Elevating Student Voices: Amplifying Emerging Leaders

Maegan Castleton Stories

Written by: Nayra Green and Jason Carrillo

In late February, college leaders who are engaging in inclusion efforts on their campuses were invited to the Utah State Capitol to participate in a roundtable discussion. This event brought together 13 students from five Utah colleges and universities to talk about their goals, challenges, and hopes regarding welcoming climates on their campuses. Students had the opportunity to listen to guest speakers from Utah’s Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission, and engaged in a conversation about topics and issues that were important to them. This experience was hosted to create a space where university students can connect and build a stronger network with their peers outside of their personal college communities. It was a place to share, but also a foundation to re-energize future projects and efforts. 

Photo: Emerging Leaders in discussion; photo by Claudia Loayza

The event kicked off with the immediate past chair of the Commission, Bridget Shears, and current Commission Chair, Aanjel Clayton, sharing insights and advice for students interested in engaging in policy and social impact efforts. They candidly shared the struggles and strategies of amplifying the needs faced by marginalized people and the critical value of partners and allies. Additionally highlighting the importance of establishing support systems and community when faced with challenges. Both offered different avenues of civic engagement in personal and professional realms and stressed the importance of patience in working towards a more united future.

Commissioners Shears and Clayton’s narratives were an important reminder of sharing intergenerational stories to identify challenges people have faced across time, inform solutions for contemporary problems, and offer reassurance to a new generation of leaders. Both members stayed to hear and encourage the work that the emerging leaders are doing. Afterwards Commissioners Shears and Clayton noted the importance of speaking with our young leaders, and their mutual appreciation of being in that space with them.

“What I’m building isn’t necessarily going to support me, but will hopefully support others.”

– Jennifer Garcia Beltran; SLCC

The roundtable conversation was moderated by Nayra Green and Miguel Trujillo. Students shared their involvement with on campus organizations such as Salt Lake Community College’s LUCHA and the University of Utah’s Black Cultural Center. They also conversed about issues facing their unique communities and campuses such as access to mental health resources, financial disparities, and building community in spaces that at times feel unsafe. In response to navigating these challenges, the students highlighted passion projects they undertook to address these specific needs. Despite stumbling blocks, students were hopeful about the impact of their work and remained steadfast in their efforts to leave safer, more inclusive, campuses for future students to inherit. 

Dialogue shifted to explore the importance of individual life experiences and finding a sense of belonging in advocacy work. Students shared their personal motivations for striving to create a more inclusive, opportunity-driven environment. The discussion ended on identifying possible conditions that would create a more welcoming campus for all such as increased representation in faculty, administration, and student body for Utah’s rapidly changing demographics to thrive. 

“A good system will make the best students even better and students who are struggling will be elevated.”

–Beringo Masumbe; SLCC

After the event students described feeling energized, heard, and they appreciated the new connections. The Emerging Leaders Roundtable provided a space for students to reflect on their challenges, grow their support network, share space and build community, and collectively explore the steps needed to build a more inclusive Utah where belonging abounds.

Thank you to all the participating students, Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission Chairs Bridget Shears and Aanjel Clayton, and the staff at the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs who made this event a success!