More Universities Are Finding Key Loophole To Skirt State Diversity, Equity And Inclusion Bans

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Kate Anderson Contributor
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Universities are turning to rebranding to preserve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs despite laws barring them, according to The New York Times.

A dozen states have passed laws barring public universities from using taxpayer funding for DEI programs, including Idaho, Indiana, Texas and more recently, Florida, according to the Times. In response, many schools have done away with the programs entirely, but others have taken to rebranding the departments to circumvent efforts to ban DEI on campus. (RELATED: Harvard Reverses Course, Brings Back Standardized Testing)

The University of Tennessee announced in November that it would be renaming its DEI office as the “Division of Access and Engagement,” according to The Daily Beacon, a student newspaper. The university did not point to state laws on DEI as a reason for the change in a statement to the Daily Beacon but Guy Harrison, director of DEI for the School of Journalism and Media, said that the move was to prevent the full blacklisting of DEI.

“We are in a very ultra-conservative state, and there are political actors who would completely do away with DEI, whether it’s the title or the work that we do,” Harrison told the Daily Beacon. “And this kind of protects us from them a little bit. But I wish it wasn’t necessary … we shouldn’t need to whitewash the word diversity out of things, just not to alarm certain people.”

NORMAN, OK- MARCH 11: Students walk on campus between classes at the University of Oklahoma on March 11, 2015, in Norman, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

Shortly after, multiple universities in Texas also began renaming their DEI programs ahead of a law going into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, barring public universities from having DEI departments as well as prohibiting them from promoting or hosting activities that discriminate based on race, gender or ethnicity. The University of Texas at Dallas, University of Houston and University of Texas at Austin announced changes to the names of their programs.

Louisiana State University and Oklahoma University (OU) also made similar efforts, according to the Times. Joseph Harroz Jr., president of OU, said in February that the university’s DEI office had rebranded to the Division of Access and Opportunity and assured that none of the state university employees would lose their positions despite Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt issuing an order in December banning taxpayer funding for universities’ DEI programs, according to the OU Daily.

“While it will take time to determine the full scope of the executive order, we have already begun working on anticipated areas of change,” Harroz Jr. wrote in an email to the university community, according to the OU Daily. “This includes changing the name and function of our current Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to our Division of Access and Opportunity, which will continue to ensure that the University of Oklahoma is a place of belonging for all.”

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