Texas Students for DEI create petition in support of inclusive policies in higher education

Ireland Blouin, Senior News Reporter

A newly formed coalition, Texas Students for DEI, launched a petition earlier this month for UT students, faculty, alumni and other members of the community to show their support for diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education.

The petition specifically calls upon the University of Texas System Board of Regents to reverse a decision announced by Chairman Kevin Eltife in February instating a system-wide pause on all new DEI policies. It also calls for the board to halt the review of all current DEI policies and commit to supporting DEI in every form across the system. The board’s decision came promptly after Gov. Greg Abbott told state leaders that DEI policies in hiring go against federal and state employment laws.

“We created a petition prior to spring break, (that currently has) currently over 500 signatures from across UT System schools, advocating for the reversal of that pause,” said Sameeha Rizvi, Senate of College Councils vice president. “Since then, we’ve really evolved into addressing legislative advocacy and fighting these anti-truths in bad bills, which there (are) a myriad of.”

Along with the petition, the coalition has been working to fight against specific bills that are currently being considered in the Senate. Lawmakers are focusing on HB 1, which aims to prohibit state funds from financing DEI programs, HB 1006, which aims to require universities to prohibit funding for DEI offices and SB 16, an anti-critical race theory bill.

Rizvi said the coalition is expanding to work with students outside of Austin and the UT System schools in general.

“We have folks joining from UT-Arlington (and UT-Rio Grande Valley),” Rizvi said. “We’re also trying to get (the University of Houston), (Texas) A&M and (University of North Texas) students — basically any student that attends a public or private university in Texas.”

Students involved in legislative student organizations across campus have expressed support for the petition, with Student Government President Leland Murphy and Vice President Isabel Agbassi among the signees.

“There is a false perception that DEI programs and initiatives only help a certain group of people at the expense of another group of people,” Agbassi said. “I think the beauty of the DEI programs, scholarships, resources and initiatives is that they urge the betterment of the whole campus community because it makes things equitable for everyone.”

Both Murphy and Agbassi said their support for the petition comes partially from the understanding that there are people who do not understand DEI and are unaware of its importance. 

“A lot of people don’t even realize that DEI offices and diversity programs also include things like veterans (and) first-gen students,” Murphy said. “With Texas Students for DEI, hopefully that push can be made and we can stop the state (legislature) and the governor and other figures from doing more harm.”