Mahala Sutherland Named SUU’s First Indigenous Homecoming Royalty

Published: January 20, 2022 | Author: Abbie Cochrane | Read Time: 3 minutes

Mahala Sutherland SUU Homecoming RoyaltyThis year’s Homecoming Celebration at Southern Utah University broke through multiple barriers in favor of inclusion. Not only did the University adopt a gender-neutral Homecoming Royalty title, but also had its first Native American student win the title.

Mahala Sutherland, a senior studying sociology at SUU, is this year’s Homecoming Royalty. Sutherland is Navajo and was inspired to compete for the title of Homecoming Royalty to increase representation for her Native culture and for those within the LGBTQIA+ community. Sutherland's journey is certainly a heroic one. While applying, she experienced many people expressing their doubts to her about her chances at the crown.

“I felt really discouraged,” said Sutherland. “I had people telling me that this isn’t something that’s meant for us because we have our own pageant within our Native community and that the category I was running for has mostly been won by cisgender, white people. But I just told myself that I can do this.”

Her resilience and perseverance paid off tenfold. Not only for her, but for those within her community as well.

“My biggest thing was just inspiring other students that are within my field of focus to help them have that courage,” Sutherland said. “Being able to do this is really significant in terms of where SUU is going to be heading in the future.”

SUU houses a Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) on campus that offers resources to students of any race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, religion, economic status, and other such factors. The CDI also offers allyship programs and clubs for students who identify with a minority or are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Sutherland believes that the CDI paired with her win is just the beginning to increasing representation on campus exponentially.

“It’s a good start,” said Sutherland. “Obviously there’s a lot of work to be done. Usually you get a lot of tokenism and false allyship, but luckily through the Center of Diversity and Inclusion they’re going in the right direction.”

Sutherland also believes that with the proper resources and funding, the CDI can reach its full potential on campus.

“The Center for Diversity and Inclusion definitely needs more funding and more resources that we can make available to current and incoming students who are part of historically marginalized groups,” she continued. “There are four staff members that are assigned to assist the nine of the diversity clubs in the center.”

Sutherland plans to continue to advocate for herself and other students from diverse backgrounds through her position as a peer mentor. Her win is another step forward to increase representation and diversity on SUU’s campus. She intends to use her platform to draw more attention to the unaddressed issues surrounding prejudice against Native people, and people from all diverse backgrounds, in order to promote racial equality on campus and in society until wins like hers are considered the norm instead of a rarity.

Students at SUU can visit the Center for Diversity and Inclusion in the Sharwan Smith Student Center to learn more about how they can get involved in a club or as an ally, or to get information about campaigns and events.

Tags: Student Life Homecoming Center for Diversity and Inclusion

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