Some States Want to Ban DEI in Higher Ed. These States Want to Require It.
This academic year, Washington State’s public colleges were required to provide training for faculty and staff on diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism — a new mandate from a 2021 state law.
As colleges’ diversity efforts face possible bans in some states, other lawmakers are doing the opposite: They’re aiming to enshrine these initiatives through legislation.
Proposals this year in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey present a striking contrast to what’s happening in states like South Carolina, where lawmakers have
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This academic year, public colleges in Washington state were required to provide training for faculty and staff on diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism — a new mandate based on a 2021 state law.
As colleges’ diversity efforts face possible bans in some states, lawmakers in others are doing the opposite: They’re aiming to affirm these programs through legislation.
Proposals this year in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey present a striking contrast to what’s happening in states like South Carolina, where lawmakers have debated defunding diversity efforts, and Texas, where a handful of bills would ban critical race theory and prohibit diversity training, among other restrictions. A Chronicle analysis has found that at least 29 bills have been introduced in 17 states so far that would affect diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
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Leah Hakkola, an associate professor at the University of Maine at Orono who studies diversity in higher education, said the legislative initiatives today are particularly polarizing.
“Our country is more divisive than ever,” Hakkola said.
In that environment, Hakkola said, legislation that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion at public colleges is increasingly important. Most administrators understand that these efforts improve accessibility and foster innovation, she said.
In Massachusetts, S.1973 would require every state and quasi-state agency — including the state’s 29 public colleges — to establish a senior-level position that has the title of director of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The bill was introduced by State Sen. Nick Collins, a Democrat. Collins’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Chronicle.
Hakkola said that some universities may find it helpful to have a director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but she stressed that the burden of promoting diversity should be “collective” across administrators, departments, and the campus community as a whole.
In New Jersey, A3944 would require the state’s 33 public colleges to develop a faculty and student diversity plan.
Each campus plan would have to establish diversity goals for increasing the recruitment and retention of students, faculty, and staff who represent diverse backgrounds; identify steps and metrics to monitor those goals; and create programming aimed at improving the campus climate for diversity. The bill would also require that an annual diversity report that includes enrollment, retention, and graduation rates be submitted to the state’s secretary of higher education.
The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, a Democrat. Her office did not respond to a request for comment from The Chronicle.
In New York, Senate Bill 1452 would require all 89 campuses in the State University of New York and City University of New York systems to establish courses in ethnic studies, women’s studies, and social justice. The legislation would also require students to complete at least one three-credit course in one of those disciplines to graduate.
State Sen. James Sanders Jr., the Democrat who introduced the bill, said requiring students to complete such a course would deepen their understanding of prejudice — particularly as the country continues to grapple with the systemic inequities brought into sharp relief by the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd.
“Racism is a major problem in New York and America,” Sanders said. “New York should go forward and not backward, like states that ban similar requirements.”
Such a ban has surfaced as legislation in Florida, for example, where House Bill 999 would ban majors in gender studies, critical race theory, and intersectionality.
Finding Common Ground
While state law is one way to preserve the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Hakkola said, colleges looking to entrench these efforts could also consider rebranding by using more-inviting, low-risk language — like “intercultural sensitivity” or “intercultural competence.”
Ultimately, Hakkola said, it is important for both skeptics and supporters of campus diversity efforts to find common ground.
“This fighting will not necessarily come to a conclusion or some kind of compromise unless we are able to talk across our differences,” Hakkola said. “We just have to be open to those conversations.”