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Across the country, opponents have been attacking diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at K-12 schools and colleges. Since 2023, state lawmakers have introduced 82 bills attacking diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, and 12 have become law. “DEI” programs, as they’re known, help make schools and campuses more inclusive in many ways, such as ensuring underrepresented faculty and students have access to resources that they were refused for decades.

Extremists working to ban DEI efforts have come up with a new version of the acronym: “Didn’t Earn It.” They also have begun using it as a blanket epithet for just about anything that happens. In response to one of the nation’s largest ever infrastructure disasters, an account on X with nearly three-hundred thousand followers responded to footage of Baltimore’s mayor — who happens to be Black — by saying “This is Baltimore’s DEI mayor commenting on the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge.”  It’s important to note that Mayor Brandon Scott was elected to office with more than 70% of the city’s vote — not by a DEI-related process. And he was talking about disaster clean-up, not equity programs. Rhetoric like this supports the idea that racism anchors many attacks on DEI. It also reenforces the need for many of the initiatives that DEI offices promote, such as implicit bias training for faculty.

Structural and systemic racism remains an integral part of our society, especially within educational environments, job hiring processes, the ability to own a home, and many other environments. For example, studies consistently show that when job applicants scrub racial cues, or “whiten” their resumes, they receive significantly more interviews than identical resumes that include indications that the applicant belongs to a racial minority.

Recently, Alabama passed a sweeping law that limits DEI programs, threatens termination for employees who teach “divisive” concepts, and requires colleges to designate bathrooms based on “biological sex.” Like many similar pieces of legislation, this one seems purposefully vague, making it unclear which topics are off limits and what constitutes grounds for “termination.”

The bill, SB129, includes statements that make it illegal to assume an individual is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive” or that the “moral character of an individual is determined by his or her race, color, religion, sex or ethnicity. SB129 completely misunderstands the role of DEI – these efforts don’t create discrimination, they address it. DEI programs are vital in ensuring a more educated, inclusive, and culturally responsive student body.

Alabama Students and Faculty: Close to 200 students and faculty at the University of Alabama protested in the school’s quad in the lead up to consideration of SB129, passed on March 20. Students said the DEI Office and programs at the University of Alabama had been critical to their personal growth as individuals and students. Many students who are members of racial minority groups or the LGBTQ+ community said they had relied on DEI programs to find emotional and mental health support and a sense of community in college. 

In protests outside Alabama’s state house, college students from across the state voiced their concerns about the legislation. Students spoke with legislators and advocated for increased funding and vowed to continue fighting for DEI programs and funding.

Educators: Faculty members at the University of Alabama argue that DEI funding plays a vital role in recruiting a diverse set of students and faculty. In a commentary published after passage of SB129, Dr. Lily D. McNair, who was the first female president of Tuskegee University, wrote that the law would “replace prudent education with costly ignorance” and would undo education rights won by previous generations.

The Chronicle of Higher Education offers news and information targeting college and university staff and faculty. The Chronicle has information about the assault on DEI, including a DEI legislation tracker, and recent news about DEI restrictions.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also opposes bans on DEI and affirmative action, and offers several resources on their website, including myth vs. fact talking points, a pledge that people can sign, and other items.