University of Utah EDI Director Breaks Culture of Silence To Advocate For Students

Activism, Outreach and Education

Editor’s Note: Alyssa Ross ( is a pseudonym used by a trusted SLUG Magazine Senior Staff Writer to protect the author. 

Content Warning: This story contains discussion of suicide. If you are in crisis, resources are available: Call the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or the Utah Warm Line at 801-587-1055. 

When Harry Hawkins first laid eyes on the official announcement discontinuing all vinyl wrapping of the Block U, it hit him like a punch to the gut. 

Hawkins is the director of the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Utah. The tradition of wrapping the large metal U outside the A. Ray Olpin Student Union began in 2021 when it was first wrapped in the colors of the Progress Pride Flag. Since then, the LGBT Resource Center has budgeted to allow for the tradition to continue during every Pride Week, the Center’s biggest endeavor, which fell on April 1–6 this year.

“[The statement] just really stung,” Hawkins says. “When I was reading that statement, there were things that were right on the line of misleading … like, you’re giving people half the information, you’re not giving them the full context.”

The decision to discontinue the tradition was not new to Hawkins; he had been informed in a November 15 meeting with University Marketing & Communications, who had taken over control of the Block U that previous summer. The same reasons presented in the announcement were presented to Hawkins then: Vinyl wrapping necessitates certain weather conditions for application which limited the availability to other departments, wrapping was causing damage and installation and repair costs were adding up.

 “I could tell the decision had been made,” Hawkins says. “Anytime I suggested logical solutions to keep this going, I was shut down.”

Hawkins’ solutions included reaching out to community partners to cover the costs, changing wrap companies to find less damaging or expensive options, and even reaching out to other departments such as the College of Engineering to engage student solutions.

Hawkins was told an alternative solution would try to be fleshed out before Pride Week. A timeline to announce the decision was not certain, but both Vice President of Student Affairs Lori McDonald and Associate Vice President of Student Development and Inclusion Bryan Hubain requested that the announcement not be made during Pride Week so that the community could focus on celebration, especially after a troubling legislative session.

That didn’t happen. The announcement went out in @theU, an official campus newsletter, on April 2, the second day of Pride Week. “I was blindsided,” Hawkins says. “I couldn’t believe it.” 

Loud and Proud

Eight days after the official announcement, the U’s student publication The Daily Utah Chronicle published a story that interviewed Chief Experience Officer Andrea Thomas. In that article, Thomas was quoted saying that the cost of wrapping the Block U “doesn’t feel like a good stewardship of funds” and that it wasn’t related to recent legislative attacks on the transgender community since the decision had been made in November, prior to the 2024 Utah legislative session.

“We were on such a high because it was Pride Week, and we killed it. We were averaging 75 to 100 students at our events,” Hawkins says. “I couldn’t believe it… The U’s support for LGBTQ people cannot exceed $600 dollars. They put a price on their support.” This price refers to the $615 in stated repairs and the total estimated $28,115 spent on the Block U since 2021, as reported in the Chronicle’s article.

On April 30, Hawkins met with Hubain, McDonald, Thomas and later, University Relations Officer Chris Nelson. Hawkins had only requested to meet with Thomas in order to discuss how to best move forward following the Block U decision—a decision he felt he should have been consulted on as director of the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Utah.

For Hawkins, this meeting was just a continuation of the disheartening confusion and preventable harm that he’s felt he has experienced throughout his time at the U. While Hawkins  says individuals at various levels of administration have contributed to him feeling devalued, he says it’s not a problem centered around one incident or one person, but rather the culture that President Taylor Randall has enabled: “The overarching thing is that the University of Utah has a toxic environment for minorities—and that’s students, faculty and staff,” says Hawkins.

As the U approaches the end of an academic year rife with social and political turmoil regarding the future of EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion), Hawkins says it feels like he’s lived through a decade. As of the time of publishing, Hawkins says EDI staffers have received no legal guidance from administrators stemming from the Office of General Counsel, who provides legal services and advice to the University of Utah and involved administrators, regarding how best to comply with legislation. General Counsel does not provide legal services to faculty, staff or students, saying on their website that the Office’s “client is the University of Utah.” Hawkins says, “I’ve had to remind my colleagues of that a lot during these past few months is that General Counsel’s job is to protect the University—it is not to protect the individuals within it, outside of maybe the President and the Provost, our top leadership. The rest of us? Eh.” 

