Texas Senate bill passes through House, aims to eliminate DEI in public universities

KBTX News 3 at Ten(Recurring)
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 6:48 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - Texas could become the second state in the country after Florida to ban diversity, equity and inclusion offices in higher education.

Senate Bill 17 is among the string of higher education bills passing through this year’s Texas legislature. It’s a bill which would prevent public colleges and universities in Texas from having diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices or policies. DEI offices and policies were created to support groups who have been historically underrepresented or discriminated against.

The bill sponsored by State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, also prohibits hiring or employment practices that take into account race, sex, color or ethnicity, in accordance with any applicable state and federal antidiscrimination laws.

If approved, organizations across the state would be affected, including here at Texas A&M University.

Gayle Bornovski is a graduate student at Texas A&M and the president of Women in Science & Engineering (WISE).

“This is a graduate-student led organization for all people regardless of gender identity at Texas A&M. But, our main goal is promotion in Women in STEM. College is all about finding your people,” said Bornovski. “DEI measures are for all marginalized communities and create opportunities for students who might not have access. To have that taken away is scary.”

Lawmakers in favor of SB 17 say DEI programs are exclusive.

“Our goal is to be inclusive,” said Bornovoski. “Texas A&M has a very diverse pool of students. If the professors aren’t aware how to engage with certain types of students its going to create bigger problems in the long haul.”

Rachelle Pedersen, the outreach chair for WISE, said the changes, even without the bill in place yet, have already affected the organization.

“We have started to see the impact even with no actual barrier into place,” said Pedersen. “If you put barriers in place making it harder for us to volunteer our time, I think that’s going to have lasting impacts on the community. That’s impacting real students, real communities and it’s going to be a problem. Women in underrepresented minorities are underrepresented in these fields. There’s a large gap in many STEM disciplines.”

KBTX reached out to the Sponsor of SB 17 and multiple Co-sponsors, but haven’t heard back.

Despite the uncertainty of what’s ahead, both WISE members say they’ll keep letting their voice be heard.

“Our mission won’t change. Our goals won’t change,” said Pedersen. “Who we’re fighting for isn’t going to change. But, the way we have to do things is going to have to be tweaked. "

SB 17 now heads back to the Senate, which may or may not agree to approve changes from the House. Those changes include a new amendment to audit the bill’s impact each year.