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As racism on campus has ignited protests across the country — and forced the resignation of the University of Missouri president — Utah's flagship college is trying to keep racial tension below a simmer.

The University of Utah on Friday hosted a forum designed to hear concerns of students from diverse backgrounds. The discussion was long overdue, said Jasmine Walton, a senior communication major and co-chairwoman of the Black Student Union.

"It's so saddening that something like this had to happen," she said after the event, referring to hostility toward black students in Missouri and other states, "for them to finally take note. It should have been done a long time ago."

University President David Pershing and other administrators listened as Walton and fellow group leader Alexis Baker ticked through a list of initiatives they want to see on their campus. The demands included diversity training for faculty and a bigger push to draw and keep underserved student groups on campus.

"Yes, we want you to listen," another young woman who identified herself as Latina told university officials seated at the front of a ballroom in the student union. "But we also want you to say something concrete."

Pershing responded intermittently, saying "I know we're not perfect. There's much more we need to undertake."

But he also qualified that response, saying, "I know everyone believes we have all this money from the Pac-12," but that's not the case. "I don't have a pot of money."

Administrators in tow included Vivian Lee, head of the U.'s health care system, and Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for academic affairs.

Debra Daniels, director of the U.'s Women's Center, also chimed in.

"Of course you matter," she told the audience of about 300 people.

But it doesn't appear that way to some students on the Salt Lake City campus.

In Walton's experience at the U., she said, "it's hard to find a space, especially on a predominantly white campus, where you feel comfortable."

Just 15 percent of faculty and staff are racial minorities, noted Kathryn Stockton, interim associate vice president for equity and diversity.

Pershing told students in the crowd that "we need you to graduate" so the U. can hire them and increase that number.

The U.'s student body is making progress toward diversity, Stockton noted. Thirty percent of its freshman class is made up of students who identify as something other than white.

The picture is not as positive when all university students are considered.

This year, there are 408 black students at the U., according to October enrollment data. That's up slightly from 2011's 386, but it still is only about 1 percent of the U.'s total 33,000 students.

About 3,000 Latinos and 1,600 Asians are enrolled, but American Indians make up just a fraction of those numbers, with 140 students.

Given that the university's sports teams are known as the Utes, that's an especially low ratio, said Nathan Manuel, a senior sociology major and member of the Ute tribe.

"We are not your mascot," Manuel said.

Another group of about 35 young people, some with duct tape over their mouths, declined to speak, but held signs reading "Is there space for us?" and "What does solidarity mean 2 you Pershing?" as well as "Stand with students of color" and "Now yall wanna talk."

They listened as Amy Wildermuth, associate vice president for faculty, jotted on a dry-erase board the concerns of over 12 students who weighed in.

After the forum, Pershing said the next step is for administrators to meet with students again to go over their concerns.

Walton said she believed the school's top leaders listened Friday, but she feared they would not retain what her group shared or their requests.

Baker agreed, adding, "We're going to have to push it."

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