Politics

Alabama Republicans Pass Expanding Legislation Targeting DEI

Alabama Republicans pushed to the limit a sprawling measure Tuesday, it would not only ban state funding of diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public universities, local boards of education and government agencies, but also limit the teaching of “concepts divisive” regarding race, gender and identity.

The bill passed with broad support in the state Legislature, but faced vehement opposition from student groups, civil rights advocates and Democrats, who said it was a chilling attempt to undermine free speech and diversity efforts, especially given Alabama's history of educational segregation and racism.

The bill also prohibits public universities and colleges from allowing transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

With this legislation, Alabama lawmakers are joining a vast right-wing campaign which targeted DEI programs and initiatives and sought to roll back or limit efforts to increase racial diversity on college campuses across the country.

But the debate was particularly tense in Alabama. Democratic lawmakers underscored their opposition by invoking the state's past, including when Gov. George Wallace took a stand at the school gate to block black men from enrolling at the University of Alabama.

And at least one Democratic elected official suggested, despite his allegiance to Alabama football, that student-athletes should consider looking elsewhere.

“Would you be OK with your child playing in schools where staff diversity is actively discouraged? » Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham asked in a Facebook post last month. “While I am Bama's biggest fan, I have no problem organizing Black parents and athletes to attend other out-of-state institutions where diversity and inclusion are prioritized .”

The legislation, which would take effect Oct. 1, must now be signed by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey.

Alabama Republicans have repeatedly sought in recent years to rein in DEI programs at public institutions. State Rep. Ed Oliver, a Republican and the bill's lead sponsor, recently condemned the initiatives as aimed “at deepening divisions, implementing racially exclusionary programs and indoctrinating students into an ideology far-left politics.

Another key Republican sponsor, state Sen. Will Barfoot, says that “Higher education must return to its essential foundations of academic integrity and the pursuit of knowledge instead of being corrupted by destructive ideologies. »

Democrats, who largely opposed the bill, warned of a violation of the constitutional rights of faculty, staff and students. In impassioned speeches, Black lawmakers recalled the state's history of racism and disenfranchisement and their own experiences with discrimination, as well as the opportunities they had received through DEI programs.

“The progress that we've made — race relations, human rights, social rights, social justice — in this country, they're slowly rolling back,” said state Rep. Juandalynn Givan, a Democrat. She added: “This allows our racial ethnicity and the importance of our skin color to be phased out in every shape, form or fashion. »

The bans largely focus on the teaching of “divisive concepts,” which the bill defines in part as attributing “fault, blame, or prejudice” to any race, religion, gender, or nationality. Other examples of divisive concepts include the teaching that a person is “intrinsically responsible for actions committed in the past” or that a person should “accept, acknowledge, affirm, or consent to feelings of guilt, complicity or the need to apologize” depending on their feeling of guilt, complicity or the need to apologize. race, religion, gender or origin.

The legislation also states that its language should not prohibit DEI programs or discussions from being held on campus, as long as public funds are not used. And he says the bill should not prevent “the teaching of historical topics or events in a historically specific context.”

The debate has largely centered on the law's effect on the state's public universities, land-grant universities and, historically, black colleges and universities, where several DEI organizations and programs are located.

Some staff, students and critics say that amid backlash over the way racism and black history are taught, lack of funding and fear of violating the law could be enough to stop such discussions. PEN America, the free speech group, warned last month that the bill was a “pernicious educational gag” that would lead to “an academic environment devoid of intellectual freedom.”

Opponents have expressed concerns that the bill is vague, given that the legislation allows employees of public colleges and universities to be disciplined or fired for violating the measure. They cited the example of Florida, where a similar law is in effect and several schools have either eliminated or reduced positions related to DEI

Critics also warned that the bill would more likely affect historically black colleges and programs that have already struggled to receive equitable funding and resources.

This month, outside the state Capitol in Montgomery, members of black fraternities and sororities, LGBTQ groups and students from several of the state's public schools and historically black colleges rallied against the measure. Chanting “DEI saves lives,” they recounted how the programs had helped them navigate predominantly white institutions or find opportunities and support in college.

The state's flagship public universities — Auburn University and the University of Alabama system's constellation of schools — have not explicitly addressed how the legislation would affect their offices or programs, at beyond their commitment to maintaining a welcoming and respectful environment on campus.

Both schools and their DEI programs have been highlighted in a report titled “Going Woke in Dixie?” » published by the Claremont Institute, a think tank that advocated for legislation against DEI Across the country.

“We are committed to providing resources and opportunities accessible to all, and will continue to work with the Legislature to equip members of our university community to succeed at our universities and beyond,” said Lynn Cole, spokesperson for the University of Alabama. system.

Jennifer Adams, a spokeswoman for Auburn University, said the institution places “a particular emphasis on providing access and opportunity to the citizens of Alabama” and “will act in accordance with national laws and applicable federal regulations.

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