Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) has hired two new special assistants to further the work the University of Utah is doing to enhance the success of diverse faculty, students and staff as part of their broader goal to enrich the educational experiences and success of all members of the university community.
Emma E. Houston will serve as special assistant to the vice president for EDI—Engagement and Program Development and Daniel K. Cairo as special assistant to the vice president for EDI—Strategy and Operations.
“We are honored to welcome Dan and Emma to the EDI family at the U,” said Mary Ann Villarreal, vice president for EDI. “They will be vital in meeting increased demand for this important work as we aim to expand EDI’s reach and move our One U Thriving initiative forward.”
Houston is a longtime community advocate and volunteer who has worked to create inclusive spaces in the offices of Salt Lake County, as well as Rowland Hall and Girl Scouts of Utah. She is an advocate and volunteer who serves on several boards and commissions. Her approach to EDI is simple: Advocacy for individuals.
“You have to meet people where they are, and if they can agree that EDI is important for the community, if they can find their why, that is half the battle,” said Houston.
“Humanity is in the core of EDI and we resist having expectations of whether people are going to agree on everything. That’s the base point of being able to build those relationships. We can come together to find solutions to problems that have been created.”
Houston urges anyone interested in furthering their own work in EDI to pause before making generalizations, acknowledging biases and exclusionary practices.
“This is a heavy lift,” said Houston. “Anything you have a passion for is a heavy lift. And when the lift gets too heavy, it’s not that you’re going to stop. You simply pause, you take a breath, you pick it up later when you have rejuvenated yourself because it is heavy work.”
She said she is looking forward to elevating the intentional work that is already being done on campus, while bringing her connections, network and experience to the university community.
Cairo will be overseeing strategy and operations in his new role at the U—but he is no stranger to campus. With three degrees from the U, he is excited to return.
“I started as a student activist with demonstrations, boycotts and a speech at Utah Pride about the need for solidarity between social movements,” said Cairo. “My activism and the desire for racial justice and equity is not just a job—it’s a lifestyle and a way of moving through the world.”
Cairo is an educator and organizational leader who has developed successful equity and inclusion programs such as Peers to Allies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Legacy program at Westminster College. Most recently he led a first-generation initiative at Westminster College, which was recognized as a First Forward Institution by national NASPA in 2019.
“I am 100% informed by the philosophy of student development,” said Cairo. “Where we create programs and experiences that allow our students to reach their potential by nurturing their traits, skills and talents that they already have and guide them in developing new ones. As we develop our students and focus on their success, we must also address inequities on college campuses.”
He said marginalized students need to know they belong, which can be done by stimulating their intellectual curiosity and developing their skills while simultaneously building new policies and programs that address equity gaps. He said his love for the people of the University of Utah community makes him eager to be an ally, a supporter and a leader where he is needed.
“I want to make sure our students see anti-racist practices in our work and know that we’re here for them,” Cairo said. “We must coalesce around the people who are already doing great work on equity and justice at the U so that together we can elevate and build a model for justice, equity and belonging that we need today.”
With these new positions, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion will continue to support the American Indian Resource Center; Black Cultural Center; Center for Ethnic Student Affairs; Dream Center; LGBT Resource Center; Office for Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and Office for Inclusive Excellence. Additionally, the office partners with all colleges, departments and the broader community to help develop initiatives aimed at fostering more awareness, advocacy and action.