Stacy Bernal: Banning DEI harms Utahns, including my son and me

While the existence of DEI offices doesn’t impact students who don’t want or need to access them, the absence of these offices will actively harm those who rely on them.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hands come together to support a silent rally at the Utah Capitol before the Senate Education Committee hears HB261, the anti-DEI bill that would dismantle diversity offices in Utah public education and government, on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024.

When I joined the Ogden Diversity Commission in May of 2020, I was excited by the prospect of lending my experience and perspective as a biracial Asian and mother to a neurodiverse son with disabilities to a commission that represents one of the most diverse cities in Utah.

In 2018 I created an annual event called “Awesome Autistic Ogden,” with a mission to celebrate neurodiversity and disability in northern Utah. Becoming a member of the commission felt like a great way to expand those efforts in the city I love and have called home since 2009.

I soon was made painfully aware that others don’t celebrate diversity and, in fact, actively oppose it. My first Zoom meeting with the commission was “bombed” by dozens of anonymous attackers with racist hate speech, pictures of lynchings and a pornographic video; all because of the word “diversity” in the title of our Zoom meeting. This, of course, occurred in the summer of 2020, which, to put it lightly, was a tumultuous season in the conversation around race in America.

Safety parameters were set in place for future Zoom meetings with the commission, but the experience left me shaken. While race is certainly a huge component of diversity, there are so many other aspects that fall under that umbrella: gender, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, veteran status and disability, just to name a few. In short, diversity touches all of us in some way.

I didn’t understand the perspective and rhetoric that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts are “anti-white” when so many white people benefit from DEI. The Ogden Diversity Commission has — and continues to have — white commissioners.

In 2022, I decided to run for a seat on my local school board in a district that has more than 50% Hispanic students and an above average number of students in special education programs. Having navigated special education in the district with my son since 2009, I had a unique perspective that I felt would bring value to the board. I worked tirelessly on my campaign, knowing that, as a first-time candidate running against a two-term incumbent, the odds were heavily stacked against me.

As fate would have it, nearly 65% of voters chose me to represent our district on the Ogden School Board, making me the first Filipina elected to what is now an all-female body. While our board is all women, we come from varying backgrounds, from religion to political affiliation to familial status, but we all share a common goal: to make the absolute best decisions for our students, teachers and families.

In addition to my regular board duties, I serve on our Student Achievement Committee and our district’s Equity Council. An overwhelming majority of our students hail from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes, highlighting the pressing need to address disparities, bridge the achievement gap and empower our youth for success. We have close relationships with Ogden-Weber Technical College and Weber State University, both of which I have previously served as a board member.

And now, with the passing of HB261 and the dismantling of DEI offices in higher education (and beyond), we’re going to see the unraveling of safety nets and the undoing of years of progress. The bill has no data showing the negative impacts of having these offices and, of a $2.8 billion education budget, less than .5% is spent on this line item. While the existence of DEI offices doesn’t impact students who don’t want or need to access them, the absence of these offices will actively harm those who rely on them.

The unintended consequences of this bill far outweigh the benefits. My niece, who attends college in Florida where a bill like this has already passed, faced the cancellation of a women’s conference for her leadership class simply because it was considered to be under the umbrella of DEI.

People with disabilities, like my son, will be impacted by the loss of this valuable resource.

Despite my constant attempts at trying to make the world a better place for people like him, the powers that be have made it that much harder. I worry for our future generations who will feel the negative impacts of this bill for years to come, including those students whose parents are supporting these bills.

Stacy Bernal

Stacy Bernal is a passionate and empathetic leader with a proven track record in the Ogden community and beyond. She has served on the advisory board for Autism After 21 since 2020. In 2022, she partnered with the Ogden Police Department to implement an opt-in autism registry database to help ensure the safety of both neurodiverse individuals and law enforcement officers. She currently serves as an elected member of the Ogden School Board and enjoys meaningful work in her role within the sports entertainment industry. She is a democratic candidate for Senate District 3.

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