Dedication: While writing this, the Director of the Multicultural Center, Bruce August Jr., passed away. He was a mentor for several students, no matter their background, allowing for a special connection that for many would last years. Bruce had given so much of himself to UTD and helped support various organizations; his positive influence will continue to inspire students and faculty on campus.
So, the Texas government wants to rid UTD of its best quality: its diversity. The State Legislature is working on State Bill 17 (SB 17), planning to strip away funds from university offices like the Multicultural Center and the Galerstein Gender Center. If it passes, by next semester we may not have these safe spaces. Apparently, marginalized groups have received enough benefits and we’re all equal now! I don’t understand how anyone could market an anti-DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) bill as a positive, but Texas Republicans like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Brandon Creighton have tried extremely hard to do so.
The argument against DEI offices on campus is severely flawed; it assumes that because these communities have begun to feel seen and heard on campus that they will stay seen and heard once these offices are gone. They will not and these politicians know that. Without these offices and groups, students will not have staff and faculty that understand their unique struggles. The Multicultural Center and the Gender Center were made to help students adjust to university culture that they may not be familiar with. Many of our international students have found peace knowing they can reach out to the Multicultural Center for any needs they may have. The transition into college is a difficult one and all students should have mentors that help them adjust to this new environment. These politicians’ xenophobia is hidden behind fabricated concerns in order to push their own agenda. This bill actually says that institutions of higher education cannot endorse anti-racist ideologies. What are they supposed to endorse then? These offices do not promote segregated communities, they make sure that their identity is uplifted and appreciated by others. The issue is that many do not know how to acknowledge differences without judging them, therefore creating a “cliquey” environment. What I’m very fearful of is how student organizations could be affected in the future. Organizations like the Black Student Alliance and African Student Union work closely with the Multicultural Center and have been supported by the office immensely. There is so much history within the community that could be lost with this bill. UTD is one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly campuses in the nation! Without the Gender Center, several students would lose support on campus. SB 17 would also prohibit universities from conducting training programs that teach employees how to make all students feel safe. This bill also has a chance of affecting students with disabilities across all Texas public campuses. For example, UTD’s AccessAbility Resource Center is tied to the university’s ODEI. The loss of DEI is not just about “politically” hot topics like race and gender but prevents the inclusion of all people.
What is ironic is that the proposal of this bill itself proves that what they are claiming is incorrect; we are not at a point as a society where we are all only judged based on skill. I know that my skills are undermined by many because I am a black woman; that’s just how the world still works. And because of this, I need to take time and effort out of my studies and put them into protesting against bills like SB 17. It is not fair that students like me have to jump these hurdles that others do not. These DEI offices that Sen. Creighton is trying to get rid of help students like me evade these hurdles. By eliminating funds, our representatives are not evening things out, they are purposefully setting us behind.
Yes, affirmative action is still necessary to provide extra help and guidance to those that need it. Problem is, affirmative action has a nasty stigma against it placed by those who do not fully understand it. UTD’s ODEI is not focused solely on excluding those who are part of a majority, it is focused on uplifting those that would usually be ignored because of their identity. It does not inadvertently create divides; we get these divides because small-minded people cannot accept others that are not like them. The solution is not to avoid seeing color and pushing for the idea of “one race, the human race”; it is to allow people to express their individuality and support different cultures. That is what UTD has done so far and it should continue to do so. Universities do not favor minorities over any other group, these institutions have simply created opportunities for those who would not have them otherwise. Unfortunately, members of the Texas State Subcommittee on Higher Education believe this is detrimental to straight, white students.
But why is diversity such a threat to our government? It is not a political tactic used by leftists, it’s an important part of being human. We should be allowed to celebrate differences and take the time to understand what may help each other most. Any push by the government to pass bills that restrict our right as students to embrace our individuality and heritage should be taken seriously. These bills are no longer just talk, the Subcommittee has the power and backing to control Texas public universities and will do so if they get the chance. Once they get the power over what offices receive public funding and who can be hired into these offices, they will push for more and more power.
It may feel like all hope is lost, but even if SB 17 and the other bills intertwined with it do pass there is still more we can do next semester. Now that we know that some politicians see evolved education as a danger to them, we must keep ourselves informed on not only the history of this country but also what changes are being made today. The government has already been trying to hide our nation’s dirty history in order to keep students in check, and now they are trying to control the demographics of our colleges. Student leaders across Texas have been doing their best to spread this information to others on campus about the changes that may come this fall. I’ve enjoyed working with student organization board members here at UTD as we’ve not only been able to get the word out but we’ve supported each other through our efforts. It is difficult to get the government to listen to students, but that doesn’t mean we should keep quiet. Change can only be made if our voices are accompanied by action. The best way to combat this bill is to keep students informed! Sign petitions, talk with students from other universities, speak with faculty, and just do all you can to keep diversity alive here at UTD. Whether SB 17 becomes set in stone or not, I hope that our university stays true to what I love most about it and fights for their beautifully diverse campus.