Last Thursday, Students for a Democratic Society held a small protest against Senate Bill 17 — the legislation which caused the demise of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion among other departments and programs — by hanging a banner at a Student Center bridge and gathering in front of the M.D. Anderson Library.
The main purpose of the protest was to get the University’s attention to condemn the bill, said exploratory studies freshman Matthew Bohn.
“Last year, Texas passed Senate Bill 17 which killed all the diversity, equity and inclusion programs at university campuses. And I think, UH, in our view, over complied with it. They closed all the offices a lot earlier than they needed to,” he said.
The bill went into effect Jan.1 but UH closed its LGBTQ Resource Center and Center for Diversity and Inclusion on Aug. 31. The University was the first school in the state to close its LGBTQ Resource Center.
“We think that SB 17 is very unjust, especially for the majority of students here who are people of color and for LGBTQ+ students,” said Psychology Freshman Arkady De Castro. “I personally know a couple of people who were either thinking of leaving or have left due to the fact that the LGBTQ resource center and CDI are gone.”
De Castro, who also organized the protest said that for a school that says they value diversity, UH’s actions tend to prove otherwise.
“For a school that apparently values diversity so much, that’s a heavy violation of their values and to the safety of a lot of students here,” De Castro said.
During the 2023 Texas Legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 17 into law, which went into effect last month. The anti-diversity, equity and inclusion bill, prevents state universities from operating their DEI offices after the end of 2023.
“The purpose of this subchapter is to prohibit institutions of higher education from requiring or giving preferential consideration for certain ideological oaths or statements that undermine academic freedom and open inquiry and impede the discovery, preservation, and transmission of knowledge,” the bill reads.
To replace the LGBTQ Resource Center and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the University opened the Center for Student Advocacy and Community in September.
“This center will make available wide-ranging advocacy, a support network for both undergraduate and graduate students, comprehensive basic needs services and resources, and facilitate a variety of events and programs to foster student success, achievement, and community building,” said associate vice president for student affairs Daniel M. Maxwell, in an email sent out in August.
The primary goal of CSAC is to foster a sense of community for students and help reduce barriers that might prevent them from reaching their personal and academic potential. The center offers resources for basic needs such as food, housing and transportation for its students. The official opening for CSAC was also on the same day as the protest, a coincidence De Castro was not aware of when he organized the protest.
“I think that organizing the center for student advocacy was a good half solution to what’s happening right now,” he said. “But a lot of the responsibilities that the CDI and LGBTQ resource center had are not just allocated to the center for student advocacy, but also they’ve been completely dropped on volunteers and student orgs.”
Resources that were offered at the LGBTQ Resource Center, like the lending library and pronoun pins are continued to be offered at CSAC.