Utah ‘anti-diversity’ law forces closure of 20-year-old university LGBTQ+ centre

University of Utah

A university’s LGBTQ+ centre will close its doors permanently on Friday (28 June), to comply with a new law that seems to oppose DEI: meaning diversity, equity and inclusion.

The LGBT Resource Centre at the University of Utah has supported “the success of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual/aromantic (LGBTQIA+) students, as well as providing educational and cultural events for the entire campus”, since 2002.

HB 261, also known as Equal Opportunity Initiatives, was signed by Republican governor Spencer Cox in January and bars higher-education institutions, government employers and the public education system from “taking certain actions and engaging in discriminatory practices”.

Under the law, student services and resources must be available to all students and not provided individually on “personal identity characteristics” such as race, gender or sexual orientation.

To comply, the university has announced it will close the Center for Equity and Student Belonging and the Women’s Resource Center, as well as the LGBTQ+ centre, and centralise their services.

“I recognise the emotional impact of any organisational restructuring, particularly on our dedicated employees and the students they serve,” vice-president for student affairs Lori McDonald said in a press release.

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“These changes were made with great care and consideration to follow the new law. It required extensive effort, including gathering feedback and collaborating with colleagues, to find the best possible solutions.”  

The LGBTQ+ centre has been running for more than 20 years. (Google Maps)

Student resources such as scholarship cohort co-ordination and support services will move to a new Center for Student Access and Resources while a Community and Cultural Engagement Center, pending approval by the Utah Board of Higher Education, will focus on cultural education, celebration, engagement and awareness of all multicultural identities. 

In the press release, the university went on to say that guidance from the Utah System of Higher Education requires centres that focus on specific identities must be approved by the Utah Board of Higher Education and “must be focused on cultural education, celebration, engagement and awareness, to provide opportunities for all students to learn with and from one another.”

The centres must not provide student success and support resources, such as academic advising, financial aid counselling and tutoring”, which should instead be accessed through the institution’s “offices of student success and support, or previously established student services offices”.

McDonald went on to say: “As we’ve evaluated how best to comply with the legislation, I want to be clear that we’ve faced very difficult decisions. The law and subsequent guidance require a foundational change in how we approach student support, and we will follow the law.

“This isn’t about changing the words we use, we’re changing how we approach the work.”    

Associate vice-president for student development and inclusion, Bryan Hubain, added: “Our commitment to student success is, and has always been, grounded in the principles of holistic development, care and access. We strive to ensure that every student, regardless of background, has the opportunity to excel academically, social, and personally.”

Utah is not the only state to enact anti-DEI laws in recent years.

In Florida, governor Ron DeSantis has pulled funding for diversity, equality and inclusion programmes at public universities.

Last year, the Republican former presidential candidate wrote on X/Twitter: “In Florida, our higher education institutions will not be spending public dollars on diversity, equity and inclusion” or other initiatives that promote an ideological agenda.

“As practised, DEI represents discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination, and this has no place in a public institution.” 

More recently, even small businesses have felt the effects of rising political rhetoric against DEI programmes, with a rural retail chain left facing boycott calls after donating money to causes that support LGBTQ+ youngsters.

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