Community Conversations with Utah Women of Color

The Utah Women & Leadership Project has partnered with several individuals and organizations to produce the following community conversation reports. Topics include community conversations with Utah women of color specifically regarding the experiences of Asian women in Utah, Black women in Utah, Pacific Islander women in Utah, Utah Latinas, Utah Indigenous women, and New American women in Utah. 

Community Conversations with Utah Women of Color 

Stories are the oldest form of passing on both knowledge and human experience. We see ourselves 
in each other and come to know something about ourselves that was often hidden prior to hearing 
someone’s story. We can grow with each other through stories.

Backgrounds & Methods

In the spring of 2022, the Utah Women & Leadership Project convened 11 community conversations with women of color in Utah, specifically, two groups per race/ethnicity category in various areas of the state. Readers should bear in mind that the women who participated represent a vast array of cultures and countries. 

The purpose of these groups was twofold:

  1. To supplement the data snapshots of each race/ethnicity category with personalized experiences that represent the various cultures and ethnicities embedded within the US Census categories, and
  2. To foster ongoing relationships with these communities to ensure their voices are heard, especially regarding the issues that specifically affect them as women of color.

The Experiences of Asian Women in Utah

Exclusion: Participants noted the “unique intersection” Asian women are in, as they are often not considered to be Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and are excluded from or overlooked for conversations that may directly impact them (e.g., access to resources, safety, institutional redesign). 

Mental Health Support: Asian Americans have tended to turn a blind eye to racism and microaggressions “in order to be a good Asian American and in order to survive in this country.” But the anti-Asian hate that escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Asians in Utah to realize the importance of talking about their experiences with racism and to better understand microaggressions and how adverse experiences affect their mental health. 

Education: Participants noted generational recurrence of experiencing racism in schools (e.g., overt slurs, making fun of their lunches, covert general exclusion). Some families came to Utah from more diverse states where they and their children did not have issues fitting in and finding friends. 

Caregiving: Cultural considerations in caregiving: When families emigrate, the intergenerational care burden is felt by Asian women. However, many immigrants do not emigrate with extended family, and thus do not have built-in elder care or childcare. 

A few action items that stemmed from the conversations include:  

  • Create diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committees only if they move towards action and results.
  • Enhance outreach efforts for resource awareness and sustain efforts with lasting funding.  
  • Ensure that families can stay together and care for each other by changing zoning for housing (e.g., accessory dwelling units).  
  • Increase cultural awareness and include multicultural narratives in history; emphasize cultural celebrations throughout the year for all Utahns.  
  • Normalize including and hearing from Utah women of color for all decision-making bodies.  

To learn more review the conversation summary.

The Experiences of Black Women in Utah

Inclusion and Belonging: Participants articulated the need to establish community and foster diversity to ensure Black people in Utah feel welcome and that Black children have role models and mentors. 

Health: Many expressed the difficulty of finding Black mental health professionals who readily understand their circumstances — especially Utah-specific experiences. They yearned for Black therapists whom “we don’t have to codeswitch for or spend time explaining certain things." Participants also experience racism in finding competent physical healthcare. 

Education: Lack of belonging and support precipitates students’ leaving Utah early in their educational careers. Students struggle with teachers’ inability to discuss or understand race, and professors seem uncomfortable interacting with Black students, which affects their ability to succeed. 

A few action items that stemmed from the conversations include:  

  • Compile and distribute a comprehensive Black-specific resource list.  
  • Implement more accessible, culturally aware care. For example, increase hours of community clinics, create retention programs for Black medical practitioners, incentivize more Black mental healthcare providers, and distribute a resource and advocate guide for Black mothers navigating medical care.  
  • Increase the number of women of color in government administration leadership.  
  • Provide better training about race for teachers to discuss history in age-appropriate ways, college faculty to understand anti-racism pedagogy, and school and business leadership statewide on how to handle racist instances, bullying, and harassment. 

To learn more review the conversation summary.

The Experiences of Pacific Islander Women in Utah

Education and Career: While there is a cultural emphasis on education, there is also an expectation from both inside and outside the culture that PI students will pursue sports during their education. This limits personal expectations and goals since they see themselves only in athletic contexts. Participants believe that lack of cultural representation and support in school prevents students from dreaming big. 

Belonging: PI women want to be invited to the table—and to be heard. One stated, “Hire us, spotlight us, sponsor us, and then listen to us. If the system isn’t built equitably, you will never hear me because I will never have the mic.” 

