Bennion Center Discusses an Inclusive College Education


Michael Adam Fondren

The Bennion Center in the Olpin Student Union February 6, 2017. (Michael Adam Fondren | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Kailey Gilbert, News Writer


On Oct. 6, the Bennion Center held a discussion on the importance of an inclusive education at the University of Utah.

Facilitated by Dean McGovern, the executive director of the Bennion Center, the inclusion conversation was contributed to by David Parker, a clinical assistant professor in the Urban Institute for Teacher Education, William Smith, a professor of ethnic studies, and Mary Anne Berzins, the assistant vice president of workforce planning for human resources.

The conversation included ideas involving disability and race, the power the U has over controversy and the continuous celebration of differences.

To start the meeting, McGovern acknowledged the Native American tribes of Utah and the territory which the U stands upon.

“We pledge to act against systems of oppression that work to limit Black, indigenous, Asian, women, LGBTQ, all people of color, and create new anti-racist practices and lovingly address, and move forward from, the mistakes we have made and will inevitably continue to make,” McGovern said.

Parker then said this conversation should be a safe space to discuss the serious and controversial topics that may come up.

“In terms of education, higher education has a unique challenge I think, because our institutions of higher education weren’t created with inclusivity in mind, in fact a lot of us recognize that they were created with just the opposite and created a segregated or exclusive space,” McGovern said.

He went on to say there are several obstacles for higher education because of this. He then asked the panel what inclusive education looks like to each individual. 

“I wonder if the journey of inclusion merely starts even before students get to our institution,” Berzins said. “I wonder how we really engage with students who are thinking about coming to the U.”

McGovern responded, saying Berzins’ words reminded him of how selectivity is another word for exclusivity.

Smith said in regards to inclusive education, most of the current research focuses on “challenges that students bring to the classroom.”

“I kind of reinterpret it as challenges that the institution has … and not being able to be more inclusive of all the multiple identities and general diversity that students have, so that all this is more on the institution and the instructors for being more creative,” Smith said.

He said the U can be a better institution by not only increasing inclusivity, but also by learning how to celebrate differences.

“All of us have needed different things at different times, but sometimes, speaking from personal experience, it feels like you’re a bit of a misfit because you’re not actually getting what you need,” Berzins said.

She said this burden, if not met by institutions, becomes something an individual must handle on their own. She also said the needs of students change at different times throughout their education. 

Parker joined the conversation and said the definition of celebration needs to be defined. He talked about how celebrating diversity is not simply a one-day endeavor highlighting individual rights, but is instead a continual process “which is belonging, which is inclusion.”

The conversation then shifted to the racial implications words and phrases can have on people. Parker discussed issues with hate speech and racially offensive terms, saying that some believe it is a constitutional right.

“Because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean it’s right to say it,” Parker said.

He highlighted how harmful phrases and racism take away from the institution’s safety. 

“Some of it is the lack of information or confusion because people don’t talk about these things early on and teach them early on in a child’s life, so modern society educates them,” Smith said. 

Smith described a time where he was being interviewed and the reporter asked him a question using what he described as an offensive and archaic term without realizing. He said he corrected the reporter and explained why she should not use the term and then only three minutes later she used it again.

“It seems like this particular period of time … there is no knowledge of where this comes from,” Smith said. “I think part of it is a lack of education … at the primary school years.”


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