Information regarding the future of EDI centers is rapidly changing, according to Hawkins, but departments are still being asked to do program planning for next year with no guidance on what’s allowed. “We have employees—employees with kids [and] families—who are sitting here in limbo, not knowing what they’re going to do to them. That’s not acceptable and this is not normal for any university or company to do this,” Hawkins asks. “How are we going to protect our marginalized students when we don’t even protect our marginalized staff?” 

“How are we going to protect our marginalized students when we don’t even protect our marginalized staff?” 

According to Hawkins, there has been “no support” from President Randall, who Hawkins says has not met with the affected staff members and has only shared messages through other people. “I’m constantly being told that they’re briefed … so if that’s true, they’re aware that they have employees who are just sitting in the dark, not knowing what’s happening to them,” Hawkins says. “If that’s true, then they’re just overlooking it.”

Hawkins reports he was told that the President and Provost were traveling and then too busy to meet. “That says a lot to me,” Hawkins says.

Hawkins wasn’t sure when he would be ready to step forward and end what he calls a pattern of abuse toward marginalized staff and students.

Then, on April 10—the same night the Chronicle story went live and two days after Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a right-wing extremist student group, brought prolific anti-trans speaker Michael Knowles to campus—Aspen, a trans woman and student at the U who is identified by first name only to protect her privacy, attempted suicide. She posted her suicide note on a bulletin in the Student Union.

After being informed of the note, Hawkins couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. The next morning, he rushed to campus where he found out that Aspen was alive.

“But after that initial sigh of relief … I felt anger, because the student cited our campus environment for LGBTQ people and cited how they’ve been led to feel and how they didn’t feel like they belonged anywhere,” Hawkins says.

“To the administration of the University of Utah, this is what inaction does,” a section of her note reads. “You had one job, and you have failed at that job. We asked you to take care of your transgender students. You didn’t do that. At all.”

Aspen’s attempt is “exactly what everyone is fearing” in the wake of legislative attacks on DEI initiatives and the transgender community, according to Hawkins.

“That was it for me,” Hawkins says. “I said, ‘No more.’ I’m not going to take part in this anymore. I’m not going to continue to be silenced by people who don’t have the best interests of our students at heart.”


What the Job Calls For

The University of Utah’s LGBT Resource Center aims to support queer students in a variety of ways, from navigating university systems to finding community. This job isn’t Hawkins’ first experience with leadership roles—he was specifically recruited from his previous directorial position at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio for his expertise. 

“I’m not going to continue to be silenced by people who don’t have the best interests of our students at heart.”

Hawkins is well-versed in community advocacy. His career has included door-knocking canvassing across the South with the Human Rights Campaign, working on political campaigns such as Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, experience lobbying state and national legislators and building the University of Missouri’s LGBT Resource Center from the ground up. It was the hope that bringing Hawkins to Utah would provide the Center with needed stability after leadership transitions.

It was a sharp trade-off: Hawkins left behind his partner and his home for what he says is the most jarring experience of his entire 12-year career. Hawkins described repeated instances of feeling pressured into silence, being excluded from relevant conversations and meetings, restricted in his community partnerships and having his expertise questioned and concerns dismissed.

By December, Hawkins said he was ready to leave the university. As for why he stayed: “I can’t let our students go,” Hawkins says. “I know what type of environment this is for our students. I can’t walk away. I can’t, because who is going to be there? I don’t know.”

