A redundant bill attacking and restricting measures to increase diversity and support for marginalized people at Iowa’s regent universities passed a subcommittee in the Iowa House on Monday.
HF 2327, changes several things about higher education in universities, but the most pressing issue at the subcommittee concerned changes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
DEI is a catch-all term for handling the diverse needs of students and staff, from people with disabilities, military veterans, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community, and making sure everyone feels supported and included.
The bill would make universities eliminate DEI functions that aren’t necessary for accreditation or for following federal and state laws. Because of directives from the Iowa Board of Regents, those changes have happened already.
Emma Denny, a PhD student at the University of Iowa, said she had been called slurs while on campus, and explained how DEI services helped her navigate those problems.
“What DEI did was link me to both legal resources through Title IX (nine) and personal support resources through my community at the University of Iowa to know that I wasn’t alone, and that I didn’t have to abandon my studies because people didn’t understand who I was and were afraid of it,” she said.
Denny begged the subcommittee to let the bill fail because DEI only exists to help marginalized people.
Reps. Taylor Collins, a Republican from Mediapolis, and Henry Stone, a Republican from Forest City, advanced the bill without any explanation for why they supported it.
Rep. Sue Cahill, a Democrat from Marshalltown, asked several questions about the way the bill would work in practice. Ultimately, she didn’t support the bill.
“Number one, I need more information. I do believe that we need to have programs that are inclusive for all. And I know that the Regents are already doing the items that are listed under the DEI policy,” she said. “So it seems to me to be more code clutter to put that into the actual Iowa code.”
Supporters of the bill accused DEI initiatives of promoting “reverse racism” and “indoctrination.” They also claimed DEI makes people too focused on race.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion positions, courses, and curriculum in Iowa universities and government schools have resulted in discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination in our K-12 schools and universities and extend to the workplace. It’s time to put an end to this failed concept. It has taken us backwards,” said Courtney Collier, a Waukee parent and member of Moms for Liberty.
Keenan Crow, representing LGBTQ+ advocacy organization One Iowa, pointed out that the focus on DEI is just like previous campaigns against the college-level concept of critical race theory (CRT) and longtime educational tools like social, emotional learning (SEL).
“DEI is just Black History Month programming,” Crow said. “It’s student accessibility services. It’s ongoing training for staff and educators about how to understand and better connect with students from different backgrounds. It’s not anything scary. It’s not required thoughts.”
“It’s an initiative meant for folks who haven’t traditionally had higher education opportunities to feel more connected to the campus community, and to get connected to resources that will help them succeed,” they continued.
In addition to the DEI sections, the bill would also add two members of the Iowa legislature to the Board of Regents, though they wouldn’t be able to vote. The regents on the board are already appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, many of whom are her donors.
The bill would also cap tuition increases at 3% and change the way regents hire presidents by requiring them to create a “presidential selection committee” made up of some regents, rather than the current practice, which involves the universities performing the search and recommending finalists to the regents.
The bill would also require the names of finalists to be confidential and not on public record, rather than being public the way it is now.
Another student at the University of Iowa talked about how the university’s Multicultural and International Student Support and Engagement (MISSE) program made them feel at home.
“Spaces that are created for students of color and queer students aren’t there to say that students who don’t share those identities shouldn’t feel supported,” they said.
Instead, they explained, it’s to make sure marginalized communities have the support and resources they need, because those needs are often different from the needs of the majority of students.
“Do we want to fight a program that was created for the purpose of building community and support? Or do we want to protect students and tell potential students that they are welcome on campus?” they asked.
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