Idaho Lawmakers Urge Boise State to Eliminate Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

Republican members of the Idaho House of Representatives recently sent a letter to the new president of Boise State University (BSU), Marlene Tromp, urging her to eliminate many of the university’s diversity and inclusion programs and supports.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, a member of the House Education committee who is leading the effort, described such programs in the letter as “antithetical to the purpose of a public university” and against “the Idaho way.”

The criticism comes in response to a June 4 newsletter written by then-interim BSU president, Martin Schimpf, who wrote that BSU should strive to establish itself as “a leader on inclusive excellence” if it is to successfully serve future students.

Ehardt argues in the letter to Tromp that such efforts effectively “segregate” students and promote the false idea that certain underrepresented groups have been treated unfairly. The letter specifically mentions multicultural student events, graduate fellowships for underrepresented students, time spent on determining students’ proper names and pronouns, and implicit bias training for hiring committees. Ehardt also argues that funding for these programs could be better spent on lowering the cost of tuition for Idaho’s young people.

Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank formed in 2009, also published a June 14 article stating that diversity programming at BSU encourages underrepresented students to think of themselves as victims and uses taxpayer dollars to “enforce the self-marginalization of students and staff.”

Democratic lawmakers and some BSU students have been quick to respond to these criticisms. The Idaho Joint Democratic Caucus sent their own letter to Tromp, stating that “the Idaho way” is to offer institutions of higher education which “create welcoming environments to serve students from diverse backgrounds.”

A group of BSU students has organized a rally to voice their support for the university’s diversity and inclusion efforts. It is scheduled to take place this Saturday at the Idaho State Capitol. They have invited Tromp and each of the Republican signatories of Ehardt’s letter but have yet to receive responses, according to Boise State Public Radio.

So far, Tromp has not spoken directly about the importance of BSU’s diversity and inclusion programming. Last week, she told the Idaho Statesman that she intends to meet with Representative Ehardt and “looks forward to hearing her concerns and ideas.” In addition, she expressed gratitude for the engagement of state legislators regarding the university’s efforts.

Meanwhile, other Idaho universities with similar diversity and inclusion programs have not come under fire, notes James Dawson, a reporter for Boise State Public Radio.