help us form a GSA, in our relatively small town, whose citizens were (for the majority) LDS?

In the LDS religion, they do not believe in people being LGBTQ, for the most part. (Not all LDS members are like this. In fact, quite a few LDS friends who are open minded and amazing.) But, unfortunately, not all members are the same in this stance.

Additionally, it is hard to say if the LDS beliefs interfered with the faculty not wanted the group on their High School campus, but one can speculate.

And interviewing the Teacher, Mrs. Johnson*, who helped start the club right in her classroom, I asked: Did you ever get pushback from any of the faculty/districts about the GSA originating? How did you respond?

“No pushback.  The pushback came before I was involved.  Several individual school administrations were making it very difficult for students to start GSA clubs, and the ACLU came to St. George and met with the district administration.  After that meeting, the schools were instructed to allow GSA clubs to form while following the same district extra-curricular club rules as other clubs.”

I also asked, When moving schools, are you still active in their respective GSA’s?

DHHS didn’t have an active GSA when I arrived last year.  I had a few students approach me about my willingness to advise a club, and I told them, of course, I’d be the advisor. Nothing ever manifested from their interest.

This year, another student approached me and this time that student followed through and filed the necessary paperwork with the office.  The club was approved and we are officially a club beginning in January.  I hope there is the same kind of connection and safety as there was at PVHS.

Going into the influence of the GSA on the High School and asking a fellow the High School graduate, named Brett* he knew little of the club.

“Is that like the Girls Soccer? Something? Ha-ha, I don’t really know.”

And a recent graduate (class of 2015) if he knew of the GSA, John* stated, “Oh yeah, it’s like the gay club or something. They are cool.”

It is easy to see that there was a large controversy and a lot of people had to get involved to get a club that many people are not even aware of or care about were all for nothing. But to those who went to the club, it held high importance. Asking Mrs. Johnson a few more questions I purposed the question,

What is your favorite part about being in the GSA?

“Getting to know students was always my favorite part.  It also made me happy knowing that my classroom was indeed a safe place for kiddos to congregate and a place that they knew they were accepted for who they were.”

So, in the end, it is clear to see that, thought there was struggle to from the club, in the beginning, there is no reason for the club to be a controversy again to those at that little High School.


Student finds pride in his work and life

   by Jessica Morgan

Drew McGee was sitting in class early yesterday morning listening to a lecture on how to write a paragraph. He was a good student, he always had been, so he tried to pay attention and take good notes. However, it was rather obvious that McGee’s mind was somewhere else.

McGee’s thoughts were still lingering on his previous day spent at work. Many people would find this to be troubling, but to him it was a good thing. McGee loves his job: “It is a lot of work, and takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it and I love my job,” said McGee. He works at the Utah Pride Center.

The Utah Pride Center is a community-based, non-profit organization in Salt Lake City that provides support, education, outreach and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals.

“Life is often hard on children who don’t fit neatly into the category of ‘boy’ or ‘girl’, especially when it comes to making friends. But thanks to a group at the Utah Pride Center, this aspect of growing up gender variant may be a little less difficult,” said Rose Ellen, a member of the LGBTQ community.

The growth and acceptance of the LGBTQ community in Utah is largely attributed to the Utah Pride Center and its efforts.

According to “Utah, where President Bush received more than 70% of the vote in 2004, has moved from 38th in 1990 to 14th in the most recent rankings” of the nation’s ‘gayest’ states.

In addition, “Salt Lake City recently approved a benefits program for lesbian and gay couples; identifying openly as gay is no longer considered an honor code violation at Brigham Young University; and perhaps most striking, the state now has three openly gay state legislators. That’s one more than the US Congress,” reported Northern Lights.

McGee was born and raised in Salt Lake City, where the acceptance of the LGBTQ community has long been an issue. Throughout his growing years he wished to find an outlet or support group and would often dream of a day that he would no longer feel like an outsider. When he stumbled upon the Utah Pride Center back in 2009, he felt as if he had finally found what he was looking for all those years.

In the past years that McGee has worked for the UPC he has found much pride and satisfaction in seeing the growing acceptance of LGBTQ individuals and their community within Salt Lake City, and knowing that he has been a part of it, whether large or small.

Gay/Lesbian Interaction in Utah

By Colton Stanger

Utah plays host to one of the largest and most active gay communities in the nation.  Utah also is known for its political and religious conservatism.

To get an idea on how these two groups interact, one needs to look no further than the people themselves.

Take Spenced Trembe, a business student and singer at the University of Utah.  Trembe is 22 years old and has been openly gay for five years.

“Think of how hard it was to come to grips with your sexuality.  Now imagine how hard that would be if everyone told you it was wrong,” Trembe said when talking about coming of age as a gay man.  “It’s like a right of passage for us.”

