Kentucky State Capitol, DEI Funding, Public Universities

Another One: Kentucky House Votes To Get Rid Of DEI Funding At Public Universities 

What will this mean for students of African American Studies?

On March 15, the Kentucky House voted 68-15 to scratch off funding that would go toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices at public universities. 

SB 6 will return to the Senate. The House shredded the legislation’s language and replaced it with stricter verbiage that takes a tougher stand on DEI initiatives at public university campuses. The House-passed version will ban race-based scholarships and defund DEI offices and staff positions.

It also prohibits the overseer of public universities, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, from approving degrees with prerequisite courses that contain “discriminatory concepts.”

According to The Associated Press, Rep. Jennifer Decker (R) says the bill will foster a culture that’s “inclusive and welcoming to all” and “would put an end to the failed, expensive and discriminatory DEI initiatives at our public postsecondary schools in Kentucky.” 

The GOP-filled Senate is expected to accept—or reject—the new version in the coming days. House members on the other side of the aisle may fight them. 

Democratic lawmakers see the legislation as damaging to minority students on campuses, including racial minorities, LGBTQ+ students, the disabled, and those from rural areas or from low-income families.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion programs are about creating and sustaining environments that support students and faculty who have been traditionally underrepresented on our college campuses, that make them feel safe and welcome,” said Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D).

On the same day the legislation passed, students protested shortly after University of Louisville President Kim Schatzel sent a campus-wide email with her statement on efforts. “We cannot, without equivocation, support any legislation that limits the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in support of our highest priority–success for ALL University of Louisville students,” Schatzel wrote, according to WDRB. 

Students call her words “empty.” “Unfortunately not surprised by the empty words we’ve been given by Kim Schatzel and her administration,” protester Elizabeth Hinsdale said. She and fellow protester Savannah Dowell both study Women’s, Gender and Sexuality and are worried that such degrees will fall under “discriminatory concepts” if SB 6 becomes law.

“If I am not able to study what I want to at this university or any in Kentucky, I’m left with no choice but to transfer out of state,” Dowell said.

Kulkarni is concerned about the bill’s limitations on the concepts professors can teach, especially in history.

“It would disallow the teaching of how oppressive governments create systems of inequality through laws and policies that are structured to marginalize minority groups,” the lawmaker said. “Our students deserve to know our history. They deserve to fully explore all of the progress that we have made.”

Students like Mya Jackson, a Porter scholarship recipient, wonder if she’ll have to leave, as the funds are awarded specifically to Black or African American students in Louisville. “We are frightened we will lose our chance to be here,” Jackson said. 

NAACP President Derrick Johnson recently issued a letter in response to the University of Florida for eliminating its DEI programs, prompting NCAA athletes to reconsider playing there. “This is not about politics,” the letter read. “It’s about the protection of our community, the progression of our culture, and most of all, it’s about your education and your future.”

If the bill passes, Gov. Andy Beshear could step in. During the 60th anniversary march of the March on Frankfort, Beshear pledged to veto legislation designed to limit DEI practices at Kentucky’s public universities. “Diversity will always make us stronger. It is an asset and never a liability,” he said.