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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Students react to SB 17 implementation

Students+at+the+Mexican+Student+Association+meeting+at+Rudder+Tower+on+Thursday%2C+Sept.+21%2C+2023.%26%23160%3B
Photo by Ashely Bautista

Students at the Mexican Student Association meeting at Rudder Tower on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. 

Texas A&M recently shut down its diversity, equity and inclusion programs in accordance with SB 17. Some minority students say that taking university resources away from these programs undermines their communities and makes them feel unwelcome.

Starting January 1, 2024, SB 17 will go into effect. The bill states that public Texas universities can no longer “promote” special treatment, policies and procedure or conduct training, programs or activities “to individuals on the basis of race, color or ethnicity.” Nor can it “influence” hiring and employment and have a diversity office.

As a result, A&M started complying with SB 17, Interim President Mark A. Welsh III said. It removed the Office of Diversity and all its employees and dissolved DEI programs.

The recent issues contrast with the core values of Leadership, Respect and Selfless Service, sociology doctoral student Garrett Riley, president of the Black Graduate Student Association, or BGSA, said. He said A&M values leadership, yet they did not come out and say diversity is important for a strong university. They did not try to resist the SB17 mandate, Riley said.

“The value of Selfless Service will contend that if an individual needs help, you help them with whatever that help is that they need,” Riley said. “If that help is a diversity, equity and inclusion office, then that would be something that you maintain.”

Having a space like BGSA is important because it creates a community, Riley said. Black students make up 3.2% of the university as of Fall 2022, according to statistics released by the university. Fostering a community for Black graduates is important, Riley said.

“People don’t often stick around for long periods of time, and so in the period of time that you are around, you want to feel validated by people who have a shared experience [with] you,” Riley said. “That’s where the community comes from.”

A&M was recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution in 2022 by the U.S. Department of Education. Communications senior and vice president of the Mexican Student Association Marcela Gonzales said this was a “breakthrough,” but “counterintuitive” with the DEI ban. Universities with this recognition receive grants to continue to support Hispanic students, A&M included, according to the U.S. Department of Education. According to SB 17, the act does not apply to student recruitment or admissions. Grant money can still be used for low-income, first-generation college students or underserved student populations.

“It feels counterintuitive because the reason why we are getting these monetary benefits is to continue to be a Hispanic Serving Institution and to continue to have more diversity,” Gonzales said.

By shutting down the Office of Diversity, it puts more pressure on the students to “be that voice,” Gonzales said.

“I think it adds more pressure on individuals to kind of carry that load,” Gonzalez said. “I feel like we have to fight more to have a place here.”

Gonzalez said there is added pressure to speak up as a minority student.

“If our schools are not speaking out for us it kind of falls onto the students, especially, like, in leadership positions, to speak out and defend their organization,” Gonzalez said.

Marketing senior Ta’Niyah Iglehart, vice president of Corporate Relations for the Multicultural Association of Business Students, or MABS, said as a result of the DEI ban, MABS will not have access to the staff that previously helped them. It was already student-led, but now, Iglehard said the organization loses the added help.

“We’re at a disadvantage just because we have to figure things out for ourselves, just so we can keep the organization afloat,” Iglehart said.

MABS will not have to change its mission statement, and its goal for the organization will remain despite the DEI ban, Iglehart said. She said they will still be on campus to support and be a safe space for students.

“MABS will always be here, hopefully,” Iglehart said.

Welsh said SB 17 was intended to ensure that no group had an advantage or preferred treatment, according to the Washington Post.

Nothing in DEI says white students can’t use the services it provides, but still, DEI is often synonymous with minority students, Riley said.

“There is an assumption in that supporting individuals that need support provides them an additional advantage that they otherwise can exercise over individuals that don’t necessarily need that support,” Riley said.

Gonzales said a misconception people have is that minority students want DEI programs to make it “easier” for themselves. She said many people in MSA had their own struggles in education being immigrants, first generation and going to schools that lacked resources. They don’t have the time or resources to participate in SAT prep or Kumon because “they’re just trying to find a way to survive,” Gonzales said.

“Out of the people I surround myself with in MSA, we value merit and achievement the most, and we push to work as hard as we can,” Gonzalez said.

DEI is about equality, and it doesn’t put one group above any other, Iglehart said. People sometimes misconstrue multicultural to mean everyone but a certain race, when it includes all, Inglehart said.

“I never thought of the DEI program making a certain demographic have an advantage over another because every time I go into the DEI office in Mays, it’s literally everyone,” Iglehart said.

Because Riley’s time here is limited, he said he is not focusing too much on the issues surrounding diversity. He said there is only so much one person can do, and the university is “larger than the efforts that you can make to change it.” His main focus now is graduating, Riley said.

“What I feel like has occurred for myself and a lot of other minority students has been that they’re just putting their heads down and just trying to get out of Aggieland,” Riley said.

As a result of the DEI bans, Gonzalez said she can see A&M students’ pride decrease.

“I would hate for [A&M’s] spirit to be turned into something negative and something minorities fear, or [something] minorities don’t feel comfortable taking pride in,” Gonzalez said.

Wanting to get out is a reduction of the Aggie spirit, Riley said. In addition, not having faculty, students or staff stick around who want to make a diverse campus will lead to a more predominantly white institution then it is currently, Riley said.

“If the interest is in maintaining A&M being a predominantly white institution, then this is nothing but them acting in line with those efforts,” Riley said.

When the university attempted to hire Kathleen McElroy, Ph.D., to lead its reformed journalism program in the summer before Fall 2023, it fell apart after her job offer was changed multiple times because of “DEI hysteria.”

An internal review later revealed the extent of university involvement, such as messages from A&M Board of Regents members saying the creation of the College of Arts and Sciences was to “control the liberal nature that those professors brought to campus.”

As a result, Gonzalez said she is questioning if she has received a neutral education. She also said she wonders if there have been similar prior faculty choices.

“It makes me question the authenticity of my education and the neutrality of it because we all like to believe that the education that we’re receiving is neutral,” Gonzalez said. “But this specific situation makes me question.”

When Iglehart first heard the news of McElory’s botched hiring, she said she was confused on why A&M was “going backwards.” She then said that getting rid of DEI also takes us back as a society.

“I feel like taking away DEI or making us reduce how we use it takes away the purpose of all the things that people have fought for in the past,” Iglehart said.

SB 17 will not apply to student organizations, according to the bill. Organizations like BGSA, MSA and MABS will continue to serve as a place for students just like they have for Riley, Gonzalez and Iglehart, they said.

Gonzalez said she found pride in her culture again and said other members of MSA have found their place and voice as a result. When students feel connected here, and they have a space for them, it contributes to their academic and overall success, Gonzalez said.

“MSA provides that feeling that their family used to provide for them,” Gonzalez said.

MABS means everything to Iglehart, she said. She said her first semester, it was difficult to meet people who she could easily connect with, and she found her people in MABS. She wants it to be a welcoming organization for anyone because it has been for her, Iglehart said.

“Not a lot of the students here who are minorities feel welcomed [at A&M] right off the bat,” Iglehart said.

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