Resistance to DEI Initiatives Grows in Additional States

In 2023, shortly after assuming office, Republican state Rep. Katy Hall addressed complaints from constituents in Utah concerning the mandatory writing of diversity, equity, and inclusion statements by their adult children applying to various graduate programs. Hall, stating that such requirements didn’t belong in applications, sponsored legislation over two sessions that not only banned DEI statements but also prohibited state institutions from considering specific individual characteristics in employment and education decisions while eliminating dedicated DEI offices.

Lawmakers across the nation, including in Utah, have seen increasing success in opposing DEI programs at public universities, particularly those requiring applicants to detail how they would contribute to DEI initiatives, leading to the dismantling of DEI departments, race- and gender-based programs, and scholarships in some states. Utah’s approach, described by many as more measured, includes provisions allowing DEI discussions in classroom instruction, research, and for accreditation purposes when the law goes into effect on July 1.

Republican Gov. Spencer Cox, who signed the legislation into law in January, acknowledged the balanced solution it offered, contrasting it with his prior office requirements, and aimed to shift higher education away from an identity-focused perspective. State Rep. Angela Romero, a Democratic House minority leader in Utah, highlighted the partisan approval of the bill as part of a broader campaign portraying higher education as elitist and detached.

Multiple states, mostly Republican-led, have initiated efforts to curtail DEI programs, with legislation or policies in at least 22 states limiting or modifying DEI measures in state university systems. Recent actions include North Dakota’s ban on questions about commitment to DEI, Florida’s removal of diversity statements and DEI offices, and Alabama’s restriction against public employees endorsing divisive concepts based on individual characteristics.

Furthermore, South Dakota’s Board of Regents prohibited email signatures with preferred pronouns or tribal affiliations, and the University of North Carolina abolished DEI policies at all 17 campuses. These legislative movements align with a national agenda challenging DEI initiatives in higher education and create ripple effects on campuses nationwide.

Anti-DEI initiatives stem from campaigns against critical race theory, emphasizing the supposed harm students, especially white individuals, face in learning about racism’s historical context in the United States. National polling indicated a belief among 77% of Republicans that discrimination against white people is as concerning as discrimination against Black Americans, reflecting broader conservative sentiments against DEI programs and highlighting the divisions in societal perspectives on race issues.

Irene Mulvey, President of the American Association of University Professors, expressed concerns about anti-DEI laws stifling academic freedom, constraining faculty members from engaging in discussions on sensitive topics, and emphasizing a culture of fear in classrooms. The impact of these laws transcends educational environments, affecting employment, diversity training programs, and ideological debates within university systems across the country.

Efforts to roll back DEI programs, starting from university hiring processes, have gained traction, with critics seeing diversity statements as compromising freedom of expression and potentially serving as ideological tests for applicants. Elite universities like MIT and Harvard have revised their stance on DEI statements, considering them redundant or restricting academic freedom. Proponents argue that DEI statements personalize job applications, showcasing candidates’ unique perspectives and commitments to inclusive practices.

In states like South Carolina and Utah, the erosion of DEI initiatives raises concerns about limiting educational diversity and promoting ideological conformity. The personal experiences of legislators like Angela Romero underscore the transformative impact of DEI programs on opportunities in education and public service, advocating for a comprehensive approach to address systemic disparities and foster a more inclusive society.

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