If a community is to integrate an increasingly diverse group of newcomers, it must first feel like a community, says Takuya Minami, an educational psychology professor at the University of Utah.

"If we're caught up in our own individual pursuits, there is no community to invite people into," Minami says.

"Do we already feel like we belong?" he asked. "Without a sense of community ... we are pretty much going to be excluding them."

Minami's comments came Monday during a panel discussion on "Preparing for Changing Demographics," which kicked off the U.'s 24th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

Panelists discussed three basic needs: food, housing and education and what can be done to help newcomers meet those needs while integrating into the community.

New Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said he's already trying to make Salt Lake City more open through initiatives like a "real hate-crimes ordinance." He said the state's law is helpful in sentencing, but he'd like a city statute that "looks at it (hate motivation) from the beginning."

In addition to a domestic partnership proposal announced last week, Becker said he's looking at changing the city's retirement policy to include domestic partnerships. That may be difficult, though, because it's not allowed by the state's retirement system. And the city is changing its Office of Diversity Affairs into an Office of Human Rights.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon pointed to refugees as a group that needs attention. The Salt Lake Valley receives nearly 300 new refugees every year, he said.

The Salt Lake City School District currently has more than 500 refugee students, said Kathleen Christy, assistant to the Salt Lake School District superintendent.

"The resilience and determination these families have, we need to capitalize on that ... and involve them in our community so we can build upon their skills," Christy said.

A full listing of the U. events is at www.diversity.utah.edu.

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com