What to Know About State Laws That Limit or Ban D.E.I. Efforts at Colleges

In recent decades, American universities have expanded their diversity programs to address concerns about the underrepresentation of minority groups on campus.

But over the past few years, many Republican-led states have taken steps to restrict or eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion programs and initiatives at public universities and colleges, with conservative lawmakers and groups arguing that such programs can be discriminatory to the people who are left out. But supporters of such efforts say they are necessary to promote diversity and help students from various backgrounds succeed on campus.

For some universities, the opposition to diversity programs comes at a challenging time, as they face an incoming student shortage and skepticism of the value of a college degree at today’s prices. And after the Supreme Court’s ban on race-conscious admissions last year, some educators are even more concerned about diversity on their campuses.

Here’s what to know about the efforts to limit D.E.I. programs in higher education.

By and large, D.E.I. initiatives in colleges and universities include programs, campus activities and events, curriculums, recruitment, admissions and policies that are focused on promoting and increasing the representation and participation of individuals from groups that have historically been underrepresented.

Those groups can be based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender and gender identity, age, culture, religion, disability status, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation, as well as other aspects of one’s social identity.

Some schools also have a requirement for prospective students and faculty members to include diversity statements in their applications, meaning a written pledge describing how they would help foster diversity on campus.

Many colleges consider these initiatives a priority when it comes to recruiting and retaining a diverse body of faculty and students. At campuses across the country, schools often offer resources tailored toward groups of students based on their race, gender and other identities.

These initiatives generally apply to a wide range of functions, including hiring and admissions, student cultural centers and workshops.

Diversity programs at colleges have come to play a powerful — and increasingly controversial — role in academic and student life.

Supporters of the initiatives have said they are a good way to foster inclusion, recruit and retain people of color, and repair decades of exclusionary policies. They also argue that the efforts help students from all backgrounds succeed. Many college officials feel they need D.E.I. offices for this.

In 2021, the nonprofit American Council on Education said that “diversity brings with it a number of educational benefits, including improved racial and cultural awareness, enhanced critical thinking, higher levels of service to community and a more educated citizenry.”

But critics have said that D.E.I. efforts are discriminatory to those who may be left out amid efforts to boost representation of other groups, calling them tools for advancing left-wing ideas about gender and race, or for stifling the free discussion of ideas. Many conservatives have also questioned the costs of running such programs, or what they call D.E.I. bureaucracies.

One notable critic of D.E.I. programs is the billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman. In a post on the platform X in January, he called the movement “racist because reverse racism is racism.”

Across the country, 84 bills targeting diversity programs have been introduced since 2023, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Among those, 12 have become law, and 13 are awaiting signatures from governors.

Some of these laws aim to eliminate D.E.I. programs and offices altogether at public universities and colleges, while others restrict diversity training and identity-based preferences for hiring and admissions. Several target diversity statements in applications. And many prohibit the use of state funds for D.E.I. initiatives.

In 2023, Florida became one of the first states to enact a law restricting D.E.I. efforts. The legislation largely banned the state’s public universities from spending money on D.E.I. initiatives and placed restrictions on how educators could discuss discrimination in mandatory courses. It also weakened tenure protections.

Texas, North Carolina and North Dakota passed similar bills later that year.

This year, states including Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Alabama have passed such bills, many of which are set to take effect July 1.

The law in Alabama not only prohibits funding for D.E.I. programs at public universities, but also limits the teaching of “divisive concepts,” which the bill defines in part as assigning “fault, blame or bias” to any race, religion, gender or nationality.

On Friday, a bill in Kansas restricting D.E.I. initiatives passed, after Gov. Laura Kelly allowed it to become law without her signature. The move by the Democratic governor broke from her veto of a similar measure last year.

The new law prohibits state universities, community colleges and technical schools from linking an applicant’s admission, hiring or financial aid award to their stance on “any political ideology or movement.” It also bars those schools from requiring applicants to submit any pledges or statements on promoting diversity.

The new laws have had a wide range of effects at colleges.

The University of Florida eliminated all D.E.I.- related positions, closed the office of the chief diversity officer and halted all D.E.I. contracts with outside vendors. The school said 13 full-time positions were cut, along with administrative appointments for 15 faculty members. The University of North Florida and Florida International University also removed their D.E.I. programs.

At the University of Texas at Austin, the Multicultural Engagement Center closed, and about 60 administrators received notices that they would lose their jobs, according to the state chapters of the N.A.A.C.P. and American Association of University Professors. Some Texas campuses have shut down their L.G.B.T.Q. centers.

But other schools, even those in states with D.E.I. crackdowns, have reacted more moderately. In an effort to work around these laws, some university officials are reintroducing their D.E.I. offices under different names, and rewriting requirements to eliminate words like “diversity” and “equity.” Only the words have changed in some cases.

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