Students frustration surrounding DEI resources grow
Since the passing of Senate Bill 17 and the closure of the LGBTQ resource center, students have been struggling to fill in the void created by the lack of diversity and inclusion initiatives for public universities.
For UH GLOBAL President Kaitie Tolman, replacing the LGBTQ resource center’s services remains a constant uphill battle, from coordinating with other organizations to dealing with the University’s response to SB 17. Tolman and other student leaders feel frustrated by not only the banning of these initiatives but also the lack of a suitable alternative and the silence of the university administration.
“They’re doing everything in their power to not assist us,” Tolman said. “I sleep an average of three hours a night because of the amount of homework because of all this. It is not fair to anyone on campus, but that’s the position we put ourselves in because the alternative is not having any help for LGBTQ students.”
According to Tolman, this issue spans across many LGBTQ student organizations and is among many other problems students have with the university’s compliance with SB 17.
Under the text of SB 17, Texas public universities are prohibited from funding diversity, equity and inclusion programs. However, it does not explicitly prevent universities from delegating the responsibility of these resources from these programs to smaller, student-run organizations.
However, the University refused to share these resources to student leaders like Tolman who wish to take up the responsibility of the defunct resource center.
These include lists of how they ran programs, LGBTQ-friendly providers and other internal information about how the resource center used to operate, more specifically which services were dropped by the University.
“We are kind of coming together to help out and make sure nothing gets dropped and supporting each other,” Tolman said. “And so when we don’t even know what is dropped, it becomes a problem.”
The process of acquiring this information requires students to search through archived internet websites and communicate with university administration, a long and gradual process for organizations and one that might not yield the results they want.
The University eventually sent out information detailing the programs that were canceled due to SB 17, but only after public information requests made by students. Tolman feels that she shouldn’t have to take legal action to get this information and even then, this information is not enough.
According to Tolman, asking the university for guidance on conducting DEI programs becomes “a wild goose chase,” as administration officials refer her to others without providing any information.
The University’s interpretation
Another issue for student organizations is the lack of transparency from the university as to how they are interpreting the bill.
While UH does provide similar information about DEI changes as the University of Texas and Texas A&M by outlining the extent to which the university can and cannot offer DEI resources, and that universities should not deny benefits to any organization that aims to conduct DEI programming, its actions after the passing of SB 17 are contradictory.
For Tolman, the University’s adherence to SB 17 is among the strictest of Texas universities, as while they claim they don’t wish to deny benefits to student organizations, Tolman finds that they often ignore her requests for information. This makes it more difficult for GLOBAL and other organizations to function to their fullest extent.
“They are not preventing us from being an organization, but it’s a matter of over-compliance,” Tolman said.
For now, students frustrated by the University’s SB 17 response continue to demand answers from the school and going forward, they also plan on working with other student organizations that demand more change.
Organizations such as GLOBAL have received solidarity from other student associations in their frustration regarding the University’s actions, including Young Democratic Socialists of America, who platformed their outrage against SB 17 during their walkout protest.
The leader of YDSA, economics sophomore Harrison Martin, also feels the administration has abandoned LGBTQ students and other students who demand transparency. This led to him creating a coalition with GLOBAL and other organizations to promote collective support.
“Students don’t really have any power to affect the day-to-day happenings at the University, and I feel like we could turn out more people by bringing in more issues and getting the faculty on our side,” Martin said.
When inquired about whether the university plans to be more receptive to third-party organizations, the university claims that they are “adhering to SB 17 without exceeding the necessary requirements” and that the Center for Student Advocacy and Community will substitute the LGBTQ resource center. To many LGBTQ students however, this new center is not an adequate replacement.
“I feel frustrated and sad and scared because if the state can remove our safe spaces, what else can they do to us?” said biology senior Orion Harper. “Safe spaces save lives, and the University has not been doing an adequate job of compensating for the loss of the resource center.”