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& Inclusion

WSU streamlines services for Utah’s fastest-growing demographic

Xitlalli Villanueva

Xitlalli Villanueva, a spring 2023 graduate in microbiology and sociology, served as vice president of Diversity and Unity for the Weber State University Student Association and as student representative on the Utah Board of Higher Education. 

As a student leader, she sought to amplify the needs and stories of Utah students. 

“I wanted students to be more aware of the higher education system, but I also wanted the system to be more aware of students and how it can help them,” she said. 

WSU shares Villanueva’s goal of meeting students where they are. 

The university committed to streamlining services for Hispanic and Latino students, coinciding with its strategic plan, Weber State Amplified, a 5-year plan for growth. The plan commits WSU to increasing the percentage of students who identify as Hispanic or Latino to 15% by 2025, becoming an emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution. The declaration resulted in a $500,000 grant from Ally Financial Inc. to hire Yudi Lewis as executive director of Hispanic-Serving Institution Initiatives. 

Utah’s K–12 public education system is about 20% Hispanic or Latino, and about 50% of Ogden School District’s students represent the demographic. Welcoming more of these students to Weber State will mean more youth from local schools go to college and gain the in-demand skills employers are seeking, improving the economy. 

During the spring 2023 semester, Gina Garcia, author of Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Opportunities for Colleges and Universities, engaged with staff, faculty and students about the goal, along with approaches to classroom practices and support services. 

Throughout the 2022–23 academic year, Lewis collaborated with university departments, other Utah institutions and community partners to strategically align how the university serves and supports students through graduation. Latino and Hispanic student enrollment increased by nearly half a percentage point in fall 2021 and, again, in fall 2022. Hispanic and Latino students represented 12.5% of students in fall 2022. 

“We are transforming generations, one student at a time,” Lewis said.

Hannia Sandoval

WSU, TheDream.US partner to support Utah dreamers

Weber State became one of 70-plus partner colleges across the country with TheDream.US, the nation’s largest college and career success program for undocumented students. This partnership is providing nearly $1.2 million in scholarships to WSU Dreamers for the 2023–24 academic year. 

“This scholarship is instrumental in helping me achieve my dreams,” said Bianca Alvarado, a microbiology student and scholarship recipient. “I now have the freedom to focus on my studies and academic goals.”

Thirty-one students are receiving scholarships in the first year, and WSU plans to increase the number of students who benefit from this program in the years to come. The funding will cover the cost of tuition for up to six years or until students complete their degree, allowing recipients to attend school with less financial stress.

“For a really long time, I worried that my family and I would have to face the financial burden of college alone,” said Hannia Sandoval Gonzalez, a scholarship recipient and social work major. 

“Receiving this scholarship proved me wrong and it showed me that all my hard work is worth it.”

Stewart Library

Stewart Library launches equity minded changes

The Stewart Library spent the 2022–23 academic year eliminating barriers and increasing access for the entire Weber State community.

“We still have a long way to go, but that is also a result of understanding that creating a more equitable educational environment isn’t a matter of simply checking off a few boxes,” said Wendy Holliday, dean of the library. “Our goal is to be less transactional and more relational. That means showing up for traditionally marginalized and underserved populations outside of the library, too, by attending events and listening to their concerns at meetings and other gatherings.”

The Stewart Library…

  • Amended the policy for developing the library’s collection of books, journals, media and other resources to focus more on student outcomes and affordability, allowing the library to offer course materials and textbook purchases for short-term use

  • Added more diverse voices to the library’s fiction and poetry collections

  • Added more bilingual content to the library’s media collections

  • Increased LGBTQ+ representation through Special Collections’ Queering the Archives project 

  • Eliminated fines on all materials, aside from interlibrary loan items, to prevent holds on registration and financial burdens for students

  • Set up bilingual signage for its book collections, and plans to do more

  • Continued use of two Proctorio testing rooms, established for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, for students without reliable internet access at home

  • Established dedicated meditation and prayer rooms until the university offers more permanent spaces

  • Established a lactation room, giving parents a space for nursing children even when other campus buildings are closed

  • Adjusted hiring policies through an equity lens, including counting combinations of past work experience and education as equivalent to earning a credential for many positions

WSU hosts discussion about EDI in higher education

A larger-than-capacity audience gathered for Weber State’s panel discussion on the often-debated concept of equity, diversity and inclusion at higher education institutions. 

Each spring, the Haven J. Barlow Civic Leadership Forum examines a high-profile bill introduced in the Utah State Legislature. In March 2023, the discussion centered on Senate Bill 283. The measure, sponsored by state Sen. John D. Johnson, R-North Ogden, as it was originally introduced, sought to prohibit the funding or maintenance of diversity, equity and inclusion offices. It was amended to study these programs across Utah campuses before failing to pass. Panelists included Johnson; Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City; Cari Bartholomew, host of the Be Not Afraid podcast; and Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City. 

Professor of Political Science Leah Murray, who moderated the conversation, said the discussion revealed a lack of consensus about the definition and purpose of EDI offices. 

Murray said panelists discussed the importance of understanding EDI work on campuses and about plans for a study to that end. 

Murray said she was most impressed with the compassion and cooperation student participants displayed. “Our students heard discourse they disagreed with, but did not do anything to impede the conversation from happening,” she said. “Conducting a civic leadership forum like this allows us to hear different policy points of view in our campus free marketplace of ideas and cultivate civic dispositions.”

The event was hosted by the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service.

Amplifying LGBTQ+ Voices

Amplifying LGBTQ+ Voices

Weber State University Special Collections’ Queering the Archives, an initiative to fill gaps in WSU’s historical record to include LGBTQ+ communities in Weber, Davis and Morgan counties, amplified community voices throughout the 2022–23 academic year. 

Four WSU students helped collect 42 oral history interviews and host the Rainbow Letters exhibit, which highlighted messages from community members to people in the future about being LGBTQ+ today, at Union Station and the Stewart Library. 

“It has been absolutely amazing to me how many people have been so willing to share their experiences, both the good and the bad,” said Sarah Langsdon, head of Special Collections. 

Queering the Archives also supported Northern Utah Academy for Math, Engineering & Science graduate and WSU Early College student Sammy Langsdon, Sarah’s son, as he completed his senior capstone project titled the I Matter Project, which collected artwork, photos and poems from LGBTQ+ youth that tell the story of why they matter.