Weber State to axe Black, Latino, other cultural centers to comply with new diversity law

Jun 9, 2024, 10:32 AM

The outside of the Black Cultural Center at Weber State University in Ogden on Tuesday. It and seve...

The outside of the Black Cultural Center at Weber State University in Ogden on Tuesday. It and several other cultural centers will be eliminated per provisions of HB261. (Tim Vandenack, KSL.com)

(Tim Vandenack, KSL.com)

OGDEN — Weber State University will eliminate seven cultural centers geared to varied segments of the campus — including Black, Latino, female and LGBTQ students — to comply with the new Utah law targeting diversity initiatives at public universities.

Parallel to that, the university will create a Student Success Center that will provide services to students who need extra help without regard to personal identifiers like race, sexual orientation and ethnicity.

“We are removing all identity-based centers that don’t have federal legislation involved,” said Jessica Oyler, vice president of the Student Access and Success division at the Ogden-based university. Most employees who had worked for Weber State’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion division, which will be eliminated, will shift to Oyler’s department.

The changes, outlined in HB261 passed by lawmakers earlier this year, mean centers for veterans and students with disabilities will remain since they receive federal funds. However, centers geared to Black, Pacific Islander, Asian, Hispanic and Latino, Native American, female and LGBTQ students will be axed by July 1.

Weber State President Brad Mortensen revealed outlines of the planned changes at a May 15 meeting of the Utah Legislature’s Education Interim Committee. HB261 requires Utah’s public universities to overhaul diversity, equity and inclusion programming, traditionally geared to minority and marginalized students, and instead put a focus on aiding all students who need extra help regardless of race and other personal identifies.

Now, university officials are spreading word about the changes coming to Weber State to the broader public. Oyler spoke Monday with KSL.com, and the university has posted messages on its website announcing the looming shift.

“As part of our response to HB261 and our pending restructure, Weber State will close identity-based centers and instead provide services that adopt a student coaching and programming focus, enabling WSU to offer personalized support tailored to the unique needs of each student,” reads one of the online messages. Services provided by the Dream Center, which has helped immigrants, including undocumented students, will also fall under the umbrella of the division managing the Student Success Center.

“Part and parcel of the center’s work is identifying the unique needs of each student and providing guidance to everyone who needs help navigating the college experience, whatever their circumstances. The center will aim to connect them to resources both on campus and in the community,” said Weber State spokesman Bryan Magaña. Priorities will be increasing student retention, fostering a sense of community and providing individualized mentoring.

As the University of Utah in Salt Lake City adjusts to HB261, it will retain cultural centers geared to Black, Native American and other student subgroups, though they will be incorporated into a new administrative division. Weber State officials, though, determined the guidelines to keep cultural centers under HB261 were “pretty restrictive” — such entities will only be able to have “cultural awareness” programming, Oyler said — figuring in the different approach.

Regardless, Weber State still plans to have programming for occasions like National Hispanic Heritage Month and Black History Month, she said, though some of those details are still being pinpointed.

Additionally, student clubs not tied to the university administration will have more leeway. “When it comes to clubs, students have a lot of flexibility to build communities around shared interests and identities. There are close to 100 clubs at Weber State, and they’re a great resource for students looking for support and connections,” Magaña said.

What’s more, HB261 doesn’t impact Weber State’s efforts to become an Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution, a federal designation based on Latino enrollment that could pave the way for increased federal funds. “We’ve always seen our (Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution) efforts as a way to serve the entire university and the state of Utah,” Magaña said.

Weber State officials are having conversations with the university community about the planned changes, Oyler said, with mixed reaction. “I think there’s been a whole continuum of feelings. I think a lot of folks are disappointed and upset,” Oyler said. “There are folks who have said that this was a good change for the university, and they didn’t believe that we should have centers in the first place.”

More meetings are planned, Oyler said, and changes made now may not be the final word.

“Certainly we’re going to find places of improvement along the way,” she said, adding that she plans to get more feedback from student organizations about the process.

KSL 5 TV Live

Equality & Diversity

The two books made by authors who want to highlight the importance of family history. (KSL TV)...

Tamara Vaifanua

Two local authors highlight the importance of family history for AAPI month

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month is coming to a close, and two local authors are talking about their new books highlighting the importance of family history.

13 days ago

Follow @KSL5TVLike us on Facebook...

Tamara Vaifanua

Woman creates custom designed signs, drawing inspiration from her heritage

A popular way some families honor their 2024 grad is displaying a huge banner with their photo and name on it. Vania Lautaha has perfected this art in a unique way – drawing inspiration from her Samoan heritage.

1 month ago

FILE - The Rev. Bill Farmer, center, speaks to members of the congregation during service at the Gr...

Peter Smith, Associated Press

United Methodists remove anti-gay language from their official teachings

The United Methodist Church overturned its 40-year ban on gay clergy Wednesday, marking a historic shift in the church’s stance on homosexuality.

1 month ago

Jani Iwamoto talks to KSL TV about the potential changes to Salt Lake City's Japantown. (Greg Ander...

Lindsay Aerts

Japantown advocates push for preservation of downtown street amid NHL stadium plans

A little-known but impactful section of Salt Lake City's downtown is soon to be at the center of a new vision for the city.

3 months ago

FILE - An attendee holds up flags during the New York City Pride Parade, June 24, 2018, in New York...

Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press

A Japanese court says denying same-sex marriage is unconstitutional

A Japanese high court has ruled that denying same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and called for urgent government action to address the lack of any law allowing for such unions.

3 months ago

Lauren Rives, a senior at the University of Utah, speaks at a demonstration against HB261 at the U....

Tim Vandenack, KSL.com

University of Utah highlights positive impacts of equity, diversity and inclusion programs

The University of Utah has produced a new 'scorecard' highlighting the positive impacts of equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives that face revamping due to new state legislation.

4 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light up your home with these top lighting trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for hassle-free computer repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Weber State to axe Black, Latino, other cultural centers to comply with new diversity law