Student leaders react to UT System-wide diversity, equity, inclusion pause

Ali Juell, Senior News Reporter

As the Texas legislature prepares to consider bills limiting diversity, equity and inclusion on college campuses, student leaders are grappling with what a recently announced UT System-wide pause on new DEI policies means for UT.

UT System Chairman Kevin Eltife announced a UT System Board of Regents decision to halt new DEI policies during a Wednesday meeting, additionally calling for individual reports on each campus’ current initiatives for review. He also suggested the UT System may enforce a uniform DEI policy across all campuses in the future.

“Certain DEI efforts have strayed from the original intent, now imposing requirements and actions that, rightfully so, have raised the concerns of our policymakers about those efforts on campuses across our entire state,” Eltife said in the meeting. 

UT and the UT System declined to comment on any new DEI policies past the recent announcement.

As the University continues its goal of becoming the top public-research institution, UT Senate president Echo Nattinger said having the best faculty and students requires inclusive recruitment and hiring processes that counteract inherent biases.

“DEI efforts benefit everyone,” said Nattinger, a government and Plan II senior. “These efforts are meant to make a community for students, make them feel at home, serve them and make sure that their academic experience at UT is the best it can be.”

UT’s “You Belong Here” plan, released in 2022, states that sustaining a diverse campus means including and maximizing access and promoting learning around and providing services for people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ community members and veterans along with members of historically underrepresented ethnic and racial groups.

Corinne Floyd, UT Senate equity & inclusion director, said the University hasn’t communicated what the announcement necessarily means for Student Government agencies and their resolutions. 

“Ensuring that (equitable hiring practices) is a focus is so crucial to making sure that marginalized communities at UT can feel welcome in a space that has historically been so exclusionary towards us,” said Floyd, a Plan II and human development and family science junior. 

In a 2019 essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education, drama professor Charlotte Canning and Richard Reddick, professor of educational leadership and policy and African and African diaspora studies, said universities as a whole must acknowledge the progress brought on by diversity to foster inclusive environments.

“Diversity statements are a way to strengthen the academy’s mission to serve all of its constituencies with integrity and fairness,” Canning and Reddick wrote in the essay. “Claims that the academy is a space of objective assessment do not square with reality, particularly for those on the margins.”

With SG elections underway, many leaders in the University’s SG agencies will soon pass their positions on to a new administration. Madyson Mireles, co-director of SG’s Diversity & Inclusion Agency, said she’s reaching out to student groups and determining an organized response to the new policy before she ends her term as co-director. 

“We don’t have a lot of time, but we can try and start something for the next person to take over,” sociology sophomore Mireles said.

Floyd said students have successfully enacted change at the University through past organizing, including the formation of various departments focused on ethnic and gender studies, the reconsideration of the “Eyes of Texas” and more. They said, in this instance, student organizing can have the same influence.

“Those (previous) initiatives started and will die by student participation,” Floyd said. “As far as actually pushing back against the broader implications of these anti-DEI policies, we have to invest in student organizers.”