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Iowa Bills Target Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts in Education

Students from East High School walk out in protest for LGBTQ+ rights Photo by Grace Altenhofen | Editor-in-Chief

Politics across the nation are divided on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in education. In Iowa, multiple bills have been signed into law and others remain up for debate. Senate File 482 prohibits bathroom use that does not correspond to the biological sex of elementary and secondary education students, and Senate File 538 prohibits activities regarding gender transitioning to minors. Both bills were signed by Governor Kim Reynolds on March 22, 2023.

Another related bill, House Study Bill 218, aims to defund diversity, equity and inclusion offices and staff at Iowa public universities.

This polarization of political opinions and potential laws can create an environment of uncertainty for students. Yet, members of Drake University’s faculty, staff and student organizations were quick to clarify that Drake will not be subjected to these laws. They said Drake will stay committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice efforts.

“We are, at Drake, not new in our commitment to standing on our values around equity and inclusion,” said Jennifer Harvey, associate provost of campus equity and inclusion.

Since Drake University is a private institution that does not receive public funding, the university will not be obligated to defund any DEIJ services or positions as a result of state laws, Harvey said. 

While most of these files and bills affect K-12 students, this population could be future Drake students. Some believe that such legislation might deter students from attending Iowa schools. Although Drake will remain unaltered by these proposed changes, Harvey said that incoming students, both high school and transfers, will be negatively impacted.

“It impacts us by the very fact that we are located in Iowa,” president of Rainbow Union Rachel Jalloway said. “People will associate Drake University with Iowa.”

Faber McAlister, an associate professor of rhetoric and media studies at Drake, said that due to these passing laws, high school students often suppress their identity for safety reasons, such as bullying or conflicting opinions at home. As a result of suppressing their identities, these students can opt out of a lot of things – learning, participating and sometimes even life itself.

“These are students who could be successful and flourishing and come to Drake and contribute in meaningful ways to create the kind of diverse, rich environment that everyone needs to have good conversations across differences,” McAlister said.

A college campus is intended to be rich with culture and provide students with opportunities to interact and engage with diverse people of varying backgrounds and experiences, said McAlister. By implementing laws that suppress or eliminate people of these targeted demographics, students of all backgrounds would be denied the opportunity to learn more about a diverse group of people. 

“If you don’t have a vibrant, diverse learning environment, all the students at that university are deprived of the opportunity to engage with different people in meaningful ways that will prepare them for a future as citizens,” McAlister said.

Jalloway echoed McAlister’s sentiments.

“It screws people over by not exposing them [to people of other identities and backgrounds],” Jalloway said. “If America wants to be this melting pot of diversity, then they should teach about how diverse America really is.”

It feels like a step backwards, said Sandra Patton-Imani, a professor of American studies at Drake. With advances made in the past, such as the legalization of gay marriage at the federal level in 2015, the current situation strikes her as regressive.

“People are threatened by change,” Patton-Imani said. “Since the 60s…we have moments of lots of change in one direction and then we have continual pushback. It seems to me that we cannot really roll this back. Too many peoples’ lives have been changed.”

As these issues continue to be debated in our nation, Harvey said Drake will remain faithful to its promise of creating a campus that is inclusive to all identities. 

“You can’t have an educational environment anywhere near being adequate or excellent if people’s basic dignity is being disrespected,” Harvey said. “It’s that simple.”

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