When Karri Carrasco first came to the University of Utah as a freshman in 2000, she was going through an incredibly tough time. Her mom had recently passed away, and she was moving to Utah from her small hometown in Idaho without any family or community. Luckily, she said, she stopped by a Center for Ethnic Student Affairs (CESA) table during the first few weeks of school.
“CESA definitely became my first community in Utah,” said Carrasco. “I made friends right away and it was just so nice to have a space you could go and feel safe. There was a couch we could go and sit and study and just learn about each other and learn more about ourselves.”
Having grown up with a white mother and not having a relationship with her father, Carrasco is the only person of color in her family. Creating community with other Hispanic students, she says, helped her understand her own heritage better in addition to engaging with individuals from other diverse backgrounds both on and off campus.
“Through CESA, I went to protests and conferences in several places including Washington, California and Nevada,” said Carrasco. “We were able to meet people from all over and learn about how to get involved politically with issues that impact us and our communities. It is definitely a place where you find your voice and build leadership skills.”
CESA was established in the late 1960s to serve students of color and address institutional gaps in equity, diversity and inclusion. Today, center leaders and campus partners have reimagined the center as a university-wide center for a growing underrepresented student population and given it a new name: the Center for Equity and Student Belonging (CESB).
The evolution of the center includes a growing team and new programming that will provide additional support to students in critical areas such as early engagement, mental health, academic support and student leadership.
“I think it makes so much sense to re-name the center,” said Carrasco. “Rather than kind of separating ‘ethnic students’ into one area, the new name helps open it up to the entire campus and invites everyone to the table.”
CESB director, Tricia Sugiyama, said she hopes the center’s “glow up” means more students find a sense of belonging and a place to develop academic and social skills.
“The new model elevates what makes the center great—personal connections and community—while also adding new strategies to focus on engagement before the first day of school and preparing students for post-graduation success,” said Sugiyama.
“I really don’t know if I would have finished school without the center,” said Carrasco. “And since then, a few people who have offered me jobs have specifically said it was because of the leadership skills and experiences I had because of it. It’s truly a special space and community.”
Center leaders want to invite all of campus to get to know the CESB community at an open house on Oct. 28, 2021, at 4:30 p.m. in the Union Lobby. RSVP here.