University of Texas cancels Black graduation after new anti-DEI law blocks it

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‘My whole heart is so sad’: Texas cancels Black graduation after controversial new law blocks it

'As a very proud Longhorn this is such a heartbreaking development.'

 

Kahron Spearman

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Posted on Jan 26, 2024   Updated on Jan 27, 2024, 12:15 am CST

A recent email from Brandelyn Flunder, director of the Center for Leadership and Learning at the University of Texas, underscores a troubling trend affecting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs across the United States.

The email, which was shared widely on social media platforms, reveals the university’s Multicultural Engagement Center (MEC) closure due to the state’s anti-DEI legislation, Senate Bill 17.

SB17 “prohibits public institutions of higher education from establishing or maintaining DEI offices, officers, employees, or contractors that perform the duties of a DEI office.”

The cessation even means the end of inclusive events, such as “Black Graduation,” among other ethnicity-centered programming.

This decision is not isolated; the new law reflects a nationwide movement of downsizing or eliminating DEI initiatives in both public and private sectors.

“My whole heart is so sad. As a black student at the University of Texas new black student weekend and black graduation where the introduction and the outgoing Highlights us my career there as a student. So sad,” tweeted @ShawnTheScholar.

“No NBSW…so worried for the next classes of black students. Such a core memory stripped away without a care for the community,” added @ItsspoppinT.

In her email, Flunder writes, “I am reaching out today to notify you about a recent decision regarding the closure of the Multicultural Engagement Center (MEC) due to anti-DEI legislation, SB17.” This decision has led to the cessation of various critical programs and graduation ceremonies that celebrated and supported diversity. Flunder expresses her empathy: “First and foremost, I want to express my deepest empathy for the impact this decision may have on each of you.”

Per an Austin American-Stateman report, the University of Texas outlined a three-phase plan for complying with Senate Bill 17. The first phase involved identifying departments and offices with “diversity,” “equity,” or “inclusion” in their titles or those promoting differential treatment based on race, color, or ethnicity; as well as tasks supporting related student and staff organizations. The second phase required colleges to reorganize or cease programs and funding connected to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. 

The third phase mandated that the University Risk and Compliance Services receive a certification form by Jan. 15, ensuring all adjustments were in place by Jan. 1, when the law becomes effective.

SB 17 requires compliance from all Texas public universities and colleges and addresses offices, employees, programs, training, policies, or hiring practices related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Although it does not affect academic instruction, research, student organizations, or recruitment, it might impact sponsored student organizations due to their ties with the university and funding sources.

This move at the University of Texas is part of a more significant shift across the country.

According to a report from the Texas Tribune, Texas Senate Bill 17 largely restricts how public universities can promote equitable access to higher education and cultivate diversity among students, faculty, and staff. The legislation, reflective of a broader political climate, challenges the efforts made to correct past discrimination and promote inclusivity. Even events used to promote inclusion, particularly at a university with noted discriminatory practices in its past, are no longer allowed. For example, Flunder noted the MEC will not be able to go forth with its “Black Graduation,” “Latinx Graduation,” or “GraduAsian” programming.

The impact is not limited to public institutions.

As reported by ABC News, the private sector is also witnessing significant layoffs in DEI positions, especially in the tech industry, which had previously seen a surge in hiring DEI professionals following societal calls for equity and inclusion.

The consequences of these legislative and institutional changes are profound.

They affect not just the immediate university communities but also set a concerning precedent for the treatment of diversity and inclusion in educational institutions and beyond. With the reduction in DEI initiatives, there is a risk of reversing the progress made in creating more inclusive and representative environments.

Such legislative changes have met with criticism. Opponents argue that they make people from underrepresented groups feel less welcome and hinder efforts to make campuses more reflective of the state’s diverse population. The reduction of DEI initiatives could impact universities’ ability to receive research funding from federal agencies or private organizations considering diversity commitments when awarding grants.

The move to downsize or eliminate DEI programs raises critical questions about the future of inclusivity and equity in educational spaces and beyond. As DEI programs face challenges nationwide, the impact on communities, especially those historically marginalized, becomes a crucial point of concern and discussion.

The Daily Dot has contacted Flunder, the MEC, and the University of Texas for comment.

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*First Published: Jan 26, 2024, 6:30 pm CST