Pride Week Vandalism at the U — Acknowledging Harm and Moving Forward

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Vandalism on the rainbow block U. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Walsh.)

By Kayleigh Silverstein, Special Projects Managing Editor

 

During the University of Utah’s annual Pride Week in 2022, two incidents of hate and bias were reported. 

The first happened on March 22, when a librarian at the U’s Marriott Library noticed a missing poster advertisement for an event where drag queen Gia Bianca Stephens would read some of her favorite books. The poster was replaced, and removed again. 

The posters were later discovered in a nearby trash can. Authorities believe these removals to be perpetrated by the same individual.

The second incident was discovered the morning of March 31, on Trans Day of Visibility, about a week after the Utah legislature voted to override Gov. Cox’s veto of H.B. 11, which would ban trans girls from participating in sports aligning with their gender identity. U Police Officers found two pieces of duct tape stuck to the rainbow block U. Written on the two pieces of tape were phrases: “F— Transectionalism” and “Don’t listen to the CCP propaganda,” respectively.

There were no cameras pointed at the block U at the time of the event, but they have since been directed towards it. 

The next day, the U released a statement acknowledging the harm caused by these incidents and highlighting the uptick in hateful comments and messages on the LGBT Resource Center’s social media posts during Pride Week.

“Both this harassment and the vandalism of the block U are hateful responses to the greater visibility of the LBTQIA+ community on campus,” the statement read.

Ashlee Roberts, ASUU vice president-elect of student relations, represents the platform pillar of inclusivity for the incoming VanderToolen administration. 

“We want the university to remain an inclusive space that welcomes everybody for who they are, regardless of how they identify and who they identify with,” she said. “So we definitely do condemn this act … and just want to make the university a more inclusive space.”

When the VanderToolen administration takes office, one of their first steps is to talk with students about their concerns and to relay that information to U leadership. 

“We want to really work to put into place some new safety protocols that just help really diminish what is happening with … these incidents,” she said. 

Roberts said incidents like this mean a lot to her because she comes from a marginalized community herself. 

“I’m Native American … I know how these bias incidents occur, and just how disheartening it really is and how much you can really take it to heart,” she said. 

Jessica Wojciechowski, the current student body president, said events like these are common, but unfortunate. 

“I think it just goes to show that people still feel comfortable on our campus to spread hate, and I am not confident that the University of Utah has done enough to condemn that, to make people know that it’s not okay,” Wojciechowski said. 

The messaging from the Wojciechowski administration is that every student belongs here, and hate does not. 

“I’m really sorry and angry that the U has not proved that — the U hasn’t proved it to me, it hasn’t proved it to anyone on my administration,” she said. “And I haven’t really talked to a single student that has an underrepresented identity where they feel like they truly belong on our campus in its entirety.”

According to Wojciechowski, one of the roles of ASUU is to help foster a safe environment for students.

“I think that a lot of times, the U doesn’t do certain things because they don’t want to lose certain donors, which just like irks me … I think that the U, in situations of systemic issues, needs to be more bold and supportive of underrepresented communities on campus,” she said. 

To Wojciechowski, this means having these safe spaces, but also making it known to everyone that hate is not welcome at the U — part of this is making the consequences of hate at the U clearer. 

“Right now, it’s all kind of unclear, like there’s just really not anything that is in place to do something to condemn these acts that happen all the time,” she said. “So I think that the U really just needs to take EDI work especially, and prioritize it more and not only that, but like come up with preventative measures for how to prevent these acts of hate from happening on our campus.”

The new administration takes office on April 27. Wojciechowski’s hope for them is to always keep students first in their mind. 

“Especially being in the presidency, you are given the privilege of being in a lot of spaces where other students are not, especially the Board of Trustees,” she said.

As the only openly queer person on the board, she said it can be hard to voice her differing opinions. She hopes the VanderToolen administration will be willing to hold these administrators accountable, and voice differing opinions. 

“I just really hope that in all spaces they are advocating in, their first priority is always students and that they stand up for that, because that’s who elected them and who they represent,” she said.

Institutionalized change can not occur in the one to two year terms of ASUU administrators, Wojciechowski said. According to her, to make this change happen, a collective effort is needed. 

In the LGBT Resource Center’s statement after the incidents, they expressed their love and support for the community. They also called on people to make a change.

“Specifically, we call on those in our campus community who hold more privileged identities to reflect on how they contribute to a campus that affirms and truly supports LGBTQIA+ people in all their diversity, and on actions they can take to be in solidarity with our BIPOC and trans community members,” the statement read.

 

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@chronykayleigh