Know your enemy: Comets should direct DEI ban anger at legislators, not just admin

Yiyi ding | Mercury Staff


On April 9, UTD President Richard Benson sent a schoolwide email stating that the Office of Campus Resources and Support — created in the wake of Senate Bill 17, which would have continued some of ODEI’s still-legal programs — would be eliminated. Four months into the DEI ban taking effect, students across the state are reeling from the loss of treasured programs and administrative support. But are we directing our grief and rage toward something productive? 

Comets have voiced their disappointment about the closing of OCRS on online platforms and in Student Government meetings alike, with particular ire directed toward UTD’s administration. However, if we want to reverse these changes, we need to target state legislators that passed the DEI ban as well as the administrators forced into compliance. 

SB 17, passed in June 2023 and effective Jan. 1 2024, prohibits Texas universities from having offices related to diversity, equity and inclusion or endorsing such “ideology,” as Sen. Brandon Creighton calls it. In practice, this means employment, admissions or programs which reference “race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation” — including sensitivity trainings — are prohibited, and universities risk losing funding for noncompliance. With DEI and its short-lived successor OCRS eliminated, well-loved campus supports like the Galerstein Gender Center — known for being a gender-affirming safe space and providing free sexual health resources — are left in legal limbo, potentially to never return which in turn places a greater strain on the resources still offered by the Student Wellness Center.  

Comets have been outspoken about their disapproval since the bill’s signing, and the anger and uncertainty around losing ODEI without any kind of replacement system is understandable. The Mercury stands with DEI, and we, too, are hurting from the loss. But aiming anger at UTD administration for dissolving ODEI and OCRS is unproductive.  

When the ban went into effect, universities such as UT Austin dissolved their DEI offices and issued dozens of layoffs without any alternative offices established for the students who relied on those supports. On the other hand, UTD immediately developed the OCRS to take on whatever DEI-related programs it legally could, and initially promised no staff layoffs — though that assurance holds little truth now that approximately 20 jobs are set to be eliminated come April 30. The OCRS dissolution came after Sen. Brandon Creighton sent a letter threatening to withhold funding from SB 17-noncompliant universities to every state-funded Texas university system.  

The letter itself, while not mentioning any inciting incident, followed a conservative watchdog group’s video that clearly tried to paint UTD as pursuing illegalized DEI policies under a different name. Put simply, administration was strong-armed into eliminating ODEI and OCRS against their will. The blame rests largely on the state legislators that support the ban, especially Creighton’s authorship and strict enforcement.  

It is in these legislators’ favor for students to direct backlash toward university administration, who are the forced executors of the law, rather than the elected officials who actually wrote and passed it. Since these legislators don’t have to do the “dirty work,” they can avoid outcry and maintain their reputations come election day. Administrators cannot change state law; those who antagonize administration for taking away DEI shows they lack an understanding of who is calling the shots.  

However, criticizing admin for dissolving the OCRS — a perfectly law-abiding office — because of their excessive caution is reasonable and necessary. UTD administration was SB 17-compliant since DEI’s elimination, even when creating OCRS, but eliminating the office has now removed critical campus supports, which is unacceptable despite it being the “safer option.”  

UTD’s administration should have enough backbone to defend its programs in the face of inactionable threats from legislators. Other aspects of UTD’s DEI shutdown, such as the promise of no employee layoffs that was promptly reversed, are fully administration’s fault. We believe in maximum transparency; admin should not have made a promise it could not keep, and it is only fair to horizontally transfer former OCRS employees into other administrative roles or reinstate them. But the shutdown itself was not brought on by admin’s wrath.  

We empathize with every student who feels unsafe, abandoned or enraged by Texas’ harmful stance against DEI, and we encourage you to contact your representatives or elect new ones this November. Comets need to understand the bigger picture and fight for change where it is most likely to succeed: the ballot box. Demand the return of OCRS by emailing Benson, but primarily focus your energy on calling and emailing your elected officials to demand a reversal of this ban. 


  • I don’t believe in dei now & never have. I’ve by victim of it long ago. Jobs or admission based on gender and/or ethnicity is unfair to truly qualified people. The dei ideology is racist rewards people who can’t or won’t excel in real life because of laziness.

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