What Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Means to Me
By Matthew Tippit, Policy Associate | June 1, 2023
As a recent two-time graduate of The Ohio State University, I have looked on in disgust at the current actions of the Ohio Legislature. Through Senate bill 83 and House bill 151 and their vague and ever-changing language, several programs, departments and classes at universities across the state might see major changes. The bill bans mandatory Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training and will likely hinder the ability of DEI offices to function as they do now. While the exact on the ground impacts will not be seen unless the bill becomes law, it is already clear that the impact will be a negative one.
I have watched as the programs and departments that made higher education possible for me continue to be targeted and attacked under the guise of improving the campus environment for students or supposedly protecting students from “any oath of allegiance to woke ideology on controversial topics” according to the bill’s sponsor. Each time I hear these sorry excuses for why DEI is harmful for students, I have one question burning in the back of my mind: “Harmful for who?” This question is even more relevant when considering that among young people ages 25-29 in the U.S. who are white, 45% attained a bachelor’s degree in 2021, compared to 26% of those who are Black and 23% of those who are Hispanic. With these wide gaps in attainment, who is DEI harming?
It was not harmful for the Black student population at OSU, which was under 3% of the population when I was an undergraduate student. It was not harmful for the many minoritized staff in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion that worked every day to ensure that students of every race, color, creed, sexual orientation, and religious background reached their highest potential. So, who is it harming? Or maybe the better question is: Who is DEI benefitting too much? Who is DEI helping overcome decades, no, centuries, of being overlooked, underrepresented, counted out, and oppressed? Who is DEI leveling the playing field for?
When you ask these questions, the answer for why these attacks are occurring becomes much clearer.
While I could turn this post into a long history lesson on oppression and its generational impacts for educational attainment and economic mobility, take you on a tour of historically redlined neighborhoods in central proximity to our own Statehouse, or even invite you to join me on a horrifyingly detailed written trip to experience what life on a plantation looked like for a person enslaved, I won’t. Instead, I’ll keep the focus here on the present day and the impact SB 83 will have on future students if passed and would have had on me when I was a student.
Without the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Ohio State University, I wouldn’t have been able to:
- Afford to attend OSU.
- Attend a study abroad trip.
- Access opportunities for a work study job on campus that was flexible and allowed me to complete my coursework.
- Mentor high school students who shared a similar background as me through the LASER mentoring program.
- Mentor children while their parents attended workshops through the ACCESS Youth Mentoring program.
- Obtain proper support I needed to graduate with both a Bachelors and Master’s degree in Social Work.
- Attend campus events tailored to the wants, needs, and interests of students who had similar backgrounds as me.
- See myself as a college student.
- Have mentors that shared similar backgrounds to me.
- Attend an early arrival program that helped acclimate me to the campus.
- Meet younger students who I could informally mentor.
- Meet older students that informally mentored me.
Without the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, I wouldn’t have felt a sense of community on campus.
Next time you hear lawmakers, political talking heads, or any other group harp on how DEI is ruining this country. Think back to my two questions: Harmful for who? Who is DEI benefiting too much?
Click here to call and email members of the Higher Education Committees where HB 151 and SB 83 await additional hearings.