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June 11, 2024

The Impact of Texas Senate Bill 17 on DEI Initiatives



Texas Senate Bill 17 (SB 17) greatly restricts state universities’ ability to cultivate diversity and promote equitable access to higher education. The heavily debated bill has caused the shuttering of DEI offices at public universities throughout the state.

The Specifics of SB 17

SB 17 prohibits the following at public universities in the state of Texas:

    • Diversity, equity, and inclusion-oriented programs or employees
    • Mandatory diversity training related to race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation
    • Soliciting DEI statements or giving preference based on DEI statements
    • Preferencing job applicants based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin

 

Initial Response to SB 17

Some colleges initially attempted compliance by shifting the titles of their diversity offices, utilizing words like, “belonging,” “community engagement,” and “student development” in new titles. However, these renames are being met with a doubling-down in enforcement. In March 2024, Governor Greg Abbott announced that more compliance measures will be implemented to ensure universities are “held accountable for disregarding SB 17.” As a result, more universities are closing their diversity offices, and additional layoffs of DEI-related staff are expected through the end of the school year.

What’s Not Impacted by SB 17?

To date, SB 17 does not prohibit student organizations based on identity. Universities may continue to support student organizations (even if they are identity based) as long as they act neutrally and don’t consider identity in its decisions. Types of allowed support include funding, staff and faculty advisement, access to facilities, and “features” such as links on university websites and materials. Additionally, short-term speakers hosted by student organizations cannot be denied access by a university because they intend to conduct DEI programming.

What’s the Long-Term Impact of SB 17?

Experts question whether the closure of DEI programs will hamper efforts to achieve educational equity. 

“The consequences range from the unknown to the dire,” said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. “Senate Bill 17 will be a giant step backward in our quest for equal opportunity and equal worth for all. … I worry that stifling diversity, equity and inclusion on our academic campuses … will breed the negative attitudes and behaviors typically attributed to ignoramuses while stifling the development of tolerant, enlightened communities.”

Combined with the recent Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action, anti-DEI laws across the country will have an immediate impact on employers who have partnered with DEI offices in the past. These impacts aren’t isolated to Texas, with 9 additional states passing legislation restricting DEI: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming.

University Recruiting leaders now face the challenge of developing new strategies to rebuild DEI initiatives as partnerships they previously relied on are disappearing. Leaders in Early Talent teams report that long-standing partnerships are coming into question, as they face resistance from colleges for hosting or even advertising DEI-related events and initiatives.

The passage of SB 17 marks a significant shift in the landscape of higher education in Texas. While the long-term effects of the bill continue to unfold, its immediate impact on DEI initiatives and university communities is profound.

Read on about DEI programs in a Post-Affirmative Action Era

DEI Programs in a Post-Affirmative Action Era