Black lawmakers push back on GOP effort to end campus DEI programs

By: - May 19, 2023 3:46 pm
University of Wisconsin symbol on building

University of Wisconsin Madison by sk CC BY-ND 2.0

Wisconsin’s legislative Black Caucus criticized Republican efforts to end diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs on UW System campuses. 

In a statement released on Thursday, the nine members of the caucus accused the UW System of “cowardice” for giving in to Republican attacks on DEI programs and the use of DEI statements in job applications. 

The back and forth comes as Republicans have spent much of the spring holding hearings over free speech issues on the state’s public university campuses, partially in response to a survey conducted last year to gauge student beliefs on campus expression. While the hearings have been going on, with only speakers invited by Republicans allowed to testify, UW System President Jay Rothman ordered chancellors to remove written diversity statements from the job application process — which Republicans criticized as a political litmus test. 

Rothman made the decision after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said the system’s budget would be cut if the statements weren’t removed, though Rothman said that the statements were used in a limited way and DEI issues will still likely come up in the interview process. 

“In a state where we have the worst statistics on homeownership, health outcomes, educational outcomes, and mass incarceration for Black individuals, it is appalling that minimizing and silencing discourse on these issues is allowed,” the Black Caucus said in its statement. 

The fight over campus expression and DEI issues has occurred as UW-Madison has been dealing with the fallout of a social media video that shows a student using racist language. That incident sparked protests on campus and calls for the student’s expulsion. 

“Free speech must be respected and is a foundational right in our country,” the caucus said. “When there is a lack of accountability for one’s harmful words, or when public forums are intentionally skewed to favor a divisive political agenda, we have to question, challenge, and oppose any notion that would promote institutional racism.”

UW-Madison has condemned the student’s language but said as a public institution it is bound by the First Amendment, which protects a person’s right to say hateful things. 

“So let us set the record straight,” the Black Caucus statement continued. “Whether those efforts are made in our higher educational systems, state legislation, or local levels of government, any blatant acts of racism and prejudice must end altogether. We cannot defund diversity offices on college campuses, or mandate the removal of DEI efforts in any capacity. All Wisconsinites, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic backgrounds, or sexual orientation, deserve the same access to freedom of speech and resources necessary to obtain quality of life”


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.