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Texas’ Anti-DEI Bill: Detrimental, Embarrassing, and Inequitable

The ramifications of Senate Bill 17, a disastrous law that eliminated Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs on higher education campuses across Texas, have left students across the state feeling unwelcome and unwanted on campus. 

Most recently, the Multicultural Engagement Center (MEC) on the University of Texas’s campus closed its doors as a result of Senate Bill 17 (SB 17). The MEC once housed six university-sponsored student groups (Afrikan American Affairs, Asian Desi Pacific Islander American Collective, Latino Leadership Council, Native American and Indigenous Collective, Queer Trans Black Indigenous People of Color and Allies, or QTBIPOCA, and Students for Equity and Diversity), which now won’t have a home base on campus. This does more than remove a safe space on campus; it sends the damaging message that these organizations, communities, and the conversations housed here don’t have a space on UT’s campus. 

As a recent alum of the University of Texas, I am devastated by the forced closing of the MEC. A once vibrant haven on campus has been ripped from the hands of students as a result of this destructive legislation. Beyond empowering students to be “leaders and agents of social change,” the MEC brought a sense of community to campus, a home on the forty acres. 

When I started going to UT Austin I was a transfer student from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), a first generation student and immigrant who lacked the skills and community to confidently take on navigating the rigorous student career. The MEC took me under its wing. It was a space where I could ask questions about basic needs, resources, financial aid, community spaces, and advice. There were so many times the MEC offered me free meals when I didn’t know if I was going to be able to afford dinner that evening. So many amazing speakers I went to go see and learn about their career pathways and get refueled from their passion to want to better the world, so all humans can have happiness and peace. I loved being able to meet people with such diverse cultural backgrounds and identities because I found alignment, but I also learned new things from others. This was not a place to exclude others, but a safe haven. 

The closing of the MEC is not the end but rather the beginning of the atrocities that SB 17 is going to cause at institutions across Texas. We must mobilize alums, current students, staff, and the broader community of Texas to confront the escalating threat posed by this legislation. This is only going to get worse and more destructive at a rapid pace. Other ethnic/race or cultural organizations and spaces will be next. This is a racist bill that seeks to eradicate diversity on campuses, and its repercussions will only intensify if left unchallenged.

People need to be educated on what diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is.

The legislature frames DEI as an evil we must eradicate to protect our children, however erasing this from education perpetuates ignorance and creates irreparable damage. DEI is at the core of our education, it not only informs our past and future and provides perspectives outside of our own, but it promotes an equitable learning environment. This lens ensures that students feel valued and empowered. Removing DEI strips away potential, resulting in hostile environments that refuse to prioritize the well-being of students. The legislature believes this is propelling us forward, yet we are taking significant steps backward in terms of progress.

Personal anecdotes underscore the profound impact of the MEC’s closure. As a first-generation immigrant and Queer student, I found solace and support within its walls. The MEC was more than just a place to gather—it was a lifeline, providing essential resources, mentorship, and a sense of belonging to students from diverse backgrounds. I refuse to let this law force students off of campus who deserve to be heard.

SB17 not only deprives students of a community space but undermines their well-being, education, and future success. The MEC laid the groundwork for countless leaders at UT Austin, and as alumni and community members, we must continue to advocate for the preservation of DEI initiatives. 

The fight against SB17 is far from over. We must educate others on the importance of DEI and stand united against efforts to erode diversity on our campuses. The MEC may be closed, but its spirit lives on in the resilience of its students and supporters. Together, we will strive to create inclusive environments where all students can thrive. 

Naomi Cruz Ojeda is a Mental Health Policy Fellow at Young Invincibles and alumna of the University of Texas at Austin, where she graduated with her Bachelors in Health & Society and Latinx Studies with a minor in Portuguese. Her passion are centered around social justice, racial and educational equity, pathways to self-determination, and prioritization and restorative justice practices