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Students organize to protest legislative efforts to ban DEI initiatives at Texas colleges

A student walks in front of UT Austin's tower in the fall.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A student walks in front of UT Austin's tower in the fall.

More than a dozen UT Austin students held a sit-in inside the Capitol rotunda for four hours Thursday to protest part of the budget bill that would prohibit colleges and universities from using state funds for diversity, equity and inclusion policies.

Such practices include promoting diverse candidates for leadership positions and banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in regard to admissions and employment.

A.J. Walker, a member of Texas Students for DEI, which organized the protest, said the sit-in was important to show Texas lawmakers student support for DEI practices in higher education.

“The sit-in is to show our physical presence, to show that we are not going to back down and that we are here to defend diversity and inclusion,” she said. “We are urging people to testify … to let lawmakers know that DEI policies and initiatives aren't just something that they can do away with, that we will notice it and people will miss it and that it's not something that their constituents want removed.”

UT Austin senior Izabella De la Garza was among those who submitted written testimony against the DEI ban.

“I could not disagree with the proposal to ban using state funds for DEI programs more,” she wrote in her testimony to the committee. “I am Latina and these programs have made me feel more comfortable in college. College in Austin was a different environment for me and I found solace in DEI programs, which welcomed me.”

Despite the students’ opposition, the House Appropriations Committee gave final approval to the two-year budget bill Thursday; it now goes to the full House for debate.

De la Garza, who is also with Texas Students for DEI, said the sit-in was only the beginning of actions the group plans to take. She said the organization hopes to involve students from Texas A&M, other UT System campuses and other colleges in Austin like St. Edwards and Huston-Tillotson.

Last month, UT System Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife announced a pause on new DEI initiatives and a review of existing policies across all UT System campuses. Eltife's statement came a week after a memo from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office stating DEI hiring practices violate federal and state employment laws.

Texas Students for DEI published a petition demanding Eltife reverse course and instead support them. Walker said the petition currently has 500 signatures from undergraduate and graduate students across UT campuses.

She said Texas Students for DEI aims to increase advocacy for DEI policies in higher education by holding information sessions for students and the greater Austin community.

“[If] what contributes to our beautiful melting pot of America is our diversity, then we need to ensure that diversity is maintained because that's the very fabric of what being American means,” Walker said. “That's the propaganda that we've been sold — so we need to uphold it and keep to it.”

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