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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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House Bill to Promote ‘Viewpoint Diversity,’ Eliminate DEI Offices in Schools Jumps First Hurdle

Rep. Katy Hall said the bill’s goal is to remove barriers and ensure fairness, create higher education as a free marketplace of ideas and protect free speech.
The+Utah+State+Capitol+Building+in+Salt+Lake+City%2C+Utah+on+Feb.+15%2C+2023.+%28Photo+by+Andrea+Oltra+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Andrea Oltra
The Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah on Feb. 15, 2023. (Photo by Andrea Oltra | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

On Wednesday, Jan. 17, the Utah House Education Committee passed H.B. 261 the Equal Opportunity Initiative bill prohibiting an institution of higher education, public education system and government employer from engaging in discriminatory practices. It passed 12-2 with modifications and will move to the House of Representatives for further debate.

The bill was made public on Jan. 11 by Rep. Katy Hall (R-South Ogden) and Sen. Keith Grover (R-Provo) and according to Hall, bills of this type have been proposed throughout the country. Former State Senator and Chair of the Republican Party, James Evans, accompanied Hall during her presentation of the bill.

In Hall’s presentation, she said the goal of the bill was to remove barriers and ensure fairness, create higher education as a free marketplace of ideas and protect free speech and open dialogue within government and education.

“We all support diversity and inclusion but DEI has come to mean differential treatment in some cases,” Hall said. “And we want everyone to get the support they need no matter what.”

Evans quoted CNN Commentator Van Jones and said one of the jobs of a university is to be a physically safe space, but “ideologically unsafe,” so ideas can be properly challenged. 

Both Hall and Evans said they believe the bill will provide “ideological unsafety,” or viewpoint diversity on college campuses.

“I hope this sends a strong message that we care for the equality of all students,” Hall said.

The House chamber sat a full house — each seat filled by people both in favor of the bill and against it. 

Hall said not everyone is fully happy with where the bill has landed.

“But I am told that’s what makes a good bill — not everybody is happy, right?” she said.

While the bill prohibits discrimination based on race, it aims to maintain some DEI practices, including creating a sense of belonging and accommodation for students in need.

However, various committee member questions included concerns for at-risk, marginalized students and their lack of resources if the bill is passed. Hall said she hopes the bill will help those students more.

Public commenters spoke for each side of the bill.

Sebastian Stewart-Johnson, a member of Brigham Young University’s student group Black Menaces spoke against the bill during the public comment period, saying that not recognizing DEI is a societal step backward. 

Darlene McDonald, director of 1Utah, spoke about the anti-DEI bill introduced during the week of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder.

“Utah has an anti-black history that must be considered when we talk about race and race relations,” she said.

Whit Cook of the Utah Eagle Forum said he believes the bill takes discrimination away, a sentiment Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of.

“This bill allows people to be judged by the content of their character and not be suppressed by the color of their skin,” he said.

The U recently implemented the banning of diversity statements and questions in job postings, announced by President Taylor Randall on Jan. 8, and has since announced a free speech task force to determine campus climate. 

The U also released an official statement regarding H.B. 261 and reaffirmed the university’s dedication to being an accepting campus of all backgrounds.

“We reaffirm today that we are a campus that welcomes everyone, across geography, ideology, and identity,” the statement read. “The things that make us different are a source of strength, central to furthering our mission to create new knowledge and prepare students for success. We believe in the power of a place where everyone belongs.”

The statement also said while some policies may change to comply with state law, the university remains committed to “building bridges between communities” and “fostering a healthy campus environment where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”


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@LibbeyHNews

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About the Contributors
Libbey Hanson
Libbey Hanson, News Writer
(she/her) Libbey is a second-year graduate student in the MPA program studying public policy and administration. She is most interested in environmental policy and social justice issues. You can usually find her in the mountains hiking and skiing or reading and writing at a local coffee shop.
Andrea Oltra
Andrea Oltra, Photographer
Andrea grew up in Spain and is studying psychology as well as documentary studies. She loves to travel and take photos wherever she goes.

Comments (2)

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  • R

    Rob BeanJan 22, 2024 at 9:45 am

    Great story, no agenda, no spin, just facts and opportunity to comment freely. I remember when almost all news sources did this.

    Reply
  • K

    Killer MarmotJan 22, 2024 at 7:33 am

    DEI cloaks itself in good intentions, but has become a toxic and oppressive ideology that rarely tolerates dissent. One must not only not disagree with it, but often must actively affirm it no matter your personal views.

    Reply