It’s been a tumultuous environment for students this year; YAF hosted transphobic speaker Michael Knowles in the Social Work building on April 8th, resulting in student protests and administrative tension since Dean Philip Osteen was not aware of the location until social work students presented concerns. In October, YAF received approval from various campus buildings to hang flyers with messages such as “men shouldn’t be in women’s bathrooms” across campus, which was met with significant backlash. Other student organizations, namely MECHA de U of U, staged counter-protests to YAF’s anti-trans events that were hosted on campus, resulting in criminal charges for the student protesters. The university response to MECHA’s November demonstrations against the ongoing genocide in Palestine resulted in MECHA losing their club sponsorship and the abrupt cancellation of MECHA’s 28th annual high school conference for students of color six days before it was set to be held. And just this week, more than 100 officers from across several police departments violently cleared a peaceful encampment on campus set up in solidarity with Palestine, returning the next night with helicopters and drones to arrest a student leader of MECHA based on probable cause less than 10 minutes into another peaceful rally.

Behind it all, the unanimously approved resolution from the Utah System of Higher Education in December has amplified internal tensions. It requires state universities to outline free speech limitations, specifically stating that institutions, or employees acting as representatives, “must refrain from taking public positions on political, social or unsettled issues that do not directly relate to the institution’s mission, role or pedagogical objectives.

“That’s a Trojan horse, and that is going to be used for two specific reasons: It’s going to be used as a censoring tool and a silencing tool, and it’s also going to be used as a way for leadership to duck empathy,” Hawkins says.

“Silence” is the primary word that comes to mind for Hawkins, who recently crossed his one-year anniversary at the U. After the initial announcement of the discontinuation of the Block U wrapping on April 2, Hawkins’ supervisor, Associate VP of Student Development and Inclusion Bryan Hubain told Hawkins to let the news stand for now. 

“It felt like betrayal, and it came from inside the house.”

Meanwhile, the LGBT Resource Center was inundated with calls and visits centered around the announcement. Individuals and organizations from the community were reaching out to propose solutions and sustain the tradition through donations or discounted vinyl wrapping. Others were confused, reaching out because they believed Hawkins was the one behind the decision.

Hawkins wrote an email titled “Letter to Our Campus Community” that he viewed as “damage control” for the university. It was sent to the full contact list for the LGBT Resource Center. He had three goals in mind: To reassure the Center’s commitment to their students, to provide more context to the larger public and donors about costs and lastly, to provide a place for people to share feedback directly with Chief Experience Officer Andrea Thomas in an effort to close the communication loop. “I think that’s what’s been going on through this whole thing we’ve been in—people don’t feel heard or seen,” Hawkins says. “They’re not getting feedback to the right people.”

Soon after Hawkins’ sent the email, he received a text from Hubain. It read: “Hi Harry, I saw your message. I shared with you yesterday to let it go. I’m not upset but definitely a bit disappointed. I’d like to have a conversation with you on [April 8] about the process for messages like this. Please also do not post on social media unless approved by Lori [McDonald]’s office.” No statement was posted to the LGBT Resource Center’s social media.

Feedback came pouring in. In an April 11 email Hawkins was cc’d on, Thomas responded to a queer faculty member’s concerns that the university was “deprioritizing safety for me, my family and my community.” Thomas replied that the announcement on April 2 “was an attempt to provide the full story behind the decision” and the timing was due to a desire to be proactive “because we received word that some suggested our announcement was the result of the political climate and recent state legislation. This is simply not the case.”

“We just had a student attempt suicide because they don’t feel they belong here.”

Hawkins requested an individual meeting with Thomas “to find a resolution that reaffirms our commitment to an inclusive and supportive community for all members.” Thomas agreed, scheduling a meeting for April 30—and cc’ing Chris Nelson, Lori McDonald and Bryan Hubain. After voicing that he felt like he was being intimidated to Hubain, Hawkins subsequently documented his concerns with HR and the Office of Equal Opportunity.

Hawkins said that Thomas denied the intimidation allegations and relayed that she didn’t believe such a case could be made about the meeting. According to her, Hawkins said, she brought in other administrators to better answer any questions that might arise.

The meeting centered around Thomas’ quoted statements in the Chronicle. “Especially with the Block U decision, these actions have consequences. These messages have consequences,” Hawkins says. “A member of the President’s leadership team, our Chief Experience Officer, going on record with a news outlet and saying … that it costs too much to send that message of support … We just had a student attempt suicide because they don’t feel they belong here.”

