Social researchers say it takes 21 days to build a habit.
After tumultuous years spanning the deadly Charlottesville rallies and weeks-long protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a challenge in partnership with Salt Lake Community College and the YWCA creates an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to learn more about racial equity and social justice and the role they play.
According to the event page, the 21-Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge — which began Oct. 4 — is designed to “create dedicated time and space to learn about racial equity and build more effective social justice habits.”
The goal of the event is to fulfill SLCC’s vision that, “Salt Lake Community College will be a model for inclusive and transformative education, strengthening the communities we serve through the success of our students.”
Over the span of three weeks, participants receive an email with three choices of educational content to select, depending on the time they have available on any given day.
Ken-tay Lee, an intern with SLCC’s justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) initiatives, said it’s good that the program exists, but noted it needs to be followed by actionable items in order for SLCC to provide a culture of equity for all students.
“I look for this challenge to be just that — a challenge,” he said. “Any time we can talk about race and talk about how to undo what racism has done, then that is positive. Any time we only have those conversations and they never lead to action, then that is where we find ourselves stagnated, unable to grow.”
Lee used the Black Lives Matter movement as an example. It’s one thing to show support and have BLM flags around campus, Lee said, and another to create opportunities to support Black lives.
“I would like to know what actionable items we are doing in a Black life that matters,” Lee said. “Where on campus can we directly build bridges to for people who have been disenfranchised and make sure that they make it to success?”
Ariane Barboza, who also works in the JEDI office as an intern, elaborated on the circumstances around why it’s important for SLCC to bridge the equity gap for students.
“Being a successful student is a challenge for us, because we don’t come from privilege … [and can’t] just go to school and focus on studies,” she said.
Data obtained from the Office for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at SLCC showed in 2019 the six-year completion rate for Black students was 19%, in comparison to a 27% completion rate for white students. For Asian students, the completion rate was 33%, 21% for Hispanic students, and 10% for Pacific Islander students.
Students of color, Barboza said, are more likely to have obligations outside of school she doesn’t often see in her white peers.
“Even if you want to take it seriously, life is still probably going to win,” she said.
One actionable item Lee is proud of and a part of at SLCC is the Utah Reintegration Project, which focuses on the previously incarcerated men and women returning to society.
“We foresee in the future that it will be a very bright beacon for students, or for people who want to become students,” Lee said. “We’re asking for the culture to make sure we graduate, we get careers.”
As a jumping-off point and educational tool, the event can provide value to participants and their communities.
“I think SLCC is a safe space to talk about racism,” Barboza said. “I hope a lot of people join because it’s something that is very important … we can start with a 21-day challenge [and build from there]. We have to start somehow.”
Samantha Herrera, journalism and digital media student and digital editor at The Globe, participated in the challenge during the spring 2021 semester. One lesson, in particular, stood out to her.
“They had one day when they were talking about alternatives to police presence, like de-escalation and mental health resources,” Herrera recalled. “Alternatives to police is something I’ve been hearing about for a while, especially after last year, but I had never heard the ideas behind how to do it. The actual steps that people could take.”
Since doing the challenge, Herrera said she questions herself more.
“Whenever I think about an emergency situation, my first instinct was to call the police,” she said. “But now, [I challenge my thoughts to wonder] is that the right answer to certain situations, or any situation? It makes you take a pause. It makes you question why it is you think that and whether it’s something that’s been taught to you through our society, or if it’s something you actually believe.”
SLCC has the most diverse campus in Utah, and it’s important for people to recognize what those differences mean.
“Those differences are beautiful and important, and it’s important to celebrate diversity, but to understand that people from different backgrounds will have different struggles that we need to be sensitive and aware of.”