Diversity. Equity. Inclusion. Taken alone, each of those words may appear laudable — even noncontroversial. But strung together, those words have become a new flashpoint in a cultural and political battle over the role of race, gender and sexuality in American institutions.
Governors and lawmakers in numerous Republican-led states have proposed restricting “diversity, equity and inclusion” initiatives at higher education institutions and, in some cases, throughout state government.
The proposals are an outgrowth of recent Republican efforts to limit critical race theory, a viewpoint that racism is historically systemic in the nation’s institutions and continues to maintain the dominance of white people in society. Lawmakers allege that some initiatives promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, have incorporated concepts from critical race theory or liberal ideology.
Others say such assertions mischaracterize the function of DEI offices, which exist at most colleges and universities. Campus DEI offices often spearhead services tailored to students of various races, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, religions and abilities. Some higher education officials also consider diversity and equity when admitting students, providing scholarships or deciding which faculty to hire and promote.
GOP states targeting diversity, equity efforts in higher ed
The U.S. has more than 3,900 degree-granting colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs. Most states have dozens of public and private institutions from which students can choose.
Many of these colleges and universities have specific offices or employees focused on diversity, equity and inclusion for students and staff.
The National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education has additional information on the role of DEI officers. It has developed professional standards for chief diversity officers at colleges and universities. The association also has developed “ A Framework for Advancing Anti-Racism Strategy on Campus.”
Lawmakers in more than a dozen states have filed bills this year seeking to restricting diversity, equity and inclusions initiatives in higher education. Those states include:
The Associated Press has compiled a list of many of those bills, with brief descriptions and links to the legislation. The list includes bills specifically focused on DEI offices and initiatives, not those focused primarily on critical race theory.
Many of the legislative proposals to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are based on recommendations from about a half-dozen conservative or libertarian think tanks that have produced model bills or shared guidance with lawmakers.
These model proposals vary in scope. Some would ban the existence of DEI offices or any funding for them. Others are more narrowly focused to prohibit mandatory DEI training or forbid administrators from requesting DEI statements from staff and students as part of the employment or admissions process.
The following organizations have provided guidance to lawmakers seeking to restrict DEI initiatives.
— The Goldwater Institute, based in Arizona, released model legislation in January 2022 targeting critical race theory. The proposal also included provisions restricting the use of diversity, equity and inclusion statements by public education institutions in employment and admission processes.
— The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, based in North Carolina, teamed up with the Goldwater Institute in February 2022 to produce a similar model bill. It focuses only on the use of DEI criteria in employment and admissions decisions at public education institutions.
— The Manhattan Institute, based in New York, released a four-prong legislative package in January that would prohibit all spending on DEI offices at higher education institutions, bar mandatory DEI training, forbid officials from requiring or requesting DEI statements from staff and students and ban preferential consideration of race, ethnicity and sex in employment and student admissions.
— The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, based in Pennsylvania, released a model act in February prohibiting public higher education institutions from basing student admissions or faculty employment on diversity, equity and inclusion statements.
— Though they haven’t publicly posted model bills, the Texas-based advocacy organization Cicero Action and a Virginia-based group called Do No Harm also have provided legislative guidance on measures restricting diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Do No Harm focus on DEI efforts in medical schools and among health care providers.
SUGGESTED REPORTING THREADS
— How are colleges and universities in your area incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion into their activities, student services, employment decisions and other aspects of campus life? Speak with administrators and faculty to learn more details about specific programs. Can the institution provide figures for how much it spends on DEI initiatives and how many people it employs to carry them out?
— What do students or recent graduates think about the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on campus? Do they believe DEI initiatives enhanced their college experience, made the campus more welcoming or broadened their perspective on issues? If so, how? Or do they have concerns about particular DEI initiatives or requirements?
— Do campus DEI efforts extend to curriculum decisions or have implications for the accreditation of certain degree programs? College professors typically have wider leeway in their classrooms than K-12 teachers. Would legislative proposals restricting DEI extend to certain theories in classrooms? Are university policies currently encouraging diverse authors in reading assignments, for example? Does the accreditation of a department such as a medical school depend partly on it incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion?
— If you are in a state where legislation has been proposed to limit DEI initiatives, what affect would this have on colleges and universities? Whereas some bills would ban DEI initiatives entirely, others would restrict only certain things, such as training programs or soliciting DEI statements from professors seeking promotions. Would local colleges be able to continue some DEI efforts, albeit in a different manner?
— Is your state seeking to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts? While Republican proposals to limit DEI have proliferated this year, some Democratic-led states have been moving in the opposite direction. For example, these bills in Massachusetts and in New Jersey would require diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within state government. What other efforts are underway to promote DEI objectives?
Localize It is an occasional feature produced by The Associated Press for its customers’ use. Questions can be directed to Katie Oyan at email@example.com.
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