The governing board of Utah’s public colleges and universities wants the state’s schools to celebrate Juneteenth, which honors the end to slavery in the United States.
A resolution to support and celebrate Juneteenth within the Utah System of Higher Education received unanimous approval Friday. It “acknowledges that failing to affirm and celebrate the diverse cultural identities and histories that exist in Utah and its institutions reinforces systemic racism, trauma and erasures that impact students, staff, and faculty.”
The resolution says in part that “Juneteenth is an opportunity for the board to reflect on the previous year’s efforts and renew the system and institutional commitment to closing opportunity and attainment gaps for African American, African and Black students, staff, and faculty persisting within Utah higher education.”
The resolution also notes that colleges and universities are “curators of knowledge and advanced learning that are expected to provide an exhaustive, complex and inclusive account of history.”
Juneteenth commemorates the arrival of federal troops in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed. This was 2 1⁄2 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Utah Board of Higher Education’s action comes two days after state lawmakers approved resolutions encouraging the State School Board of Education to ban what lawmakers consider “harmful” critical race theory concepts.
Under the Utah Constitution, the elected State School Board is vested with general control and supervision of the K-12 public education system. The lawmakers’ resolutions urge the State School Board to ensure certain concepts aren’t taught in Utah schools such as “one race is inherently superior or inferior to another race” or “that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race,” among other concepts.
According to the American Bar Association, critical race theory recognizes “that race is not biologically real but is socially constructed and socially significant.” The theory also acknowledges “that racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal system, that replicates racial inequality. This dismisses the idea that racist incidents are aberrations but instead are manifestations of structural and systemic racism.”
The higher education board’s resolution does not mention critical race theory but notes that observing Juneteenth and other days of cultural remembrance are “the first step to acknowledging our commitments and actions to advance equity, justice and accountability.”
The Utah System of Higher Education encourages Utah’s public colleges and universities to adopt new traditions that commemorate Juneteenth and allocate funding “to support events and academic scholarship that expands awareness of African American, African and Black history and culture,” the resolution states.
It also encourages opportunities for student educational travel to historical museum and landmarks such as the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, International Civil Rights Center and the National Museum of African American History & Culture among others.