Hawkins didn’t feel like Thomas provided a clear answer when it came to why she made her statement even after he read the quoted material aloud. “I think she needs to explain her decision and her actions a lot better and understand that she cannot call herself a Chief Experience Officer when she doesn’t care about sub-sects of our students,” Hawkins says. “I’m sorry that she might disagree with that characterization, but I would say her actions thus far do not exhibit care.”

Hawkins said that Thomas’ defense was that the Chronicle took statements out of context.

For Aspen, her context was tacked on the Student Union’s bulletin board, posted where transphobic flyers advertising the April 8 Michael Knowles event had been just days before.


When All Paths Lead to the Union

Originally from Texas, Aspen is finishing her first year at the University of Utah, having transferred from Utah State University after two years to study meteorology. Aspen says that she does not feel she belongs at the U. When YAF’s anti-trans posters began to appear last October, Aspen looked into transferring schools, but found it was too expensive.

“I feel unsafe to be a trans student here at the University of Utah,” Aspen says. Although she’s been on feminizing hormone replacement therapy for over a year and has legally updated her name and gender marker, Aspen says she doesn’t feel comfortable dressing the way she wants on campus due to the political climate. “While I want to dress femme, I am afraid,” she says.

“I feel like there are many other queer and trans students who feel the same things I am feeling.”

College was originally a respite for her. Aspen knew she “didn’t exactly fit into the general American discourse of gender” since she was 15, but needed to keep her feelings hidden from her transphobic parents. “Once I got to college, I finally met other people who were trans. I had adopted a non-binary identity. However, that non-binary identity lasted for only a year, when I realized I was a trans woman,” Aspen says. “I wanted a feminine body and to wear feminine clothes, which sucks, as I don’t feel like I can do that here.”

Aspen’s mental health has declined significantly since transferring to the U. She says it’s been hard to keep up with her classes because of her mental health, and reports instances where she’s avoided going to class because of transphobic posters or events on campus. “I feel like I cannot live the life I want to live, which is an extremely depressing feeling,” Aspen says. “I am surely not alone in this. I feel like there are many other queer and trans students who feel the same things I am feeling.”

On April 8, YAF hosted an event in the College of Social Work, despite Dean Philip Osteen’s attempts to have the event moved. A protest and an alternate event with sponsors that included the Colleges of Social Work, Law, Education, the School for Cultural and Social Transformation, several community organizations and more, was scheduled. Aspen reports that the vast majority of anti-trans posters advertising the event were posted in the Student Union

“The Union is a central place on the University of Utah campus, as ‘all roads lead to the Union.’ I wanted to get my voice heard, so I figured the Union would be the best place for that,” Aspen says. “By placing [the note] on the same bulletin board that transphobic posters have been posted on, I hoped to create change.”

Aspen’s note directly called out YAF leadership’s harmful actions and words. She drew comparison between the staggering increase of transphobic legislative attacks and the increase of anti-trans sentiment allowed at the U, explaining how both increased her feelings of isolation. “Students, faculty and staff deserve to know they belong at this school,” Aspen says in a written interview. “It’s time for them to prove that people do indeed belong … Right now, it seems like YAF and Turning Point USA (TPUSA) belong at the University of Utah, but not queer or trans students.”

TPUSA is a conservative non-profit that engages students on high school and college campuses to “promote freedom,” according to Turning Point’s website.

On April 10, Aspen posted her letter to the Union bulletin and returned back to her apartment to follow through with her attempt.

Meanwhile, a student had messaged the LGBT Resource Center’s Instagram account after finding the note. Hawkins then received an email from a colleague involved with the Rainbow Law clinic, which provides free, brief legal advice on things like family law, name and gender marker changes and employment, informing him that the police were looking for a student. It was after hours and the Center was closed, but Hawkins stayed up nearly the entire night out of worry, ready to go to campus.

Aspen first met Hawkins through the LGBT Resource Center’s Intersectional Leadership Academy, which she immediately knew she wanted to apply for. “Since meeting him, he’s been an excellent mentor and such a great person to look up to,” Aspen says. “He cares about the students at this school, more than a lot of other people do.”

