House Bill 1213 is creating a stir amongst the city of Russellville and across the state. The reason: defunding Arkansas Tech University’s Department of Diversity and Inclusion.
The views are split on the impact this will have for the Tech campus, as the bill has not yet passed. The reason the views are split are because this bill targets Tech specifically and no other campus. However a person may feel, they can voice their opinion at the meeting of the Special Language subcommittee of the Joint Budget Committee at 8 a.m. on Thursday, March 16, in Multi-Agency Complex room B, located at One Capitol Mall in Little Rock.
The Special Language subcommittee is meeting to vote on Section 5, an amendment that was added on March 8: “Arkansas Tech University shall not budget, allocate, commit for expenditure or expend any funding for the Department of Diversity and Inclusion or its successor.”
Section 5 is sponsored by Arkansas State Representatives Mary Bentley, Trevor Drown and Marcus E. Richmond. Drown and Richmond are Tech alumni, both having received a bachelor’s degree from Tech.
The initial event to create the addition of Section 5 happened when SPECTRUM, a registered student organization devoted to the support and advocacy of the LGBTQ community and is sponsored by the DDI, posted an event they were hosting entitled “Sex on the Lawn.” This post from Spectrum caused Arkansas State Representative Mary Bentley to make a post of her own on March 6 via Facebook.
“This is a post from the Arkansas Tech Department of Diversity and Inclusion,” Bentley said in the Facebook post, which included a flyer for the event. “As State
Legislators we hold the ‘Purse Strings’ of the states budget. Do you think this is an appropriate use of your tax dollars?”
Bentley’s fellow co-sponsors agreed with her statement and added that, that event was the last straw.
“The final straw, I guess you could say, was the Diversity and Inclusion Department, and there’s been a few issues that it always seems it goes back there, but this one, the ‘Sex on the Lawn’ event that they were having,” Trevor Drown, Arkansas state representative, said. “I mean to put something like that out at an institution of higher education and then some of the pictures that were sent to us, it wasn’t just things dealing with sex education, it was different items, I’ll leave it at that, that you would not think would be appropriate to have at an institution of higher education. Maybe somewhere else, but not in the River Valley.”
“SPECTRUM stands with the Department of Diversity & Inclusion. We oppose HB 1213 as it would do harm to current and future students,” Caleb Eubanks, vice president of SPECTRUM, said.
The defunding could lead to the university losing their accreditation from the Department of Higher Education. The next time Tech is up for accreditation is spring of 2020 according to Dr. Jeff Mott, Tech’s chief of staff. The bill can be stopped at this level and go no further or continue on to the next level with the vote that happens on March 16.
“We want to give everyone the same opportunity to achieve their potential,” Mott said.
Amendment 33 of the Arkansas Constitution states “the board or commission of any institution, governed by this amendment, shall not be abolished nor shall the powers vested in any such board or commission be transferred, unless the institution is abolished or consolidated with some other state institution.” This amendment basically says that universities have autonomy, or full power, in how they handle the money on their campus. How this bill is handled can impact the future course of the power the House has on individual universities and the power universities could have over their campuses.
Dr. Hammonds believes in fighting for his department and the impact it has on the students of Tech.
“Championing the work of diversity and inclusion is no easy task,” Dr. MarTeze Hammonds, associate dean for diversity and inclusion, said. “The Arkansas Tech University Department of Diversity and Inclusion understands the complexities of such work and strives to move ATU from equality to equity. We are confident that the work being done to increase inclusivity is both relevant and needed at Tech and beyond.”
The defunding of the DDI would mean groups like SPECTRUM, Student Members and Veterans of America, Special Olympics College, Hispanic Student Association and African American Student Association, to name a few, would be without a department to call home for awhile.
“Since the creation of the department in 2015, they have provided support and guidance to SPECTRUM as an organization and our members individually. The Department of Diversity and Inclusion has a direct positive impact on campus towards SPECTRUM,” Eubanks said.
The defunding would also mean that the various DDI sponsored events on campus would no longer exist in this capacity. Events such as the “Sex on the Lawn” “an all-inclusive educational fair that seeks to provide an honest and safe space for students to talk about sex and relationships with help from people on the campus and in the community,” according to the flyer.
“Although disheartened by the recent legislative attempt to defund such great work, we are motivated by challenges and inspired by each life we impact through our work,” Hammonds said. “As we continue to educate our campus, support our underrepresented students and contribute to ATU through programs and events geared toward student success, DDI is optimistic about its future,” Hammonds said.
The views are still split but the majority will win the vote on March 16. According to Mott this the first step if this does pass on Thursday will be that it then has to go in front of the House as part of the Budget committee. To have your voice heard at the meeting of the Special Language subcommittee on March 16 is a good first step but also reach out to your representatives and let them know how you feel.
Mary Bentley can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 501-889-3556. Trevor Drown can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 479-857-2498. Marcus E. Richmond can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 479-299-4416.
To find your representative go to http://www.arkansashouse.org/.
“Our members will be at the committee meeting on Thursday, March 16 to show their opposition to HB 1213 and to support the future of the Department of Diversity & Inclusion at Arkansas Tech University,” Eubanks said.
“DDI extends its gratitude to those individuals who continue to support our efforts and existence,” Hammonds said.