Backlash Against Diversity: The Growing Trend of Anti-DEI Laws

By Sean Copeland

Within the last couple of years, America has seen some alarming choices regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. Affirmative action and, now, DEI bills have been removed from universities, causing a serious uproar amongst what we know in modern times to be lawful and socially acceptable.

As for DEI, which stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion, these programs and policies have been in place to protect women and minorities from discrimination, preferential treatment, and implicit bias in education and the workplace. Such programs allow representation and involvement for people of various ethnic backgrounds. Much like affirmative action, DEI programs have allowed minorities to participate and succeed in education, careers, and initiatives.

The Rise of Anti-DEI Laws

Recently, many states have banned DEI programs inside public colleges and universities. Republicans have taken issue with the programming and have said DEI is ineffective, discriminatory, and a waste of funding. Some have even taken the notion that DEI programs cause more division and discrimination in society. Most notably, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law in May 2023 that banned the state’s public colleges and universities from spending money on DEI programs.

According to a May 2023 article from NPR, DeSantis stated, “If you look at the way this has actually been implemented across the country, DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination. And that has no place in our public institutions.” These remarks were made during a news conference at the New College of Florida in Sarasota.

To date, many institutions across the U.S. have DEI offices and initiatives that serve the purpose of promoting diversity and inclusion amongst faculty, staff, and students. On March 20, Alabama became the latest state to sign an anti-DEI ban into law. Signed by Alabama Governor Kate Ivy, the law has been described as preventing programs or instruction that promote divisive concepts. Unsurprisingly, the new law hasn’t been received well by everyone. Leading up to the signing, Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor Randall Woodfin posted a message expressing his views on the proposed law at the time.

“I have no problem organizing Black parents and athletes to attend other institutions outside of the state where diversity and inclusion are prioritized,” he stated.

Contrary to some beliefs, DEI funding is beneficial to many students as it provides scholarship funding, employment opportunities after college, social support, and an overall sense of safety and representation in this divisive climate. Mental health resources are also valuable to minority students as they are offered a safe space to discuss issues they may face that are unique to their experience.

While Alabama has been the latest state to join the movement to end DEI efforts, to date, over 30 states have passed or at least introduced anti-DEI laws. Nine states have officially passed anti-DEI laws, including Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Indiana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

In addition to the Black community, DEI laws and initiatives have protected other minority groups, including women, other people of color, LGBTQ+, and disabled communities. Also, while affirmative action served minority groups in their admission processes to enter colleges and universities, DEI laws have ensured that they maintained a happier, more successful, and safer enrollment while also providing resources past their college experience.

Why DEI Is Necessary

There are many facets to DEI initiatives. For education, it is particularly important to not only advocate for diversity in hiring and programming but also to make progress in the areas of the curriculums that are being taught in these institutions.

There are examples such as teaching a diverse amount of history about various ethnic groups, especially outside of their respective history or heritage months. DEI initiatives extend to the recruitment and retention of an actively diverse student enrollment that speaks to the needs of its environment while also representing how society should prioritize inclusion in the 21st century. Minority population growth in the U.S. is on the incline and is expected to continue.

In January, the Pew Research Center reported that an estimated 47.9 million people self-identified as Black in 2022, making up 14.4% of the country’s population. This marks a 32% increase since 2000, when there were 36.2 million Black people living in the U.S. Large swaths of Black Americans reside in the South, with Texas boasting a Black population of about 4.2 million. Florida has about 3.9 million Black residents, and Georgia has about 3.7 million, which is third.

Also, Utah experienced its fastest growth in the Black population, with an increase of 86% between 2010 and 2022. States, such as Utah, have experienced a surge in Black population growth and traditionally haven’t had many Black citizens.

So, it is particularly telling that anti-DEI laws are being passed in Utah, Texas, and Florida, where this growth is happening. Also, educational attainment in the Black community is on the rise, with 26% of Black adults, or 7 million people, having earned at least a bachelor’s degree in 2022. This figure was up from 14.5% in 2000. As Black citizens earn more degrees, DEI has become a useful tool in helping them navigate their educational goals.

Michigan’s Current DEI Status

For Michigan students who are looking to attend college out of state, anti-DEI laws will present a particularly challenging environment to navigate. Many students of color often have concerns about going to a new school and having to deal with concerns of race and how certain environments could impact their learning, safety, and social interactions. With states like Alabama banning DEI laws and initiatives, Black and other minority students face the possibility of environments that could be less welcoming and empathetic to their unique needs.

Additionally, DEI offices often provide funding for scholarships and grant opportunities. During 2020, at the height of social unrest in the U.S., the fight for systemic change exposed the horrors of racism that are still widely present. Communities far and wide protested police brutality and fought for change in our communities. Unfortunately, the recent enactment of anti-DEI laws and the removal of affirmative action seems to be a step in the wrong direction in the fight for equality.

Currently, there are announcements about DEI training to improve inclusion in the workplace. Additionally, public universities in the state have shared their goals. In January, Wayne State University announced that it was starting a series of implicit bias workshops through 2024 that are aimed at tackling unconscious prejudices in healthcare fields. The virtual program, aligned with the state’s requirements for implicit bias training, will be aimed at local professionals as well as students, faculty, staff, and the overall Detroit community, according to their website.

Currently, the University of Michigan is a leader in the DEI space with one of the largest programs in the country. Earlier this year, reports emerged of the university being the number one diverse school in the country, having employment of over 200 DEI staff and generating upwards of $30 million dollars in salaries and benefits. These figures are said to be able to pay in-state tuition costs for 1,781 undergraduate students.

While University of Michigan has been praised for their efforts in DEI, the school certainly has faced its share of criticism from media outlets with some calling their efforts “wasteful.” In early March, in response to the recent rise of anti-DEI laws, the university’s DEI office released a lengthy statement that also addressed its critics.

“Despite the national challenges and pressures, we persist because we have over 30 years of empirical evidence demonstrating the benefits of DEI – students, faculty, and staff all benefit when we live, learn and work together in a diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus. Indeed, there are many tangible examples of DEI work happening across our campus that demonstrate why we must continue this vital work,” shared Tabbye M. Chavous, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Equity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer.

Throughout the statement, Chavous doubled down on her efforts to continue DEI work. Regardless of what is currently happening in other states, UM’s DEI office shared its commitment to tackling the challenges of DEI detractors and assured the university community that the office will continue to work in this area.

“Know that I will continue to speak out, act and educate. But at this moment, ALL of our voices are critically important. I have been so encouraged in conversations I’ve had with faculty, staff, students, and alums who have shared with me the lasting, transformative impact of our DEI work, in their careers and communities. I encourage you to continue to use every opportunity to communicate how your experiences with our DEI work have made a difference, while also knowing that the U-M will be unwavering in our efforts to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus, nation, and world,” Chavous continued.

At this time, Michigan still has DEI programming available in its public universities and workplaces, as no opposing law has been signed. However, given the rise in anti-DEI laws being signed in other states, there is a natural cause for concern amongst some. As for whether any changes will be made to current DEI laws, only time will tell.

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