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University of Utah exploring how to address racism aimed at black men

People take part in the first of an ongoing panel discussion series titled “Reframing the Conversation” at the University of Utah on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. The series is meant to ignite discourse regarding racism, “othering” and public safety.
People take part in the first of an ongoing panel discussion series titled “Reframing the Conversation” at the University of Utah on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. The series is meant to ignite discourse regarding racism, “othering” and public safety.
Jeff Bagley, University of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah is taking steps to confront difficult topics regarding race and diversity through frank dialogue and thoughtful conversations.

This month, the university is launching a campus initiative aimed at promoting candid discussions regarding often difficult, but critical subjects that are meaningful to people within the U. community. Titled “Reframing the Conversation,” the ongoing panel discussion series is meant to encourage discourse on and off campus on the issues of racism, “othering” and public safety.

The first panel in the series took on the question of “expanding the portrayal of black men” — exploring how certain prevailing societal notions characterize those who identify as black men and how those ideas specifically speak to the effects, trends and representations that are perpetuated through various channels.

Speaking Monday before an audience at the Marriott Library, Meligha Garfield, panelist and director of the University of Utah Black Cultural Center, explained how negative stereotypes toward African American men can foster damaging attitudes from those targeted and those targeting, which can result in ongoing mistrust. However, engaging in open dialogue can begin the road to better understanding, he said.

“Having conversations like this gives the kind of idea that black is not a monolith. And that black men in general, we can be projected as anything we want to be,” he said. “Just understanding and hosting these talks, and not just having this one today, but continuing to have talks in the future can at least open the idea for people to say, ‘Oh, (I’m more aware now).’”

He also implored civic leaders to seek out more minority input when developing strategies that specifically impact people of color.

“Invite us to the table. Because usually when we’re not invited to the table, we’re usually on the menu,” he said. “To those people that are contemplating or trying to understand this, invite us to your conversations that you’re having about these topics.”

Another panelist, Marlon Lynch, recently hired chief safety officer for the University of Utah Department of Public Safety, said these kinds of conversations help him understand the mindset of the people on campus he is tasked to serve.

“It gives me an idea of what they’ve experienced or what someone close to them or a friend may have experienced. It helps me as I begin to learn the community and where my points of contact should be, what to expect, and how I can formulate a plan or a discussion to work with them to address what their concerns may be,” he said.

Junior Joseph Moss, 22, an African American student majoring in writing and rhetoric studies as well as journalism and communication, said the hourlong discussion was a good initial foray into addressing long-term community issues.

“I think there were steps in the right direction. Maybe not the end all, be all, but definitely the first step in a longer growing conversation and a step for (positive) change,” he said.

As a black male entering adulthood, he said becoming more comfortable with himself has been a learning experience, especially when it comes to being accepted by non-minorities on campus and in everyday life.

“For me personally, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like, if someone looks at me crazy — someone looks at me crazy. Regardless, I think it’s starting to get better, but it’s work that has to be done on the other end, not my end,” Moss explained. “I’m not one pushing a certain narrative (about black men), I’m just going in those spaces to do whatever I need to do in those spaces, and it takes the people that are in those spaces to change their ideology on me, or my people as a whole, versus me going into those spaces with a different attitude.”

He said people in general should be willing to accept others as they find them without prejudgement.

“You don’t know who’s who or what background they have. That can be kind of scary because you don’t know who’s who and someone could actually be evil or have evil intentions,” Moss said. “But the majority of people are just trying to live their life and get by the best they can. So if you just keep an open mind, you won’t have those negative narratives to begin with.”