Some people, like Lesean “Earsnot” Combs, a shoe storeowner from New York City who moved to Salt Lake in 2006, thinks Utah fits in its own unique niche.

“It’s weird man, people don’t get hateful or hyper-accepting, they just pretend like they don’t notice,” Combs said.

But what about the Mormon influence?  Stories and rumors fill national tabloids on the cruelty and hostile attitude of the church.

“Actually Mormon’s aren’t so bad, I’ve heard the horror stories but most the missionaries I’ve met are, at the very least, conscientious,” Trembe said.

Daniel Page, a member of the Mormon priesthood and soon to be missionary didn’t even have an opinion on the subject of the homosexual population.  Page has been a Mormon all his life, and a member of the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program for the past three years.

“In my experience sexual orientation has little to do with someone’s ability to do their job,” Page said, adding, “despite any beliefs on the subject, they are ALL still people.”

“Not every Lesbian is what you see on T.V.  Some of us are normal girls looking for other normal girls,” said Lara Buress, a student at Weber State University.

Lara is 23-years-old and is one of the most decorated philanthropists in the state, operating two charities for senior citizens and contributing as a leader of the Neighbor Works Association.  Lara has been openly lesbian for the past eight years.

“You never know when someone is going to say something or do something.  Especially since almost everyone is nice and treats you like everyone else.  I think that’s what makes discrimination worse when it does happen, because it doesn’t happen all the time,” Buress said.

“Any ‘issues’ [someone] has with us is put to private pretty quick.  You really think you the first person to throw an insult our way?  To us, defending ourselves is a way of life,” Combs said.

“Utah isn’t bad,” Trembe said.  “There are places for us and we just make our way.  It actually feels like a friendly environment.”

According to the people that live in it Utah, though not perfect, is an accepting place for any sexual orientation.  And as the community grows, the line between them blurs.  For some individuals, it already has.

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Human Dignity Rally Urges Utahans to Be Politically Active

On February 29, in the looming granite rotunda of the Utah State Capitol Building, a crowd of about 100 people gathered brimming with a determined energy. News reporters were present, email sign-up sheets were passed around the rally and a range of signs were hoisted in the air, stating things like “Str8 but not narrow,” “Human dignity is for all of us,” and “I am not a second class citizen.” The rally was a ‘human dignity rally’ organized by the newly birthed group Human Dignity Utah, founded by Weston Clark, Bob Henline, Megan Risbon and Alan Anderson.

Clark, a teacher and former chair of the Utah Democratic Party, said the purpose of their group is to finally bring equal rights to all Utahans regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We have to be quick, we have to be proactive, and we have to let them know they can’t walk all over us,” Clark said to the gathered crowd.

Two recent bills regarding state-wide non-discrimination policies have both been tabled, one aimed at statewide nondiscrimination regarding housing and jobs, and the other aimed at promoting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) sensitivity training for the State Legislature.

According to recent surveys, 73 percent of Utahans support this legislation, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and the Catholic Diocese of Utah have both come out in favor of the legislation. Companies like Adobe, EBay and 1-800-Contacts have also said they support equality and non-discrimination in Utah.

These measures are being taken to the Utah Legislature amid national debate on the issues of same-sex marriage and LGBT equality. In recent news, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington have all legalized same-sex marriage, which brings the total up to 17 states that have legalized same-sex marriage or unions granting similar rights to marriage.

“We’re always hitting the same wall,” Matthew Lyon, who attended the rally, said, referring to opponents of the anti-discrimination measures. Fourteen municipalities across the state have adopted similar measures, including cities like Salt Lake City, Taylorsville and Logan. “I’m optimistic that we will break down that wall, and I want to be here when it happens.”

Speakers at the rally included Jim Dabakis, current chair of the Democratic Party, Former State Representative Jackie Biskupski, Charles Lynn Frost as his theatrical character Sister Dottie S. Dixon, Kathy Godwin, president of SLC PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and Isaac Higham, a young graduate student at Utah State University.

“I have heard too many times people my age say ‘it’s not my issue’ or ‘I’ll let someone else get involved’. No- we all need to be active,” Higham said amid cheers.

In 2012 Utah elections, only 10 percent of registered voters in the 18-24 year old range actually went to the polls and cast their vote, one of the lowest turn-outs nationwide. Higham cited this fact in urging the crowd to be politically charged. The speakers all carried similar messages of political activism, determination and hope for change.

“Barriers are not as formidable as they seem,” Rep. Biskupski said in reference to opponents in the legislature to non-discrimination policies.

Rap Biskupski also detailed delegate training. Delegates are the backbone of the democratic process in Utah: they attend caucuses and officially vote for our elected officials. Delegate meetings will occur on March 13th for the Democratic Party and March 22nd for the Republican Party.  More information on where those trainings will take place can be found at and respectively.