Sometimes something beautiful grows in the ugliest of places. We saw that happen in March of 2020 when the University of Utah shocked us all by saying we needed to work from home. Us?! But our work is community engagement. How do we do that from home? UNP staff experienced a lot of stress and anxiety, as did many others. In addition to figuring out how we were going to organize our community-engaged efforts from home, we worried about our loved ones and the many community members with whom we have relationships. We worried about each other. So, very early on, we decided that we should have a daily check-in.
Since the UNP staff all do our work in multiple locations, we typically have to work hard to be in the same place at the same time. As such, the virtual world became our place to connect, reconnect, and to learn more about each other at a much deeper level. Even now, nearly a year later, we check-in every day. It is our time to be vulnerable, human, and caring with each other.
We take turns facilitating our check-ins. Our questions have ranged from “What is your favorite bird?” to learning from Saolo Betham how to say, “Talofa/hello, O lo’u igoa o/my name is” in Samoan. We also heard the reverence in returning to a sometimes tender past when responding to, “How are these current day experiences similar to what your parents lived once upon a time?” This time and these questions have kept us grounded and connected. Something beautiful has grown in the virtual UNP garden.
But the ugly came again. UNP staff did some difficult work after George Floyd’s murder to figure out how to speak…know what to say. In June, one of our check-in questions was, “What are one or two messages you would like UNP stakeholders (residents, University faculty/staff, and community institutions/organizations) to know regarding the impact of George Floyd’s murder and/or systemic racism on you?” Remember, two-thirds of our staff members identify as people of color. This was a hard question, a hard discussion, a hard day, a hard week.
That check-in question was the beginning of “A Letter to the UNP Community on Black Lives Matter and Anti-Racism” (read the letter or watch a video of the staff reading it HERE). We have since shifted those words to actionable commitments by participating together in continued dialogue about race, racism, and how both show up systemically, even within UNP.
These are not easy conversations. And, while there is little uglier than murder, we have found that we can grow and learn together so that we can hopefully bring more justice and kindness into this world.
By Jennifer Mayer-Glenn
Director at University Neighborhood Partners & Special Assistant to the President for Campus-Community Partnerships at the University of Utah
Photo caption: The UNP Staff talking with one another via their daily Zoom check-ins: (top row to bottom row, left to right) Jennifer, Jewel, Julianne, Lenn, Paul, Saolo, Abdullah, Bruce, Teresa, Jasmine, Jarred, Abdulkhaliq, Farah, Amanda, Rosalia, and Almaida.