Utah Senate targets DEI programs in higher education

Protestors preparing to enter a panel held in the Lindquist Hall building, where panelists spoke about SB 283.

Weber State University students protested Utah Senate Bill 283, which intended to end Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs in Utah higher education. The Haven J. Barlow Civic Leadership Forum hosted a panel to discuss the bill on March 29, with students gathering to peacefully share their concerns and questions.

The Haven J. Barlow Lecture Hall was overflowing with attendants, many holding poster-board signs in protest of SB 283. Students also filled a secondary room where the meeting was broadcast.

“I am the Black Student Senator,” Terri Hughes’ sign read. “EDI matters. Black education matters.”

Sen. John Johnson, Sen. Luz Escamilla, Rep. Angela Romero and podcast host Cari Bartholomew were the featured panelists.

“I’m laughing at so many of these signs,” Bartholomew said. “You don’t know — you don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Bartholomew is in favor of the bill that Johnson first proposed in February. The original bill was intended to prohibit funding from going into DEI programs and was substituted for a study of the programs, but it didn’t pass.

Johnson is concerned that DEI programs push ideology on students. During the discussion, he asked whether the investment of taxpayer funds was worth the return.

For many, his question wasn’t rhetorical, but a vivid and threatening one. One student had to consider losing their campus job if they participated in the protest.

“They told me that if I came to the protest, I needed to reconsider if I wanted to have a [job] tomorrow,” the student, who wished to stay anonymous, said. “They literally told me that if I came to this protest and it got violent, or if I was wearing anything from Weber State University, they were going to fire me.”

Romero, who represents District 25 which has a majority of people of color, shared her concern about SB 283 and bills similar to it. Romero also spoke about the exhaustion she and others experience in the need for frequent explanations for equity.

“We’re tired of people trying to erase us and erase our history and erase our communities,” Romero said.

Some student protestors stood with their backs to the panelists as Bartholomew spoke promoting the bill. She said the peaceful display of protest caused her to lose respect for them.

“Those are the kind of things that I wonder about when I see DEI,” Bartholomew said. “I see people who don’t know how to be mature.”