Opinion: DEI is the Utah way

Utah leaders set the standards, and all of us, including our leaders, should be invested in living up to those standards.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The University of Utah campus on Thursday, August 27, 2020.

In less than one month, Utah’s 2024 legislative session will be underway, and this time, it appears that legislative leadership is strategically organizing to prohibit parts of one of the state’s most needed, consequential and prudent investments: diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) on Utah’s public college and university campuses.

Egregious, unfounded and refuted claims regarding DEI initiatives on Utah’s college campuses continue to mount from some of Utah’s legislators and the state’s governor. Passing anti-DEI legislation would begin to walk back resolutions, promises and commitments from legislators, Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE), the Utah Board of Higher Education and other state leaders.

Take, for example, a legislative memo shared during one of the most recent Utah Board of Higher Education meetings. While I thought this memo must include the results of Sen. John Johnson’s interim study regarding DEI on Utah’s public postsecondary campuses, it reads that “negotiations are ongoing, but legislative leadership has formally established a workgroup to begin drafting a bill … " purportedly to address concerns from last year regarding DEI offices, training and statements.

I read on, hoping for the study results. Instead, I read that “the System is advocating to preserve and enhance efforts to increase access and completion for students who face barriers to higher education, to protect academic freedom and to avoid jeopardizing federal research grants or accreditation.”

To be sure, those are critically important priorities. Still, those priorities appear similar to the exceptions to the prohibitions of recently passed and now effective anti-DEI legislation in Texas. Further, the anti-DEI bills and the recent resolution regarding free expression contain some language that resembles model legislation released by think tanks.

Concerned, I watched the recent public board meeting, where I learned that Sen. Keith Grover and Rep. Katy Hall will introduce this year’s anti-DEI bill with the support of legislative leadership, Sen. Johnson and Rep. Karianne Lisonbee.

This is not the Utah way. The Utah way is fiscally prudent, comes together for civil negotiations, disagrees better, lives with dignity and makes evidence-based decisions.

Numerous valid, reliable and rigorous publications demonstrate that DEI offices, training and statements lead to meaningful outcomes for every member of campus communities. Some of those meaningful outcomes include developing cross-cultural competencies, actively engaging across differences and cultivating environments conducive to access, safety, validation, support, engagement and success.

No rigorous evidence demonstrates that high-quality DEI initiatives cause divisiveness, restriction or harm.

In last year’s session, Sen. Johnson called for a closer look at the roughly $11 million spent on DEI programs at Utah’s publicly funded colleges and universities. If $11 million were invested in DEI programs in FY 2024 at Utah’s publicly funded colleges and universities, it would equate roughly to 0.4% of Utah’s total $2.87 billion appropriated to higher education.

Look, I get it. We must acknowledge that in a constitutional republic that derives leaders through democratic politicking, any aspect of society can be politicized to gain votes, potentially causing divisiveness and unity simultaneously, making institutional neutrality tenuous and subjective. But when our policies are backed by rigorous and reputable evidence, they are more likely to actualize improved material conditions for the people of our state, nation and world; that is the Utah way. That is the human way.

The American ideals of respecting differences, fairness and coming together make us U.S.

Gov. Cox, Senate President J. Stuart Adams and hundreds of Utah leaders signed the Utah Compact on Racial Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, committing to the anti-racist principles and actions therein, demonstrating the Utah way.

Utah leaders set the standards, and all of us, including our leaders, should be invested in living up to those standards as civically engaged and thoughtfully devoted neighbors.

DEI offices, training and statements are the Utah way.

Contact your leaders today to advocate for the protection and an increased investment in DEI on our college campuses.

(Photo by Bradford Rogne Photography) Gary P. Duran

Gary P. Duran, M. Ed. (he/him/his), is a lifelong Utahn and a recent public postsecondary graduate. He is a former postsecondary education professional who plans to continue his educational endeavors at the University of Southern California as a doctoral student, where he will work with his advisors and colleagues to illuminate, disrupt, and dismantle racism in all its forms as a research associate at the USC Race and Equity Center.

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