Hawkins says he had gotten to know Aspen very well through the Center. “All of our students are wonderful,” he says. “That’s why I love being around our students—they bring that light back into this darkness all the time.”

“I feel unsafe to be a trans student here at the University of Utah.”

Just over an hour after Aspen posted the note, she opened her apartment door to several police officers. “They transported me to the University of Utah Hospital, which was incredibly scary,” Aspen says. “I remember being able to feel my heart beating quickly, as I didn’t want to get in legal trouble.”

Worry about the cost of an in-patient admission weighed on her—she had seen stories of how future bills created problems for patients. Aspen was released from the hospital after around four hours. “I should have been held there for several days, but I had to lie as I couldn’t afford [a longer stay],” Aspen says.

Hawkins had already been considering coming forward with his story before news of Aspen’s attempt reached him. But after? “I had to speak up—that’s my job,” Hawkins says. “I didn’t even question it once. I have to do this because at the end of the day, [students are] not going to hear anything from our administration.”

Aspen consented to having her real name published in the hope that more people will connect with her experience. “I believe it’s important to share my story, as it’s a real example of how the university’s inactions are affecting students,” she says. “I want to let people know that there are people at this school who are suffering and think that they don’t belong here. I want serious change to happen at this school, so no other students have to feel the same way I’ve felt. Everyone should know that they belong at this school, which will foster a learning environment where people feel safe and can succeed.”

After learning that she inspired Hawkins to share his own story, Aspen says it makes her wonder how many other people are hiding. “How many thousands of students, faculty and staff have suffered during their time here at the university but were afraid to be open about their suffering, due to fears of repercussions?” Through both her own and Hawkins’ vulnerability, Aspen says she hopes a movement begins. “It’s time for change here at the University of Utah, regardless of the price.”

Hawkins spoke directly to students when asked what he hopes happens by speaking up. “At this moment, it feels like everything around you that you’ve come to know and to expect is crumbling around you … It feels like no one hears you, or sees you or cares about you, and I just want to say for our queer students, and to our students as a whole, we do care about you,” Hawkins says. “This university is failing you … but just know that there are people on the inside who are absolutely fighting for you right now, and I’m sorry that we’re not winning.”

Aspen called for students to work together to create change, fostering spaces of safety regardless of EDI policies. “To trans students, I love you so much. More than words can describe,” Aspen says. “You are an important person and you deserve to be happy and live the life you want to live. Please, if you are comfortable, be open about your own stories … we need to be vocal in order to bring change.”

Harry Hawkins knows this intimately. “Someone has to break this pattern of abuse and silence. Someone has to say this is not right and this is enough and our students deserve better,” Hawkins says. “If it has to be me, then it has to be me.”


One Block of the Larger Puzzle

The Block U decision is a microcosm of a toxic workplace culture Hawkins says he and other marginalized staff members have experienced while living through what he calls “the collapse of EDI at the University of Utah.” HB 261 drastically reshapes the existence of offices dedicated to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), Hawkins described a lack of engagement with the department’s directors. 

Hawkins says that his pleas to prepare for where the bill was going were “constantly shut down,” despite multiple attempts from VP of Student Affairs Lori McDonald and Associate VP of Student Development and Inclusion Bryan Hubain. “This went on for months, where we couldn’t get everybody in a room to even talk about this,” Hawkins says.

Hawkins cites April 19 as the first time a meeting was held to discuss the future of EDI at the U, but says it wasn’t satisfactory—staff were told that there would be guidance from the Office of General Counsel, but that was not the case. “At that point, the distrust and the pain is already too deep,” Hawkins says. “So much of this was avoidable, and I don’t understand why some of our leaders could not lead with empathy.”

Joan, a University of Utah staff member who agreed to speak on the record anonymously using a pseudonym, has also experienced the same confusing mixed messaging as Hawkins. “The messaging has been that our jobs are safe, which is really then left to interpretation of what that means,” Joan says. “Does it mean that we’re going to have the same job? Probably not. Does that mean that we’re going to have the same pay? I have no reason to believe that would be true.”

Hawkins is only one director of EDI, and he says that this issue is replicated in all of the different EDI departments at the U: the Black Cultural Center, Women’s Resource Center, American Indian Resource Center, Dream Center and Center for Equity and Student Belonging (CESB) are all affected and had staff members present at the April 19 HB 261 integration workshop.

