Over the summer, Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls) and 27 House Republicans wrote a letter to Idaho’s universities asking them to eliminate diversity and inclusion programs. The letter states, “This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students.” Speaking as a current Boise State student who grew up in Idaho, this letter couldn’t be more misinformed and troubling.
Diversity and inclusion programs are necessary to Idaho students because we understand that they help us meet our educational goals. Inclusion programs help first-year or economically disadvantaged students cover expensive application costs and to navigate the complicated orientation process. Various campus clubs and programs provide opportunities to create communities of common interest that provide support and encourage success. Graduate resources help close the economic gap and help us to contribute to the global economy.
The legislature has systematically decreased their overall investment in Idaho’s colleges and universities, but some legislators are pointing fingers at programs that have nothing to do with skyrocketing tuition costs. According to the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, “Policymakers have wavered from the state’s commitment to higher education. Tuition and fees now account for 47 percent of funding for higher education, up from 7 percent in 1980. State funding dropped to 54 percent from 93 percent of funding over the same period.” The legislature has abandoned its responsibility to make education affordable in Idaho. Instead of holding themselves accountable for their inaction, they are blaming programs that are funded mainly by private dollars that do not impact tuition costs that students pay.
If the Republican legislature successfully eliminates diversity and inclusion efforts, it will not make college more affordable. Rather, it will impact Idaho students’ ability to access higher education and further expand the educational achievement gap. Businesses with high-paying jobs, like the Idaho National Laboratory and Hewlett-Packard, have indicated that diversity programs are necessary for continued investment in Idaho. HP went so far as to say that the entire state will risk losing businesses in Idaho if we do not make meaningful investments in diversity and inclusion programs.
When Idaho Republican legislators wrote that letter to our new president, Dr. Tromp, students were not consulted. The drive at Idaho universities to promote a diverse and inclusive culture creates a place for every student to attend college, access quality resources, and graduate with the skills to provide a high quality of life for themselves and their families.
The letter that was written to Dr. Tromp pressuring her to eliminate programs that help us to succeed was a tired publicity stunt that did nothing to help students who are currently paying off expensive student debt while attending school full time. If the legislature wants to help students, they can start by taking responsibility for their actions and making meaningful investments in our education.
Ivy Smith is president of the Young Democrats at Boise State University.