A Senate Bill in committee — 88(R) SB 17 — could mean the end of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as we know it at UTD.
If passed in its current state, SB 17 would strike down major resources such as the Gender Center and Multicultural Center and likely dissolve the DEI office as a whole. With UTD being the 14th most LGBT-friendly campus in the nation and one of the most ethnically diverse public universities in Texas, this bill would be detrimental to both students who use ODEI services and campus culture as a whole. And while it may be early in the session, it’s critical that students keep an eye on the bill and prepare to fight it with public comment.
SB 17, filed on March 10 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, would impose several new restrictions on all state-funded universities, including UTD. The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which includes the Galerstein Gender Center and Accessibility Center, would be disbanded. UTD would be unable to provide deferential treatment on the basis of race or ethnicity, which would impact Affirmative Action and other admissions and hiring practices. UTD would not be allowed to consider diversity statements from employees or prospective students on the basis of their experience with prejudice or marginalization, which could affect personal statements on a variety of applications. The bill would also give the UT System Board of Regents more control over hiring and the ability to deny courses taught in the core curriculum.
We should clarify the true purpose of DEI practices, which endorses of this bill do not seem to understand. The purpose of DEI is not to discriminate against the majority group, an idea Gov. Greg Abbott hinted at in a memo arguing that DEI policies “favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others.”
The purpose of DEI is to ensure a welcoming and inclusive campus to all students and to counter the long-standing discrimination that has contributed to cycles of inequity in marginalized communities. Even in 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the college enrollment rate for white Americans was 41%, while the enrollment rate for Black Americans was 36%. And according to the Hechinger Report, white students are two and half times more likely to graduate than Black students at public universities.
Despite this, in all applications for admission and employment, SB 17 would restrict UTD from considering the tangible hardships that people from marginalized groups experience on their journey to higher education. UTD would not be able to give preferential consideration to students “on the basis of the person’s unsolicited statement in support of an ideology described by Subdivision (1)(A).”
These statements of “ideology” include a student or applicant’s experience with racism, marginalization and social injustice. If someone is applying to UTD, and they mention a personal hardship that happens to involve prejudice, it cannot be considered in their application. This is despite the fact that past hardships are what make us into the people that we are. Would we disregard someone’s statement if it was about growing up in poverty? Or taking care of a dying relative? This bill picks and chooses which ideas it considers safe to discuss, and in the process completely strips students of the ability to communicate their experiences of oppression.
It’s no secret that UTD is a hub for diversity – in addition to our obvious ethnic diversity and strong LGBTQ population, almost a fourth of students are international, and we differ from most universities in that the majority of students are commuters. With such variety, ODEI is critical in ensuring fair treatment, helping students find a sense of belonging and removing barriers to help Comets succeed. ODEI creates a culture all students benefit from. Removing barriers includes accessibility accommodations in the classroom for disabled Comets through the AccessAbility Resource Center, affirming resources for transgender students through the Galerstein Gender Center and cultural resources for international students to acclimate to a new country through the Multicultural Center. All of these resources are provided by ODEI, an institution that would be disbanded if SB 17 were passed into law.
SB 17 could especially harm our queer population, considering UTD is a nationally-ranked LGBT-safe institution and one of the few schools in Texas with Safe Zone Ally training. Taking away the Gender Center will strip queer students of an affirming presence on campus and communicate that UTD is not a safe space for them. This is especially concerning considering other bills proposed by the legislature, like SB 1029, which would ban all public funding for gender-affirming healthcare, and HB 319, which would allow physicians to deny medical treatment for “reasons of conscience” or religious objections.
While the path this legislation takes will ultimately be decided in the capitol, UTD is not completely helpless. SB 17 passed on to committee on March 13, meaning there will be a public hearing to solicit testimony for or against this bill. It is critical that the UTD community uses this opportunity to come together and reject SB 17.
The public hearing date will be posted five days before the meeting, so keep an eye on texas.gov so you can testify against SB 17 and save the resources that are so critical to our student population.