Recent state-level legislation questioning the very foundation of higher education to prepare diverse graduates to lead inclusively for a complex and globally-connected world has us at NASPA feeling, at times, disheartened and also recommitted to our collective purpose to fulfill the purpose of higher education.
As of May 1, dozens of state-level bills targeting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives have been introduced in this cycle, two have final legislative approval, and one has been signed into law by a governor. The legislation is extremely problematic, especially when coupled with a potential dismantling of race-conscious admissions by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even where bills have not moved forward for votes, also harmful is the debate regarding these bills, which is rife with inaccuracies and contributes to a climate of uncertainty, fear, and violence.
During and following the NASPA Annual Conference last month, we heard from attendees in multiple settings that this legislation is causing student affairs staff and graduate students to reexamine why, how, and where they work and learn. Some are reconsidering job and admission offers, and others may have obligations that do not allow them to relocate. Many expressed the need to be in places where these debates are taking place to support students and engage in advocacy, and yet they also shared the emotional toll of this labor.
To our members and all student affairs educators: You and your work matter deeply. You create environments where all students have the opportunity to learn and develop, and for many of us in the field, we do this work because of who we are and the educational experiences we have had. Our work is both personal and political.
The coordinated, intersectional nature of attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion - targeting queer and trans students, undermining programs focused on BIPOC students, dehumanizing and threatening educators - create toxic educational and work climates for students, staff, and faculty and exacerbate enrollment, hiring, and retention challenges for institutions.
The core of DEI work on campuses is to create climates in which all students can learn and develop. DEI initiatives account for less than one percent of institutional spending and yield outsized benefits for institutions in terms of student recruitment and retention, faculty hiring and retention, a positive climate for learning and working, and workforce preparation for graduates.
Rhetoric and legislative action that devalues higher education and diminishes diversity will result in tangibly negative consequences for institutions and subsequently the places where they are located. The contributions of higher education to local and state economies are widely documented. Colleges and universities draw economic investment and industry, boost earning power and tax base, upskill workers, and promote innovation and entrepreneurship. Already students are changing their higher education choices because of states’ social policies, with institutions losing opportunities to enroll out-of-state and in-state students and faculty changing how and what they teach. Legislation introduced in some states would affect accreditation and eligibility for federal funding, reducing resources that support all students.
We understand that this legislation represents a reaction to the progress enacted over time by diverse students and educators. We are committed to advocating for higher education to maintain a strategic and needed focus on educating and developing students to understand and address the realities of injustice and inequity. Diversity, equity, and inclusion work remains as critical as it has ever been.
NASPA has created this web page to share resources and strategies, track legislation, solicit input, and provide opportunities to gather and learn. This page will be updated regularly, and we welcome feedback about what our members would find helpful. We invite you to share your experiences and ideas using this form. Your input will help NASPA to shape responses and programs.