Jan 26, 2024 - Education

Utah poised to dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion programs

Illustration of a desk nameplate labeled "DEI OFFICE," with "DEI" crossed out with a marker.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A Utah bill that would upend diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at public universities, colleges and government agencies is on its way to the governor's desk.

The latest: The bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. Katy Hall (R-South Ogden) and state Sen. Keith Grover (R-Provo), received final passage in the Utah House in a 60-14 party-line vote on Friday — 15 days after the measure was introduced.

  • Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R), who has referred to DEI hiring practices as "bordering on evil," is expected to sign the bill into law.

Context: DEI programs in higher ed are designed to close college attainment gaps among historically underrepresented groups, including people of color, LGBTQ+ students, people with disabilities and veterans.

Details: H.B. 261 would dismantle DEI programs by turning them into "student success" offices that include and support "all students."

  • The bill would prohibit DEI workshops for students and government employees.

Between the lines: Utah's fast-moving bill comes on the heels of the Florida Board of Education announcing a new rule this month that bars public colleges and universities from spending state and federal dollars on DEI initiatives.

  • The restriction is a result of a 2023 law signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Zoom out: DEI has become a lightning rod among Republicans, who claim such initiatives sow racial discord and create division.

  • In a statement this month, Hall said the measure "aims to support all students and faculty while promoting an environment of free, diverse and open opinions."
  • More than 20 states last year considered measures banning DEI.

The other side: Utah's legislation has drawn widespread scrutiny from Democratic state lawmakers, who dressed in black on Thursday to demonstrate their sorrow over its likely passage. They demanded Cox to veto the bill.

  • "The unintended consequences of this bill cannot be overlooked," said state Sen. Karen Kwan (D-Taylorsville) during floor debate this week, per the Utah News Dispatch.
  • "It risks dismantling essential support systems and creating a void for students who rely on the safe spaces. And as representatives of our diverse constituents, we must consider that potential harm."

Of note: A spokesperson for the Utah System of Higher Education, made up of the state's 16 public universities and colleges, on Friday told Axios Salt Lake City they had not taken a position on the bill.

Go deeper: Anti-DEI movement expands in politics, business and academics

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