After EDI offices officially became nested under Student Affairs, staff members were asked to provide their resume/CV and their goals. Hawkins says the majority of those in the room on April 19 are not buying the explanation that resumes are being collected as a way to get to know new people. “Why has reorganizing language been introduced in multiple meetings, but we’re not doing this?” Hawkins asks.

“A lot of people are feeling that we’re not getting a clear understanding. We’re not on the same page of what [this] means in terms of job security,” Joan says. “I have heard from multiple people outside of my division that President Randall is guaranteeing us to have a job but again, what that job is, we don’t know.”

The question of shifting job titles and duties came up during the April 19 meeting, to which a staff member asked if the possibility of being laid off and subsequent ability to receive severance was an option for those who did not want to be reorganized into a different department. The answer, according to Hawkins, was that it was not likely to happen.

Hawkins followed up with a one-on-one meeting with his supervisor Bryan Hubain on April 30, where Hawkins says he was questioned on the future of his role as EDI proceeded with integration into Student Affairs. Hawkins told Hubain that if his role as the Director of the LGBT Resource Center wasn’t going to be continued, he would prefer to be laid off and given severance. Hubain said the possibility of severance was uncertain. Additionally, Hawkins says Hubain confirmed that CESB would be dissolved under the legislation and that’s why resumes were actually collected.

“This university is failing you … but just know that there are people on the inside who are absolutely fighting for you right now.”

Guidance regarding EDI released in @theU May 1 contradicts what staff members like Hawkins and Joan have been hearing, further muddying the waters. Despite President Randall’s silence to EDI staff in private, he was quoted in the article: “The unique life experiences and perspectives of our students, faculty and staff matter. These identities are what make the University of Utah a vibrant space for learning, teaching, conducting research and providing exceptional patient care. Our work is done one by one, with attention to individual needs—as we are each responsible for making the university a place where everyone can thrive.”

Speaking to the university at large, Joan finds it “fucking ridiculous” that President Randall is aiming to increase enrollment to 40,000 students within 10 years while “taking away resources that would support these students.” “That’s the thing about identities—no one person holds only one identity. We all hold different identities and most of them are not visible,” Joan says. “When you take away these centers, these communities, this visibility of people who have historically already been marginalized, hiding in liminal spaces, how are we supposed to meet this goal? How are we supposed to support these students?”

The U’s marketing has been particularly troubling for Hawkins, who feels as if the university is asking staff members to violate their ethics to provide information that doesn’t tell the full story to students. “[It’s] like running the last Blockbuster in the country,” Hawkins says. “We might exist in name only, but the level of support that [students] need and deserve is not going to be here, and it’s just not acceptable.”

The goal of HB 261 is clear to Hawkins: “It’s designed to make your job unworkable, push you out and [not] refill those positions.” Guidance released May 1 adds an additional constraint—under Section VII, sponsored student organizations are now required to comply with the bill. This includes the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU), the U’s student government.

Unlike other administrative positions, Hawkins points out that EDI professionals often are not able to step away from their work. “I’m a queer man and a racial minority 24/7/365,” Hawkins says. “These laws not only target and affect our students, they affect our employees too.”

Hawkins says he knows what this kind of environment does to the students—he and his staff have experienced it. “I’ve spent months not really thinking about me because I’ve been thinking about our students,” Hawkins says. “I have been just watching this destroy people, and on top of that, having to keep up morale within our center.”

As individuals from marginalized communities, Joan says it’s terrible that their entire experience has been building on historic patterns of trauma. “The university has done an exceptional job of rehashing old wounds, retriggering us.”

Throughout it all, Hawkins can’t stop chewing on one thing: “I think there is a real question to be asked looking at the demographic makeup of the employees who are being affected by this change: Asking yourself, ‘Okay, if we looked different, would this have been handled much differently?’”

The felt lack of organizational empathy and lack of clarity regarding the future of EDI contributes to existing harmful messaging for Hawkins, who says that “it just goes into this narrative that we’re expendable—minority lives are always expendable.”

