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'They don't want me to fit in': Utah State University closes inclusion center

Several booths are set up on a grassy lawn. In focus is a table with an Inclusion Center tablecloth. Behind the table hangs a pride flag with the Utah State logo on it. Two people sit at the table. A person stands in front of the table.
Alexis Spence
/
Utah State University
Utah State University's Inclusion Center booth at the "Day on the Quad" event on August 30, 2023. The center closed on Monday in response to the state's new anti-DEI law.

For Samson Calderon Diltz, a queer person of color, Utah State University’s Inclusion Center proved influential in his decision to attend the Logan school. Moving from a town where white people were the minority, the center appeared to offer a crucial safe space.

And it did — until Monday.

That’s when the center permanently closed in response to a recent Utah law barring diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in the state’s public schools and colleges.

Now, Diltz is unsure where he will turn for support.

“I don’t know where I fit in on this campus, and I don’t think that they care about that,” he said. “They don’t want me to fit in. They want me to get in and get out of here. I’m sure that they’d love to offer to put me on some of their posters, but that’s just about it.”

The center is one of few LGBTQ+ spaces available in Logan. The city’s other options are off campus and less accessible to students.

University President Elizabeth Cantwell recently announced a restructuring in response to the new law, HB261, but details on how the center’s programs will be altered and handled were scarce. Even Inclusion Center staffers are unsure about the future. All that’s clear is that everything once managed by the center has been redistributed — without a dedicated space.

Before the closure, the Inclusion Center provided support groups for students of color and programs for LGBTQ+ students. Those responsibilities now will be managed by Academic Enterprise, and clubs will move to the Student Involvement and Leadership Center.

Cultural celebrations will be overseen by a newly established Center for the Study of Community.

Under Utah’s anti-DEI law, schools must establish new “student success and support” centers designed to assist all enrolled students, regardless of demographic characteristics.

While schools are not required to eliminate all cultural centers, the University of Utah and Weber State University have done so as a precaution.

Diltz was one of more than 30 people — including community members, students and employees of USU — who attended a center-organized town hall meeting Friday. There, attendees expressed worries over funding cuts affecting student-led events and clubs. Questions still linger about events such as “Queer Prom” and the school’s annual drag show under the revised framework.

One of the biggest concerns raised was the availability of spaces for various student groups. As one of the only dedicated places for minority students in Cache Valley, the Inclusion Center’s closure without a clear plan to continue these services is disheartening to many, including fifth-year doctoral candidate Sarah Pope.

“Taking this away and replacing it with something else is just, I don’t know, what’s the negative version of a cherry on top?” Pope said. “It’s just like, ‘OK, cool, so now we have nowhere to go.’”

Upon receiving the university’s email announcing the closure, Pope felt compelled to leave the state. Yet, having devoted nearly half a decade to the school, she plans to stay.

Similarly, Yash Rivera, a student who is nearing the completion of his bachelor’s degree, said he now feels unsafe on campus. Although the center was not the decisive factor in his initial decision to attend the school, it became the principal reason for remaining — despite feeling marginalized.

“I look at incoming students, like Aggie orientation was coming in, and I saw a few kids with pride things on their clothes,” he said, “and my stomach churned. I wanted to be like ‘this school is not safe for you.’”

Meanwhile, cultural centers like the Latinx Cultural Center and Native American Cultural Center face imminent audits to ensure compliance with the new law. USU has said those facilities will remain, but students fear they won’t, especially after the U. and Weber State shut down similar centers.

“To have someone promise something and have it not be utilized for what it’s promised for, that’s ...” Navajo student Kris Pfeiffer said, pausing in frustration. “As someone from a long, tarnished history of having that happen to us, I can’t help but take this all with a grain of salt.”

Clarissa Casper is a general reporter at UPR who recently graduated from Utah State University with a degree in Print Journalism and minors in Environmental Studies and English.