University of Utah advisory body formed to aid with Latino recruitment, retention

The University of Utah has created an advisory body to aid with Latino recruitment and retention, the Latinx Advisory Council. In this Jan. 8, photo, a student walks on the U. campus in Salt Lake City.

The University of Utah has created an advisory body to aid with Latino recruitment and retention, the Latinx Advisory Council. In this Jan. 8, photo, a student walks on the U. campus in Salt Lake City. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A relatively new University of Utah advisory body aims to assist in efforts to bolster recruitment and retention of Latino students, faculty, administrators and staff.

The underlying aim of the Latinx Advisory Council, generally speaking, is to broaden the range of perspectives with a place in the university setting.

Latino faculty, staff and students "bring a great deal of contributions to any place they go, including the University of Utah," said Ivette López, a professor of public health at the U. and chairwoman of the council. Those outside the Latino community, she went on, "benefit ... from this influx of new ideas or different ideas or different perspectives."

Aside from recruitment and retention, the council is looking into the idea of creating a physical location on the university campus, a "safe space," where Latinos can congregate and commiserate.

"We have other places where people meet that are minority cultures, right?" said López, alluding to facilities at the U. like the Black Cultural Center and the American Indian Resource Center. "And yet we don't have one for the Latino population."

In a bid in part to bolster its profile, the U. issued a statement late last week announcing the existence of the Latinx Advisory Council, though it's actually been around for a year. López, said university spokesman Jasen Lee, "is leading an effort to create more awareness about the Latinx community within the greater Ute community."

What's more, the members of the council — a mix of U. staffers, administrators and students — have their day-to-day university responsibilities, López noted. It's taken time to lay the groundwork for the new body.

One of the first steps for the advisory council will be the creation of a plan outlining strategies to bolster Latino recruitment and retention. Gathering firm data on the number of Latinos at the U. will be part of those preliminary efforts. Broadly speaking, though, López said, "There's not that much diversity or representation," at least at a level commensurate with Utah's growing Latino population.

"What can we do to increase those numbers — more faculty, more staff, more students?" she asked.

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Perceptions and attitudes of Latinos at the U. will also figure in the initial efforts of the council, which will advise U. Vice President Mary Ann Villarreal, the head of the university's Equity, Diversity and Inclusion division.

According to Data USA, 12.7% of University of Utah students were Hispanic or Latino as of 2021 — that's counting full-time and part-time undergraduate and graduate students. Data USA is a joint initiative of international auditing and consulting firm Deloitte, data visualization firm Datawheel and Cesar Hidalgo, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab professor.

According to U. human resources data available online, 8.1% of the university staff of 26,289 identified as Latino as of last fall.

Across the state, meantime, Latinos accounted for 15.1% of Utah's estimated population in 2022, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

'Something magical'

As for efforts to create some sort of space on campus for Latinos, López said the aim would be to create a place where Latinos can hold academic or cultural events, tap into university services, and speak Spanish without having to feel self-conscious.

"The thing is that there's something magical about being with people like you, you know? And not to mention the safety that I just mentioned before. ... It's OK to speak Spanish here," she said.

In a U. press release on the Latinx Advisory Council, López noted that Latino students can still face prejudice. The university statement called the body "a tangible commitment" to representing Latinos and addressing their unique needs.


The university officials deflected questions about the potential implications of HB261 to the Latinx Advisory Council's existence. HB261, which takes effect July 1, is the initiative approved during the recently finished 2024 legislative session that revamps diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at Utah's public universities; that is, programming specifically meant to aid traditionally underserved students, including students of color.

However, HB261 boosters said during debate on the measure that it wouldn't require the closure of cultural centers at universities. HB261 aims to add white people to the pool of students benefitting from the sorts of programs that have typically fit under the umbrella of equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, like programming that helps first-generation college students navigate the university setting.

Debate over HB261 got acrimonious at times, with House and Senate GOPers solidly favoring the measure and Democrats lined up solidly against it. López, however, sees the Latinx Advisory Council as a positive, as helping the U.

"We love the University of Utah and we want it to keep getting better and better," she said.

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Tim Vandenack covers immigration, multicultural issues and Northern Utah for He worked several years for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and has lived and reported in Mexico, Chile and along the U.S.-Mexico border.


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