“So much of this was avoidable, and I don’t understand why some of our leaders could not lead with empathy.”

“It’s just so hard to stay in that space. We all love what we do,” Joan says. “We all, in one way or another, want to support the students [and] help our community and yet we are being met with consistent opposition from the people who are supposed to be in our corner.”

Both Joan and Hawkins are aware of the delayed timing of information delivery and the inconsistent, loosely structured nature of the messages. Joan feels as if reorganization is “an absolute definite.” “They are absolutely biding their time. They’re being very conniving and strategic with how they’re going to release this information, this decision of dissolving EDI,” Joan says. “The response that was given has, I feel, further cemented that this is what is going to happen and they’re trying to control the narrative.”

In response to the May 1 @theU article, Hubain sent a Microsoft Teams message to EDI employees, asking for staffers to “trust” that their questions “will be clarified in time.”

“This has been a very rough, rough year. It feels like our campus is coming apart at the seams,” Hawkins says. “There’s so much tension, there’s sadness, there’s anger … it just feels like our campus is coming apart.”

While EDI staffers try not to be swallowed by the ever-growing abyss of uncertainty, Hawkins acknowledges that President Randall has taken initiative to address how students are feeling. “At a time where we need understanding and empathy—our students need that, to feel safe and to feel like this is where I belong—the President’s answer to this environment, and to this moment, is to tell us that we are going to give you doughnuts and kindness,” Hawkins says. “I’m just going to let that sit there.”

Hawkins is referring to the Kindness Summit that took place on April 12, just two days after Aspen survived her suicide attempt. At the event, President Randall declared April 24 to be designated a “Day of Kindness” at the U, which would feature “Kindness Ambassadors” who would hand out doughnuts and words of encouragement with “the hope that kind words and lots of donuts will actually make it a great day as students head into the final stretch,” according to @theU. “That is the President’s answer to what our students are feeling, what our faculty and staff are feeling,” Hawkins says. “That is so inadequate, it’s inappropriate. It is the equivalent of saying, ‘Thoughts and prayers.’”

The hypocrisy that comes from President Randall bewilders Joan. “It’s been very performative, and you must be really out of touch if you don’t see it for what it is.”

While Hawkins encourages readers to come to their own informed judgements about the situation, he says looking at the timeline leaves something to be said. “There’s this pervasive feeling that they’re running out the clock, that they’re waiting for students to be gone,” Hawkins says. “They’re waiting for really when no one is paying attention to the U.”

Hawkins’ message to the wider student body is one of encouragement. “Students need to realize that they have so much more power in this situation,” Hawkins says. “They have the power to make this university what they want it to be. I’m not blaming students … but to say reclaiming your power can maybe change the trajectory of this university.”

For Aspen, she would feel “extremely lost” without the U’s LGBT Resource Center. “If the EDI services were to be dissolved, I would 100% leave the university,” she says. “That is the only way I could save my own mental health and wellbeing. Being stuck here would kill me.”


Community Resources: 

988 and the UT Crisis Line (801-587-3000)

  • Available 24/7 via call or text
  • Varied mental health support: not just a suicide hotline
  • Utah employs Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams (MCOT) that you can request for in-person/virtual emergency support by mental health professionals
  • MCOT teams provide crisis stabilization, follow ups, and referrals to other services, however do have the power to involuntarily admit someone

Warm Lines

  • Connects caller to trained peer support specialists who have been through similar situations to provide emotional support
  • Designed to be less intense than a hotline
  • Available 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. 7 days a week


  • Peer support designed to prioritize BIPOC and LGBT folks
  • Provides crisis counseling, a space to share experiences with police, and other emotional support
  • 1(800) 604-5841

Trans Lifeline

  • Trans focused peer support crisis counseling
  • (877) 565-8860

Huntsman Mental Health Institute Mental Health Receiving Center: 801-587-7988

  • 24/7 physical location for crisis evaluation and stabilization, alternative to the emergency room
  • Interventions designed to be short, intensive, and focused on resolving crisis in the least restrictive way possible
  • Reports that 78% of patients were able to return to the community after stabilization