EQUALITY & DIVERSITY

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.

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