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After racist incidents, University of Utah marks MLK Day with calls to become a ‘beloved community’

University President Taylor Randall and school leadership at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally on Jan 17, 2022.
Ivana Martinez
University President Taylor Randall and school leadership at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally on Jan 17, 2022.

University of Utah leaders and politicians gathered in East High School’s parking lot to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and begin their journey towards becoming a “beloved community.”

It’s the first day of the week-long event to address racial issues on campus.

The rally comes a week after the U’s Black Cultural Center recieved bomb threats and 10 days after students gathered to protest and demand urgency from school officials in response to racist incidents on campus.

University President Taylor Randall said it’s going to take individual and institutional work to become that kind of community.

We're asking individuals to take a pause and think about what they can do to make this a more inclusive community,” Randall said, “and that's really an individual level commitment.”

He said the university also has to “take some collective action examining our policies and procedures” and look at how they make campus more inclusive.

Mary Ann Villarreal, vice president of equity, diversity and inclusion at the university, acknowledged they have a lot of work to do to address the racial discrimination some students have experienced on campus.

“As we were last week, our community was so deeply injured, harmed, and the team in [equity, diversity and inclusion], our partners, will turn around and we will work to heal together,” Villarreal said.

Randall said they have a commission that will provide progress reports to address some of the issues they’re seeing. They will lay out 30, 60 and 90-day plans.

The commission is tasked with reaching out to every group at the university, according to Randall, and will try to understand the range of perspectives that belong to the student body.

Community members took time at the event Monday to acknowledge the work of Dr. King’s life and his legacy. But most pointed to the work that has yet to be done.

Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, spoke about the ongoing racism occurring in the state and in school districts. She said we continue to live in an environment where people have normalized hate and attacks on people of color.

“This is not the ‘beloved community’ that Dr. King dreamed of,” Hollins said. “But today we have a choice to make, will we use hate to fight hate or will love be our weapon of choice?”

Hollins urged the crowd of a couple of hundred people to help create a more equitable world by going to the voting booth and advocating at the state capitol for issues that matter to them.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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