A controversial bill that would ban diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in Utah’s public institutions is close to becoming law, despite strong opposition from educators, advocates and minority groups.
The bill, HB261, titled “Equal Opportunity Initiatives”, aims to outlaw DEI trainings, requirements, programs and offices at public universities, schools and other state agencies that engage in what the legislation calls “prohibited discriminatory practices”. These include any actions that “discriminate against, grant a preference to, or exclude an individual on the basis of religion, race, sex, color, or national origin”.
The bill’s sponsors, Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, and Sen. Keith Grover, R-Provo, claim that the bill is intended to promote equal opportunity and prevent divisive and harmful ideologies from being imposed on students and employees. They argue that DEI efforts are creating a “culture of fear” and “indoctrinating” people to believe that they are either “oppressors” or “oppressed” based on their identity.
However, the bill’s critics say that it is a misguided and harmful attempt to erase the history and experiences of marginalized communities and stifle academic freedom and critical thinking. They point out that DEI initiatives are essential for creating a more inclusive and respectful environment for all, especially for those who face systemic barriers and discrimination in education, employment and health care.
The bill has also raised concerns about its potential impact on the state’s economy and reputation, as it could deter businesses, researchers and students from coming to Utah or staying in the state. Some fear that the bill could also jeopardize federal funding for public institutions, as it could violate the Civil Rights Act and other anti-discrimination laws.
The bill has undergone several amendments to address some of these concerns, such as allowing exceptions for private scholarships, health care policies and existing DEI offices that comply with the law. However, these changes have not satisfied the bill’s opponents, who continue to urge the governor to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
The bill has passed both the House and the Senate along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats against. It is now awaiting a final vote in the House before it can be sent to the governor for his signature or veto.