Despite Some People’s Death Wish, DEI Is Still Here


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In the wake of the 2020 police murder of George Floyd, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs surged. Over the last year, DEI has been under attack, especially at the university level—both Texas and Florida have banned DEI offices in public higher education institutions.

One short-term effect? People “may not discuss DEI work as openly, and may instead be quieter about financial commitments to DEI work, or drop the terminology altogether,” predicts Gisele Marcus, professor of practice in DEI at Washington University in St Louis.

But diversity initiatives will persist, even if under another name. “[E]xperts are confident efforts will keep going – even if they’re labelled something else, or nothing at all. After all, powerful voices may be loud – but bottom lines speak volumes,” BBC reports.

Karma R. Chávez is “a member of the University of Texas at Austin chapter of the American Association of University Professors’ executive committee… said that what staff members are doing, far from breaking the law, is finding ways to comply with it without jeopardizing progress they’ve made.”

Founder and Executive Director of Private School Axis, a nonprofit that works to address racial disparities in education, Collette Bowers Zinn told ESSENCE, “Higher education institutions that prioritize creating inclusive learning environments where all students can thrive are not going to back down.”

“Despite what’s going on in certain states, the law is on their side. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed an injunction against enforcement of portions of Florida’s ‘anti-woke’ law, and I predict more rulings like this to come,” Zinn continued. “Be patient, take a deep breath, and we have to wait it out.”

We have the power to go where we are valued and where we are free to be ourselves.

When asked about how she expects the best institutions for Black students to move forward in this climate, Zinn reflected on how “[d]espite DEI bans and backlash against affirmative action, many higher education officials are poised to uphold diversity through innovative strategies in admissions. They’ll likely focus on holistic application review processes, considering not just test scores and grades, but also the unique backgrounds and experiences of applicants.”

“Moreover, outreach programs targeting underrepresented communities can increase access and opportunity,” Zinn says. “Collaborating with community organizations, like Axis, is another avenue to ensure a diverse student body. Additionally, emphasizing the educational benefits of diversity in campus culture and academic discourse can garner support for inclusive admissions practices.”

Zinn provided the following advice for Black families and students: “We have to pay close attention to how each school we’re considering is thinking about DEI in this current climate. We have more power than we think. If there is a school out there that is clearly exhibiting a commitment to not valuing human beings based on their DEI policies, or lack thereof, that’s not the place for us. We have the power to go where we are valued and where we are free to be ourselves.”

“The worst case scenario from this type of DEI fallout across all industries, including education, is that the beauty of difference, and the joy of exploring it, gets erased,” Zinn added. But she is hopeful about the future, imparting that, “we have to remember that this is not the first or the last time that ‘anti-woke’ agendas have tried to diminish our voice. Even in this, we will rise.”


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