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Some states targeted DEI policy before the Supreme Court ruled on affirmative action

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Even before the Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action in higher education, lawmakers in some states were trying to dismantle what's known as DEI. Colleges and universities have adopted diversity, equity and inclusion programs as a way to recruit and retain a more diverse student body. But many lawmakers, mostly Republicans in states like Texas and Florida, oppose them. Adrienne Lu reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has been tracking these legislative efforts. Adrienne, what kinds of DEI policies are lawmakers targeting?

ADRIENNE LU: Yeah, so diversity, equity and inclusion refers broadly to efforts by colleges and universities to recruit and retain underrepresented students. We've been tracking bills in four specific categories. These bills would prohibit the use of diversity statements in hiring, which are written statements where applicants can explain how they can contribute to a university's diversity goals. They would ban mandatory diversity training, prohibit the use of identity characteristics in hiring and/or admission, and they would ban diversity, equity and inclusion offices, staff or work.

MARTÍNEZ: How far do the measures go in these states like Florida and Texas?

LU: The bills vary across the country.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

LU: The bills in Texas and Florida are among the more far-reaching. And across the country, we found 40 bills in 22 states that restrict diversity, equity and inclusion. And so far, 40 of the - of the 40 bills, seven have become law, and 28 have failed somewhere along the way.

MARTÍNEZ: And what do the lawmakers in these states - what do they say about why they want to neutralize DEI?

LU: Lawmakers, mostly Republicans, say that the DEI bureaucracy has gone too far. They say that it's costly for taxpayers, it's ineffective, and it infringes on academic freedom and that it goes against the American ideal of treating people as individuals. Some politicians argue that through DEI work, colleges are trying to indoctrinate students with liberal or woke ideology.

MARTÍNEZ: And what do the universities say to refute those arguments?

LU: Universities argue that DEI efforts are needed to help maintain diversity on college campuses for the benefit of all students and to help underrepresented students of color, who graduate at lower rates than white students. Some universities also point out that DEI efforts are intended to help not only students of color but all kinds of students who might need additional support and resources to succeed in college. These include first-generation college students, students with disabilities, veterans and women in STEM fields, for example. So to ban DEI efforts could really affect many different kinds of students.

MARTÍNEZ: And if these DEI measures are indeed banned or may be banned, what do colleges and universities say they'll have to do? I know that there's a lot of departments that are at risk of maybe shutting down, which means jobs are in peril.

LU: Yeah, it's interesting. Many college professors and staff have said that they are really disappointed that their campus leaders have not been more vocal about the potential impact of anti-DEI legislation. So although there are a few exceptions, many college leaders have been pretty quiet about what could happen if DEI efforts are banned. But we do know that after the Supreme Court ruling against race-conscious admissions recently, many college leaders came out and said that while they will comply with the law, they remain committed to having a diverse student body and to helping all students to succeed in college. But in states that have passed laws to restrict DEI, that work could become a lot more difficult.

MARTÍNEZ: Adrienne Lu reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Thanks a lot.

LU: Thank you.

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