Utah’s House Education Committee charges ahead on anti-DEI push
The dissolution of diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Utah’s public universities, K-12 schools and government agencies is a step closer to reality after a lopsided legislative committee vote.
Aiming to dissolve diversity offices at universities and replace them with “student success offices,” the Equal Opportunity Initiatives bill also targets DEI hiring practices and training at other publicly-funded institutions.
Under the current version of the bill, affected hiring managers would no longer be able to ask job applicants for a statement on their views or work experience with DEI. Doing so would put their state funding at risk.
Republicans in the House Education Committee advanced the bill 12-2, with the committee’s two Democrats in opposition.
DEI and affirmative action have become targets of conservatives who maintain they do the opposite of their intended purposes. Many on the right believe they unfairly discriminate and foster ideological conformity at organizations that utilize the practices.
Every seat in the meeting room was filled as the bill was discussed on Jan. 17 and there was an overflow room. While many had strong opinions, a handful were there just to learn more about the legislation and how it could affect their work, like educators.
Verona Mauga, who is Polynesian, trekked through the snow to attend as a concerned parent of a Southern Utah University student. She said her child has benefited from DEI initiatives — they’ve increased his confidence on campus and they’ve helped him learn how to navigate different spaces. She added they communicate to students in culturally responsive ways.
“When someone feels confident about who they are and their background, they do better and it's better for the community as a whole. It's better for all Utahns,” she said.
While diversity is a worthy goal, bill sponsor Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, told the committee she believes the programs have missed their mark.
“We all support diversity and inclusion, but DEI has come to mean differential treatment in some cases,” she said. “We want everyone to get the support they need no matter what.”
Although making up a sliver of legislators, Democrats have been fiercely opposed to the Republican supermajority targeting DEI programs.
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, shared that as a first-generation college student, her life was changed for the better by campus DEI programs.
“What's really concerning for me about this bill is I am a product of diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said. “I'm hearing terms like ‘diversity activism’ and I'm wondering what that means … there's no data to back up that diversity, equity and inclusion is being divisive.”
Although the Equal Opportunity Initiatives bill cleared its first hurdle toward becoming law, the exact details could still change. The full House will now have a floor debate and vote before the bill goes to the Senate, where it could be amended.