Health: The younger generation is much more open about mental health and more likely to seek therapy. Suicide is the number one killer of Polynesian youth. Older generations want to help, but the youth may not fully trust them. Older PI’s may not know what services are available or how to access them, so younger generations tend to fend for themselves, continuing the cycle, particularly regarding education and health. 

A few action items that stemmed from the conversations include:  

  • Create a mentorship network for PI women.  
  • Ensure equity and equal opportunity through policy and redress.  
  • Find the businesses doing DEI well and mirror their approach.
  • Fund the PI health providers resource outreach.  
  • Implement programs that target mid-range, first-generation, low socio-economic minorities for college prep in all Utah high schools. 

To learn more review the conversation summary.

The Experiences of Utah Latinas

Exclusion: Hispanic families are often not consulted about their needs and are not placed in decision-making positions even in minority-majority school districts. 

Accessibility of Resources: Women often feel unsupported and misunderstood by caseworkers in state agencies due to lack of language support. Participants described a fear of government as a barrier to accessing services. 

Safety: Domestic violence is another major issue for Latinas. Participants provided many stories of themselves or their mothers escaping violence. Undocumented, Spanish-speaking women are particularly powerless if they are kicked out by their documented husbands. Women describe instances where the police were called but believed the husband. 

Health: Improved intergenerational communication about mental health is crucial. One participant stated, “As Latinas, we don’t talk about this issue, we have to be ‘tough.’ We don’t know how to help our little ones.” 

A few action items that stemmed from the conversations include:  

  • Conduct relevant research in areas such as domestic violence among undocumented women to generate policy suggestions and implementations.  
  • Ensure the Hispanic community has a seat at the decision-making table.  
  • Offer better language and cultural support at state agencies, particularly caseworkers from their culture.  
  • Provide undocumented women ways to volunteer and serve.  
  • Provide a domestic violence shelter and housing for undocumented, Spanish-speaking women; train police to assist people in their situation.  
  • Provide access to mental health care (affordable, culturally relevant, hours beyond 9–5). 

To learn more review the conversation summary.

The Experiences of Utah Indigenous Women

Education: Education is empowering, especially for women. The youth, as future leaders, need guidance in developing essential skills. Some participants wondered if students continuing to postsecondary education was emphasized enough. 

Mental Health: Unaddressed mental health issues may lead to substance abuse and violence. Participants underscored the importance of connecting and using culturally relevant ways to heal. 

Resources: A social worker participant was surprised to learn the extent of resources available to native people—housing, safety, transportation, and water resources—and how underutilized they were. Participants described the need for effective information dissemination and a resource “one-stop-shop” for Indigenous people. 

Inequality: Indigenous people living in small towns in San Juan County are concerned about White people who have implicit biases and savior complexes moving in and exploiting native culture for profit. Additionally, non-native students tend to be uneducated about Indigenous tribes in Utah. Land acknowledgments help, but they reference the past instead of addressing present issues and acknowledging that Indigenous people are still here.  

A few action items that stemmed from the conversations include:  

  • Create mentorship programs from grade school to post-secondary education to career.  
  • Fund a platform and outreach program to improve awareness of resources.  
  • Fund summer programs and recreation centers for reservation children. 
  • Implement a process that considers effects on Indigenous communities in policy making.  
  • Provide legal services specifically for Indigenous people in Southern Utah.  
  • Reinstate a welcoming training program for new teachers in San Juan County to help them learn the culture and meet the community.  

To learn more review the conversation summary.

The Experiences of New American (Immigrant 
and Refugee) Women in Utah

Barriers to Thriving: Women describe their children coming home needing help with homework, which the parent cannot easily provide. Additionally, women want to go back to school, but the prospect is overwhelming. Younger participants note that they have learned the language more easily, and they see their parents and grandparents struggling to thrive in their new community. This burden on the younger generation to communicate and advocate for the older generation can be a barrier to pursuing opportunities. 

Accessing Services: When navigating services, Spanish is often the only second language service provided; that is a major impediment for refugees. The difficulty of accessing services also affects New Americans’ mental health. They can feel hopeless, lost, unwelcome, and depressed. If mental health care is found, professionals are often ill-quipped to treat the refugee or immigrant population. 

A few action items that stemmed from the conversations include:  

  • Adequately translate all websites and brochures that offer services.  
  • Adequately translate resources and provide interpreters for New Americans in government agencies.  
  • Fund longer caseworker tenures.  
  • Help New American women with childcare business startup and expenses.  
  • Help women business and nonprofit owners access funding and grants.  
  • Provide interpreters of all languages at in-person services such as healthcare facilities.  
  • Provide tutors and guidance for New American students of all ages. 

To learn more review the conversation summary.

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