Senator proposing a different kind of change to DEI offices in Utah

Jul 12, 2023, 3:02 PM | Updated: 4:23 pm

Students walk through a gate at Harvard University, Thursday, June 29, 2023, in Cambridge, Mass. Th...

Students walk through a gate at Harvard University, Thursday, June 29, 2023, in Cambridge, Mass. The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring race cannot be a factor and forcing institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies. (AP Photo/Michael Casey)

(AP Photo/Michael Casey)

NORTH OGDEN, Utah — A Utah representative is working on a new proposal involving diversity, equity, and inclusion, DEI, programs after trying to strike them down last year.

Sen. John Johnson, R-North Ogden, submitted a proposal last year that would eliminate DEI offices at several public universities across the state. His reasoning, at the time, was that such offices and policies were divisive in themselves, designed to treat people differently on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

That proposal initiated lots of debate.

“My bill was probably not solving the issue. It’s bad to outlaw something without looking inside of it and seeing what parts of it can be salvaged. What parts of it have actually shown success,” he said.

Since the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the constitutionality of affirmative action, Sen. Johnson is back with a new plan.

More inclusive DEI

Several universities across Utah have DEI offices or programs, including Weber State and the University of Utah.

“I would like to keep the positive aspects of these departments,” Sen. Johnson said in a tweet on Monday.

“Can we achieve some of the objectives of the DEI offices and what we do at our university campuses, can we actually do that and not make it race-based or gender-based or some other basis?” he said.

The search for other causes of struggle

Now, instead of completely eliminating the offices, Sen. Johnson is striving to find a deeper source of a student’s struggle. One that isn’t boiled down to race.

“For instance, we could focus on students who are from lower socioeconomic status or students from families that have never had a university student,” he said.

Johnson said he’s looking for feedback from Utahns. He plans to speak in more depth on the issue of DEI at a not-yet-scheduled interim committee meeting later this year.

“I don’t want to start where I was. I want to spend some time reflecting and I want to spend some time listening because there are strong opinions on both sides.”

This groundwork from Sen. Johnson could lead to him submitting a proposal for the 2024 legislative session.

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Senator proposing a different kind of change to DEI offices in Utah