Weglinski: Freshmen, Get Out of the Utah Bubble


Adam Fondren

The welcome wall on Presidents Circle at the University of Utah. Chronicle archives.

By Sonia Weglinski, Opinion Writer


The beehive state is among the least diverse states in the US, specifically the 44th least diverse in the country. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make up about 62% of Utah residents and white people make up 90.6% of the state’s population. Utah also falls short in political diversity as a predominantly Republican state. This unique, homogeneous culture — heavily influenced by the LDS Church — is often coined as the “Utah bubble.” This exclusive bubble can contribute to Utahns being out-of-touch with the rest of society.

A state where ideas are not criticized is an ideal breeding ground for hate and discrimination. The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked nine hate groups that exist in the state of Utah. In recent years, there have also been numerous high-profile hate crimes. Living in a cut-off society with a lack of diversity and perspective can cause significant harm to the inhabitants, and if not challenged and exposed, can further worsen the Utah bubble.

Native Utahns starting their freshman year at the U are able to make their own choices — regardless if they grew up in a tight-knit, removed town or had a strict ideological upbringing. College is the prime time to expand your horizons and to challenge predisposed beliefs. With the University of Utah located in the heart of Salt Lake City, “a liberal blue in a sea of conservative red,” you have an opportunity to immerse yourself into a perspective distinct from the state’s majority. If you’ve lived here all your life, it’s high time you get out of the Utah bubble.

But how? It may seem futile at first to leave something so intrinsically-woven into Utah itself, especially seeing that the U obviously still resides within its state boundaries. Thankfully, the U does not reflect the overall demographic of Utah. The percentage of LDS members attending the U is proportionally lower — about 15% lower than the state. And the overall diversity at the U — taking into account race, geographics, gender and age — is ranked 268 nationwide out of 2475 other colleges and universities in the nation. With the high level of diversity at the U, expanding your social group is arguably the most important step in leaving the state bubble.

Expanding your social group means branching off from your high school friends and your family. If you continue to stay within your own social bubble, this can often lead to toxic echo chambers and close-mindedness. Exposing yourself to new — and sometimes unfavorable and uncomfortable — perspectives is vital in combating ignorance and internal biases. However, as a first-year student, the U offers many ways of getting involved and socializing on-campus. In fact, engaging yourself on-campus is the easiest way of making new friends in college. Consider joining a Living Learning Community or a Themed Community at the U. In these community areas, ranging from a Health and Wellness tower to an Alliance house, you’ll be living with people who share a common interest and goal while also meeting different people of varying backgrounds and experiences.

Likewise, if you want your voice to be heard, apply for a position on ASUU’s First Year Council and speak on behalf of your fellow freshmen. You can also join groups which support students of many different ethnic backgrounds — Asian-Americans can become a member of the Asian American Student Association. No matter what your interests are, you’ll be able to find a home among the many clubs and organizations at the U. While it’s important to join clubs and organizations that spark your interest and represent you, make sure you’re participating in ones that take you out of your comfort zone. By branching away from prior social bubbles and making new connections, you’re exposing yourself to fresh, contrasting perspectives that are vital for combatting the Utah bubble and staying in touch with the rest of society.

Along with immersing yourself in fresh perspectives, the University of Utah provides a plethora of different classes for students. Freshmen in college are most likely taking gen-ed classes, which is a perfect opportunity to take unique, out-of-your-comfort courses, such as The History of Rock and Roll and The Evolution of Human Nature. Even if you already know what you’re majoring in, take advantage of the time you have to explore other fields of study. Expanding your course load will not only allow you to meet new people but have a better grasp of the world around you.

No matter your background, there are so many opportunities available for you to make your freshman year an enlightening and open-minded experience. If we break out of old echo chambers and delve into new perspectives, we’re able to leave the suffocating Utah bubble while still going to the U.


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