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Editorial: Despite what the Board of Governors say, DEI is essential to UNC

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On April 17, the UNC Board of Governors Committee on University Governance moved forward with a motion that, if successful, would likely gut diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the UNC System. This proposed policy change will not only affect the jobs of many personnel throughout the state but also poses an extreme threat to student activities and clubs dedicated to marginalized and underrepresented communities and majors focused on cultural and gender studies.

This monumental decision was made behind closed doors and publicly decided within a few minutes, a truly disturbing fact to consider especially when the communities that will inevitably be rattled most by this change were not able to be present at this meeting. Students who had attempted to attend were told that all available public seating was occupied, preventing them from entering. The manner in which the motion was passed, the lack of deliberation and the blatant obstacles put in place are alarming. 

It seems lawmakers in North Carolina and the leaders of the UNC System do not see intersectionality as beneficial and present assaults on anything DEI-related to reinforce the straight, white hegemony.

"Equality Within the University of North Carolina,” as the new policy is known, will help push the façade that this rebranding of DEI is anything equivalent to what it once was. BOG chair Randy Ramsey said in a statement last week that, "We cannot require everyone to think the same way about race, gender, or any other challenging topic."

UNC is the latest addition to a string of systems considering repealing their DEI policies, and if the BOG votes in favor of the proposal, the System will join seven states with policies already in place.

The BOG’s attempt to reassign “equality” to the new policy seems like a veiled attempt to create a buffer before they dissolve any and all regulations of DEI at the institution as a whole. This surface-level rebranding of DEI isn't new; it also occurred at the University of Texas at Austin. Their Division of Diversity and Community Engagement was renamed the Division of Campus and Community Engagement. Shortly thereafter, the university eliminated the new office and staff, resulting in more than 80 employees being removed

The University of Florida, a similarly prestigious public university, has experienced resignations from tenured professors specifically citing concerns over anti-DEI policies. UF’s situation is a cautionary tale, not a model. The anti-intellectual thrust of the Florida legislature has only exacerbated brain drain, a term coined for brilliant minds fleeing north, leaving UF floundering. It stands to reason that UNC will experience similar resignations of esteemed faculty, and students and the University itself will suffer because of it.

DEI is a fundamental aspect of education and benefits everyone, not just people from marginalized communities. Through DEI services, underrepresented students can find community and support at their institutions, and seek justice for a history of discrimination in higher education.

Black students were not allowed admission into UNC until 1951, and as of 2022, Black students only make up 8.3 percent of the undergraduate population despite making up 12.4 percent of the state. Other minority groups are similarly underrepresented. DEI efforts serve as one way to right the historical exclusion and discrimination of the oppressed, and getting rid of those policies and defunding the related programs will deeply affect further progress.

DEI is also an essential line of programming that helps bring support to students who are taking classes or interested in several departments, including African American Studies, Women's and Gender Studies and American Studies — which houses one of the nation’s few Cherokee programs. Furthermore, the Office of Diversity & Inclusion improves the essential liberal arts education that makes UNC a competitive and prestigious University.

Benefits of diversity in a college classroom extend beyond the campus as well. In a connected world, the ability to communicate, manage conflict and understand a variety of people and perspectives is more valuable than ever. Most importantly, in order for the benefits of diversity to matter, faculty and students alike should be willing to discuss the presence and importance of diversity in their classrooms.

Repealing DEI policies would blight the University’s reputation as an internationally recognized research university. UNC has built a reputation for being at the forefront of American higher education. Its blend of liberal arts, unique attachment to the regional studies of North Carolina and the American South and top-tier scientific research activity makes the University great. This decision would only serve to debilitate cutting-edge research and pedagogy. 

If you think DEI doesn’t have an impact on you, understand that an elimination of it will undeniably cheapen the worth of a UNC degree. Any alumni who cares for the health and reputation of the University should be gravely concerned, even if they can’t bring it upon themselves to care about the lives that will be greatly impacted if DEI is taken away.

DEI is no longer a newfangled thing, having become instrumental to the mission of any well-regarded institution. The modern university’s student body encompasses all races, classes, genders and nationalities and equips these students not with etiquette or religious classes, but interpersonal and intellectual skills for an ever-changing workplace and world. To eliminate this would be to stunt the UNC System permanently, whilst its private competitors gain renowned faculty and international acclaim.

DEI programs represent more than empty symbols for institutions to win points for being progressive; these programs are essential to fostering a community that makes everyone feels safe and heard. Initiatives to promote diversity are often condemned as attempts to appear as “woke,” but it is crucial that our schools do not lose sight of the real purpose and people behind DEI.

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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