Navigating diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives on college campuses

Apr 25, 2023, 5:00 PM

usu sign pictured, colleges in utah are tackling dei initiatives...

A sign greets visitors to the campus of Utah State University in Logan on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. (Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — College campuses across Utah have initiatives focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, known as DEI. Critics and supporters of these initiatives both say they want what’s best for students.

An argument for DEI on Utah campuses

Dr. Susan Madsen is a professor at Utah State University’s business school. She also founded the Utah Women and Leadership Project, which researches women’s issues and provides resources for Utah women. 

Madsen told KSL at Night that DEI initiatives are good for places like universities. Research in the last 10 years, she said, found that those initiatives actually benefit organizations.

“When we look at policies that say, well let’s take all DEI  efforts away from higher educational institutions. It’s just those decisions are not based on research,” Madsen said.

She went on to say that one reason DEI gets pushback has to do with a scarcity mindset.

Madsen quoted a phrase that went viral to explain what a scarcity mindset looks like for DEI, “Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It’s not pie.”

Essentially, Masden said it’s not either/or because lifting one group also lifts the groups around them.

She focused on gender disparity beyond college campuses, saying, “So much research says that when we have more equal numbers, we serve our people better, we serve society better when there’s more equal numbers of women in politics and men in politics.”

Navigating the conversation around equity means listening to each other, instead of defaulting to arguing.

“We can just listen and say, well, that’s so interesting to hear your perspective. We don’t have to say you’re wrong, you’re right.”

Are DEI initiatives polarizing?

DEI initiatives have caused concern in Utah. One concern made its way through the State Legislature this year.

Rep. Katy Hall, R-Salt Lake City, sponsored a bill focused on DEI-related requirements. The bill said state-run organizations — like public universities or government jobs — can’t require people to talk about and/or commit to DEI in any applications.

But the bill didn’t make it to the governor’s desk, it was killed in the Senate.

Hall told KSL at Night that a recent report found that about 20% of professors in the U.S. were asked to give a statement about DEI in their job applications.

“There’s been actually three or four professors from schools around Utah that have reached out to me since the session ended about the bill, asking me to rerun it,” Hall said.

But she isn’t against DEI as a whole, Hall said.

“We want diversity, we want equality of opportunity. We want inclusion.”

To Hall, the way those initiatives are implemented and the polarizing effect it has are the real issues at hand.

Requiring people to commit to DEI feels like virtue signaling, required from one side of the political aisle, according to Hall.

That kind of requirement isn’t easy for all students.

“They have to feel like they have to explain something that they don’t necessarily buy into wholeheartedly on an ideological standpoint.”

Listen to KSL at Night’s full special: A conversation about DEI



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Navigating diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives on college campuses