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Keeping up with Utah’s anti-DEI law, Weber State is ‘repurposing’ 8 student centers

A screen capture of Weber State University President Brad Mortensen (left) and University of Utah President Taylor Randall as they address the Legislature’s Education Interim Committee at the Utah State Capitol, May 15, 2024.
Courtesy Utah State Legislature
A screen capture of Weber State University President Brad Mortensen (left) and University of Utah President Taylor Randall as they address the Legislature’s Education Interim Committee at the Utah State Capitol, May 15, 2024.

Weber State University will be a “little more aggressive” in its response to Utah’s anti-DEI law. That’s what President Brad Mortensen told lawmakers in an appearance in front of the Education Interim Committee. The result will be the “repurposing” of eight identity-based student centers to comply with the law passed earlier this year.

Mortensen was joined by University of Utah Taylor Randall as the higher education leaders updated the committee on their progress with the new law.

“Like President Mortensen, I think we've appreciated the focus on student success for everyone,” Randall said.

The “Equal Opportunity Initiatives” law bans diversity, equity and inclusion programs and offices in public schools, universities and state entities. It also targets hiring practices such as signing statements. Schools are specifically required to “ensure that all students have access to programs providing student success and support.”

Weber State will close its Black Cultural Center, Native American Cultural Center, Hispanic & Latino Cultural Center, Pan-Asian Cultural Center and the Pasifika Cultural Center. It’s also eliminating its Dream Center for undocumented students or those from mixed-status families, as well as its LGBTQ+ resource center and women’s center.

The Ogden school will no longer have a “center, a space [or] a position that has a title based on an identity,” Mortensen said. Instead, it is “repurposing all of those areas” to create a student success center that’s open to all students. There will still be specific centers for military-affiliated students, students with disabilities and international students.

Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe said she was frustrated with the effects of the law and asked if it was “financially responsible to take away all of these specialized services” so that every student is getting generic help instead of going to a center focused on their individual needs.

“Let’s revisit in five years and see how we do,” Mortensen said in his answer to the question.

Even before this law was passed, Mortensen said Weber had identified five student groups they wanted to improve completion and retention rates for. They include those in developmental math and English classes, first-generation students, students of color, low-income students and students who are over 25 years old.

The school used to have a multicultural excellence center. In 2022, Mortensen said they found it wasn’t effective and moved to identity-based cultural centers, which will now be closed in favor of the larger student success center.

Mortensen reaffirmed the school’s commitment to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution, which would open more doors to federal funding. With the number of Hispanic K-12 students in school districts surrounding Ogden, Mortensen said “we need to make sure that we're reaching out and having good connections to those students without offering them any advantages or benefits that aren't available to all of our students.”

There will also be a change for Weber’s current vice president of equity, diversity and inclusion since the school will no longer have that office. The role will instead become an “associate vice president for student success” in the school’s student access and success division. This follows a similar move at the University of Utah, which previously announced it will close its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office in response to the law. President Randall told lawmakers the staff has been reassigned, but added five employees resigned rather than do non-DEI work.

Unlike Weber, the University of Utah is not completely getting rid of certain student resource centers such as its Black Cultural Center or Dream Center.

In an April statement the University said student resource centers “will be able to pursue their core work of supporting students from historically marginalized groups, so long as they make their services available to all students. Rather than defining those served at the centers by race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation or identity, student resource centers will be open to all.”

“We are probably taking a little bit different approach to, I guess, cultural centers than President Mortensen is,” Randall told lawmakers. “We have tried to strip away student services to make sure that those are, right, consistent across [services].”

Randall added the school is also currently working the “approval process” with the Utah Board of Higher Education and focusing on shifting their centers to be more cultural or educational centers.

Like Weber, the state’s flagship school in Salt Lake City is also looking at its hiring practices and faculty syllabi to make sure everything is in compliance, Randall noted. Both university presidents told the committee they are assessing the climate on campus and are working to improve “viewpoint diversity.”

Republican lawmakers who supported the anti-DEI legislation applauded both of the college presidents for their work on implementing the law. They invited the presidents to come back in the future to let them know how they are doing.

“I just want to thank both of you for all the work you've done on this. I know it's been a yeoman's job, and I appreciate the collaboration,” said Republican Rep. Katy Hall, the law’s sponsor. “I do appreciate that every person is different, and I’m really hopeful that the student success centers will address that.”

The law goes into effect July 1.

Editor’s note: KUER is a licensee of the University of Utah but operates as an editorially independent news organization.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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