Colleges are speaking out about a bill that bans them from requiring their students to have diversity training. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill Friday.
According to House Bill 1775, K-12 schools are prohibited from providing courses that teach a student their race or sex makes them more superior to another person's race or sex.
The bill also says students enrolled in higher education institutions should not be required to attend training that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex.
“This bill says that we're not going to teach people that because of their race or their sex they are inherently evil for something they had nothing to do with,” Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore said.
Universities throughout the metro responded to the bill saying if it passes, they hope students are still willing to take these courses to gain cultural awareness.
Oklahoma State University sent the following statement:
“At Oklahoma State University, we have embraced civility, diversity, and inclusion in a concerted effort to make sure every student, staff, and faculty member knows they are valued. We strive to build a community built on mutual respect. Preparing our graduates to meet the challenges of working in a diverse global community is part of our educational mission. We will follow the law and will respect the decision of students who prefer not to participate. Our hope is many students will see the value of becoming more culturally aware.”
Langston University, the only historically Black college and university in Oklahoma echoed similar remarks stating:
“At Langston University, we are committed to ensuring honesty in the presentation of history. We are supportive of initiatives bringing greater awareness and understanding so our students can work effectively in a culturally diverse world. While we are disappointed in this legislation, we will follow the law as we continue to promote diversity and inclusion.”
The University of Oklahoma told News 9 they are assessing the impact of this bill.
Until Friday, every student was required to participate in the First-Year Diversity Experience. University President Joseph Harroz Jr. said OU students can now opt out of the training in order to comply with the new law.
In a statement Harroz said:
Dear OU Community,
Despite our strong objection to it and advocacy against it, today Oklahoma House Bill 1775 was signed into law. This new law prohibits higher education institutions in Oklahoma from requiring students to engage in any form of mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling, and from instituting an orientation or requirement for students that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex. Although OU’s mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion training does not espouse superiority of one race or sex, its mandatory nature is impacted by the passage of this law. To comply with the law, students may now choose to opt out of the training, though we will strongly encourage them to still take it. The training is one of the many elements that reinforce our belief that the development and preparation of the whole student takes a multi-faceted approach. OU employees – including student employees – are still required to complete the training, along with other necessary and essential employee trainings, such as sexual harassment and workplace safety.
I have heard from some of our colleagues a concern that the new law also calls into question the sacrosanct matter of academic freedom. I do not believe the Oklahoma Legislature’s intent was to limit academic freedom or freedom of speech. Even if it were the intent, I do not believe such a measure would pass constitutional scrutiny. To our faculty, if that were ever to be in danger of occurring, let me assure you we would do everything in our power to ensure the continuance and full vitality of true academic freedom.
At the heart of our Strategic Plan is our purpose – We Change Lives – supported by five pillars that define what kind of university we want to be. Central to our purpose are our second and fourth pillars: Prepare students for a life of success, meaning, service, and positive impact; and Become a place of belonging and emotional growth for all students, faculty, staff, and alumni. In everything we do, we place the student and their experience first, crafting an intentional educational pathway that best equips them to enter society as leaders who understand the world around them and are able to navigate it with respect and dignity for all.
To that end, we have taken tangible steps to prepare our students to be the best leaders of tomorrow. In addition to our training, this coming fall we will introduce a pacesetting, general education course that we believe will be essential for each individual student, their future success, and their ability to impact society. The new class – “Gateway to Belonging at OU” – will serve as an essential introduction, or gateway, to our students’ futures. At its core, the class teaches critical thinking skills and supports students in developing a true understanding of others, as well as a sense of belonging at OU and beyond. It will be offered as a pilot to first-year and transfer students beginning in fall 2021.
A course like this will benefit more than the individual student. An anticipated outgrowth will be an improvement of our own campus climate. The likely broader impact a course like this can make will be seen in larger society – in the workplaces and communities that our graduates will join. These benefits speak to the importance of Gateway to Belonging at OU, for our students and their development, for our community and its health, and for society and its future.
In addition to Gateway to Belonging at OU, we will be adding two additional course options to a First-Year Experience General Education requirement. The other two courses, now in the early stages of development, are slated to be: Global Perspectives and Engagement, and Ethical Leadership Development. All three courses within the First-Year Experience offerings will share the course objectives of cultural fluency, critical thinking, civil discourse, citizenship, and community engagement. Students entering OU in the fall of 2022 will be required to complete one of these courses in their first year. We hope these new courses will help develop our students into people who know how to understand others not like themselves; engage in constructive, civil discourse; and to be open-minded while still holding strong convictions.
Our students’ success in making a difference in the lives of others depends upon their ability to engage with the broader world in a way that is understanding of all people and perspectives. With our available diversity, equity, and inclusion training and the First-Year Experience – coupled with the unparalleled OU experience – it’s our belief that our students will be better prepared for a life of meaning and positive impact.
This First-Year Diversity Experience program falls under OU's Diversity Equity and Inclusion Department, a resource the university found necessary following a video of Sigma Alpha Epilson fraternity members heard singing a racist chant in 2015.
The law goes into effect immediately.