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While U. grieves Aaron Lowe's death, officials pledge to improve campus for Black community

Small memorials for Sophomore defensive back Aaron Lowe, who was shot and killed early Sunday morning have been placed at two locations, one at the scene of the shooting and the other at the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — In a paper he wrote for a University of Utah communications class, Aaron Lowe acknowledged that not many people know enough about Black culture.

Black people, he added, have been fighting for 400 years, but can still face lynchings, false imprisonment or death at the hands of police.

"The last thing I would ever want to see is my own flesh and blood leaving this earth that way," Lowe wrote in the paper.

But violence took Lowe's young life when the 21-year-old was shot and killed at an off-campus party on Sunday morning. He was a sophomore defensive back for the U.'s football team and was majoring in communications.

Police said Monday they have some promising leads in the shooting, but they have not yet made any arrests.

The professor who read Lowe's words spoke at a "Journey Towards Healing" event at the University of Utah on Monday evening. The event was designated for Black members of the U. community, including students, faculty, staff and trainees, to grieve and process Lowe's death.

A handful of U. administrators, including President Taylor Randall, Vice President of Student Affairs Lori McDonald and acting police Chief Jason Hinojosa, as well as Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown, listened and spoke at the event.

Lowe's love of the U. and the Utes was apparent from many who knew him. But Rachel Alicia Griffin, the professor who taught Lowe in two classes, said he described the U. as a space that is "very white." She asked U. administrators to rise up and improve their messaging to avoid invoking post-racialism, which refers to the theory that racial prejudices no longer exist in society.

Griffin also asked Randall to specify how he will support the Black community on campus.

Randall acknowledged that, as a white man, he has limited life experiences to relate to those of a Black man like Lowe. He said he needs to learn more and understand where others come from.

"I hope what you hear is actually a sincere desire to listen," Randall said. "I want you to know that I'm committed to being part of this journey toward healing."

Robert Merrill, a pastor at Baseline Christian Fellowship in Salt Lake City who also spoke at the event, said that it's easy to find someone to blame in situations like these. But he urged people to remember that there has been a terrible loss, and that the community needs time to process through that.

"Let's just remember that someone lost their life and it could have been any of us that it happened to," he said. "I'm still in shock. It could have been my son, it could have been anyone else's child."

When asked how the U. plans to improve mental health services for students who are Black, Indigenous or people of color, McDonald said that the institution can do a better job of providing those services. She also said that the university should improve its recruiting in those departments in order to attract more people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds students into the mental health field.

"I'm eager to see us improve in that area," she said.

As the campus grieves Lowe's death, McDonald urged people to check on their fellow U. students and colleagues.

"Be caring, be listening, and be together," she added.

Campus officials are working with those who were closest to Lowe to plan a vigil in his honor, possibly for later this week, McDonald said.

Though most of the questions Monday were directed to the U. administrators, Brown spoke at the end of the event to offer his support. He said he met with Lowe's mother Monday to offer his condolences and to grieve with her.

"I don't want to do that again," Brown said.

"I sit here to listen, to learn and to act," Brown added, becoming emotional. "We need to acknowledge the past, we need to commit to do better, and we need to move forward with intentionality, all of us."

The chief said that he was raised to believe that actions speak louder than words, and he pledged to make sure the words from those who spoke Monday — and those from Lowe himself — weren't in vain.

"This has been happening for far too long, and when it does, we sit down and we talk and we talk," he said. "Sometimes I feel like we talk to check a box. We can't do that anymore."

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