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War of Words: Utah's Distraction from Unnecessary Harm

by Darlene McDonald


The author invites you to join in the discussion "What is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?" Held in person and on Zoom, this event aims to foster a deeper understanding of the importance of DEI in our communities and workplaces, and explore these critical concepts through the insights of a distinguished panel of experts. Saturday, January 6, 2024, from 1:30-2:30PM at the Marmalade Library. RSVP to attend in person or join in on Zoom.




As Director of 1Utah Project, a non-profit I started to increase civic engagement in the BIPOC communities in Utah, I thought it was necessary to issue a statement regarding the on-going ‘war of words’ between the Utah Governor, Spencer Cox, the members of the Utah State Legislators, and the independent newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune.

It is important for residents and future residents of Utah to understand that the conversation should be about whether or not the Utah State Legislature will proceed down the same ideological path as other Red states around the country in attacking diversity efforts at public institutions of higher learning. Utah’s Governor, Spencer Cox signaled in a recent press conference and town hall, that Utah will follow suit. Rather than discuss what that will mean for the communities who will be adversely impacted by public institutions moving away from a commitment to providing safe and inclusive spaces for all student, the conversation became about the reporting of the governor’s words.

We must bring the conversation back to what it should be — the unnecessary harm that will be inflicted on the emotional well-being of students and faculty at colleges and universities in the state of Utah. That should be the conversation and nothing else.

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1Utah Project issues Statement on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Comments

Dec 21, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY– Darlene McDonald — Director of 1Utah Project issues the following statement regarding the recent ‘war of words’ between Utah’s Governor Spencer Cox, Republican state legislators, and the Salt Lake Tribune on the issue of diversity statements at Utah’s institutions of higher education:

“As conservatives in Utah engage in a ‘war of words’ with the Salt Lake Tribune over its reporting on comments made by Governor Spencer Cox regarding institutions of higher learning in Utah requiring diversity statements from applicants, the bigger picture has gotten lost without regard to the harm that’s being done to communities that will be adversely impacted by the rolling back of diversity-initiatives in institutions of higher learning.

"...this isn’t about 'political correctness, it’s about human correctness.'"

When former Governor Gary Herbert and then Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox announced the creation of the Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Cox stated that progress toward racial justice requires “forethought, commitment and deliberate action.” He then stated that this isn’t about “political correctness, it’s about human correctness.” There were no truer words spoken.

These sentiments were echoed by Utah House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, when he and Cox stood alongside state lawmakers and civil rights leaders from across the state during a press conference announcing the formation of the Utah Diversity and Inclusion Commission. The announcement followed a spate of racist incidents reported in Utah’s schools and across the state. “Many states,” Schultz had said, “have struggled to find an appropriate way to address these issues as they teach history in our classrooms. This isn’t about politics. This is about bettering ourselves and educating future generations in the hope of finding more compassion and understanding.”

So what happened? What happened is that DEI was made political. Since the latter part of 2020, we’re continuing to witness a concerted campaign to discredit DEI-initiatives that’s being led by powerful right-wing Washington think tanks that saw an opportunity to capitalize on the fuse lit by cultural warrior Christopher Rufo and his misrepresentations of DEI and Critical Race Theory.

While Cox and others argue whether universities requiring a signed diversity statement is the same as requesting a statement highlighting previous or future efforts to be diverse and inclusive, the thoughtless rhetoric perpetuates harm onto the communities and individuals that will be most impacted by less diverse and less inclusive colleges and universities in a state that has a history of racial antipathy.

With DEI-initiatives potentially on the chopping block, facilities like the Black Cultural Center or the American Indian Resource Center face threats of closure. This creates feelings of alienation, isolation, and insecurity within communities already faced with marginalization.

"The continued ‘war on words’... silences the conversation we should be having."

When Governor Cox and Speaker Schultz protest that diversity statements border on “evil,” and are designed to smear those that don’t “align with their political agenda,” what exactly are they saying? Is acceptance of racism or exclusionary policies a way toward “human correctness,” and is therefore symbolic of the Utah Way?

The continued ‘war on words’ between lawmakers and members of the press muddles the real issue at hand and silences the conversation we should be having.

1Utah Project asks Governor Cox to rethink his recent direction regarding DEI, to look inward, and to reflect heavily on the words he spoke so eloquently three years ago to a community in pain. We ask that he finds the courage demonstrated at that time, and that he rejects the right-wing smear and politicization of DEI. We call on him to speak with his staff in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the esteemed Directors from the Offices of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion from local colleges and universities, and with civil rights leaders from across the state.

In order to achieve tolerance, acceptance and understanding as we work towards the Beloved Community that was the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we must seek first to understand and then to be understood.”

“The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Darlene McDonald is an author and the director of 1Utah Project. Some of Darlene's writing can be found on Medium.









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