Republicans have already made critical race theory, a college-level theory that examines the role of institutional racism in American society, the boogeyman du jour for conservative parents across the country. Now they are aiming higher.
In more than a dozen states, Republicans have introduced legislation aimed at undermining diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at universities and colleges across the country. One of the first significant efforts came from Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is trying to turn Florida colleges into a haven for conservative ideology.
But other GOP-controlled states like Iowa and Texas are introducing bills that will ban DEI efforts, programs and initiatives in their respective states, defaming them as part of the so-called woke agenda of left.
The bills’ proposals range from stopping the review of DEI statements that express a commitment to diversity to eliminating all diversity training. Much of the legislation is drafted so broadly that it is difficult to understand which campus programs and activities would be affected.
And while Republicans lament the DEI’s efforts as examples of liberal ideology being forced upon them, supporters say their crusade against the DEI constitutes a full-throated attack on the colleges themselves.
“This is discrimination against people who are just starting to access these spaces,” Antonio Ingram, associate attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told HuffPost. “They’re told the doormat is being rolled up, we’ve had enough.”
Ingram said DEI initiatives don’t just focus on black students: Hispanic students, students with disabilities, women, and students with veteran status, to name a few groups, all benefit. .
But just as the panic over critical race theory has spread from state to state, anti-DEI efforts and bills are now gaining momentum wherever Republicans are in charge.
In Iowa, where an anti-DEI bill has advanced by a committee of the State HouseRepublicans are regurgitating the same talking points that have become popular in conservative circles.
“The DEI bureaucracies at our higher education institutions have been used to push a woke agenda on faculty, staff and students,” said Republican Iowa State Rep. Taylor Collins. told Fox News in March.
Public universities in Iowa oppose the bill, saying that prohibiting schools from spending money on DEI efforts could impact their federal grants and accreditations, and even scholarships aimed at a specific demographic.
In Missouri, Republicans drafted bills it would prohibit DEI training at state colleges and medical schools and prohibit schools from requiring DEI statements during the hiring process.
But Texas seems to be the state attacking DEI initiatives most fervently. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has asked state agencies and public universities to stop using diversity criteria in hiring, and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says ban DEI is one of its main priorities for the legislative year.
“We all feel like we need to censor ourselves. But how do you teach political science or civil rights without talking about race?
– Pat Heintzelman, President of Texas Faculty Associates
The Texas State Legislature is currently considering three separate bills that could impact not only DEI programs, but also what faculty can say in their courses and careers.
“These bills would fundamentally change how higher education works in Texas,” Ingram said.
Texas SB 16 prohibits professors from teaching students in a way that “forces them to believe that one race or sex is superior.” SB 17 prohibits diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, and penalizes those who violate the law by barring them from working at a public university for one year for the first violation and five years for the second violation.
SB 18 ends the tenure of higher education professors. “It doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Ingram said. “It’s no coincidence that they want to end their tenure just like we have brilliant black, brown, gay academics stepping into space.”
Texas professors are already feeling the effects of the proposals.
“If you discuss anything that has to do with race, you can get in trouble and you can get blacklisted,” Pat Heintzelman, president of Texas Faculty Associates, told HuffPost.
“We all feel like we have to censor ourselves,” Heintzelman said. “But how do you teach political science or civil rights without talking about race? She fears this is just the beginning of what the Texas legislature has in store for colleges. “Maybe the next step will be to teach evolution,” she said. “It’s just the foot in the door.”
Proponents of anti-DEI measures can also attack these programs through the budget. Last week, a Texas budget amendment that prohibits universities from using state funds for DEI purposes passed the house.
In recent years, attacking public institutions through bills that restrict, prohibit, and fund them has become a cornerstone of GOP ideological beliefs. And while Republicans have focused on K-12 education as well as public libraries, perhaps no place offers more introduction to progressive and diverse ideas than college.
“Attacks on higher education,” Ingram said, “are really an attack on multiracial democracy.”