Anti-DEI bills targeting colleges have surged since 2021

States that have proposed legislation to limit DEI programs and offices at colleges.

Axios’ analysis shows that since 2021, 21 states have introduced proposals to dismantle diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), programs on college campus. Nine of these states have passed such laws.

Why it matters: A conservative backlash has been ongoing against initiatives that aim to combat systemic racism.

Zoom in: Republican legislators have driven the backlash in response to racial reckoning in America, which was ignited by the murder in 2020 of George Floyd. An African American man detained by Minneapolis Police had been murdered.

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This led to schools, governments and corporations creating diversity initiatives, which typically focus on racial sensitivities — and the history of the United States of ignoring many non-white Americans’ stories.

The conservatives claimed that DEI programs undermined traditional teachings about American history. This backlash often made white students feel guilty.

According to Axios, the National Conference of State Legislatures analyzed the data from the National Conference of State Legislatures and found that more than 20 anti-DEI or antiracism bills have been introduced into state legislatures over the last three years.

According to the Axios and the conference, at least nine states have passed laws to limit DEI or “divisive” concepts on college campuses.

Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina have all adopted similar laws.

These laws prohibit funding of campus offices or activities that promote diversity.

NCSL data reveal that only two states, Washington and New Mexico, have passed legislation since 2022 mandating training in DEI or antiracism at higher education institutions.

State of the play: The recent surge of anti-DEI legislation follows an effort by conservatives in several states, to limit discussion of racism in public K-12 schools under a guise that bans critical race theory – a graduate-school concept rarely taught in grades school.

The New York Times reported that conservative think tanks, such as Claremont Institute, have provided templates for anti-DEI legislation to legislators, lobbyists and activists.

What they say: Claremont Institute President Ryan P. Williams, and State Coalitions Senior Director Scott Yenor wrote recently on the website of the think tank that “we fight DEI because it is a mortal danger to the American Way of Life.”

The problem of DEI, in some form, has haunted America over the years. It has changed the workplace. It has distorted our politics.”

The two said that they were against “the radical homosexual rights movement” and “civil rights ideologies create a double-tiered justice system.”

Axios quotes Janice Gassam Asare as saying that the purpose of DEI was to transform systems which harm people.

Asare stated that DEI makes people have difficult discussions about systems of discrimination. It does not single out or label all white people as racist.

She said that eliminating DEI programs could make it more difficult for those who are already marginalized, to enter the medical field or into other highly-skilled professions.

Some Republicans have openly promoted the “white replacement” theory, and white billionaires like Bill Ackman or Elon Musk have railed against DEI initiatives.

DEI opponents were also emboldened by the Supreme Court’s rejection last year of affirmative actions in college admissions.

The big picture is that Generation Z, including most of today’s students at college, is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history. However, people of color remain underrepresented in elite colleges and boardrooms.

What’s next? Some college administrations or boards could decide to defund DEI programs without waiting for state legislation.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is, for instance, proposing to eliminate jobs and restructure the DEI office.