Wyoming Sends Mixed DEI Messages

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Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon made headlines last weekend with a series of vetoes, notably including a line-item veto concerning the University of Wyoming’s (UW) Office of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). This veto allowed the legislature’s decision to cut $1.7 million in state funding for the DEI office to stand, while permitting the university to utilize its own funds for diversity-related initiatives.

In his veto communication to Wyoming’s Secretary of State, Chuck Gray, Gordon highlighted a crucial issue: the potential jeopardy of millions of dollars in federal grants that regularly support the university. 

He pointed out that the legislation’s language could endanger these grants because they necessitate the inclusion of underserved populations, such as military veterans, first-generation college students, Native Americans, and individuals affected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Gordon suggested that the legislature might be operating under an outdated understanding of DEI, emphasizing that these inclusion efforts extend beyond what the legislature perceives as the sole focus, such as LGBTQ+ issues.

Prior to the governor’s veto, a group of more than 25 students and faculty gathered at a Board of Trustees meeting to discuss the future of DEI at the UW. Concerns were raised about the potential impact of defunding on academic freedom, and Stephen Dillon, the director of the School’s Center of Culture, Gender, and Social Justice, warned against restricting DEI efforts.

“A curious thing started happening at my previous institution. We started having an unbelievable amount of transfer applications from students in Florida … they described themselves as exiles, unable to research, read, think, or exist how they wanted to,” Dillon said.

Despite vocal opposition to the cuts at the meeting, the governor’s decision to veto only a portion of the funding sent a mixed message. While reaffirming support for DEI programming, it acknowledged the shifting political landscape in Wyoming. With calls for a special legislative session emerging, the future of DEI initiatives at the UW remains uncertain. 

University officials have pledged to evaluate their programs and determine the best path forward, emphasizing their commitment to inclusivity and diversity despite the budgetary challenges.

“I totally support what our DEI office does, and I think we need to have funding for it,” UW Trustee Carol Linton said at a recent UW Board of Trustees meeting. “If not funded from the legislature … then it should be from somewhere else.”