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University of Louisville students and faculty protest anti-DEI bills

A crowd of people on stairs, many holding signs
Divya Karthikeyan
University of Louisville student Savannah Dowell speaks at the protest against DEI bills on Monday, March 18, 2024.

Students and faculty at the University of Louisville rallied against two pieces of legislation that would impact state college programs focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Students chanted “Our school, our future!” as they protested House Bill 9 and Senate Bill 6, which would gut funding for diversity, equity and inclusion offices, training and initiatives.

SB 6 defines DEI as any policy that promotes or provides “differential treatment or benefits” based on religion, race or sex in areas like employment or university admissions.

Senior Carlie Reeves is a first generation Black college student studying women’s and gender studies and philosophy, and said she relies on diversity initiatives like U of L’s Cultural Equity Center, which is part of the university’s Office of Institutional Equity. That initiative could come under risk.

“Without the Culture and Equity Center, I would not have been able to become president of a student organization. Without the Culture and Equity Center, I would have fallen victim to the depression that comes from being the only Black person in the honors classes all the time. Without the Culture and Equity Center, I wouldn't have gotten the confidence that I have now to speak out and be a leader,” she said.

University of Louisville President Kim Schatzel said in a statement Monday to students and faculty that she supports DEI initiatives.

But Reeves said the statement is addressing the wrong people. She wants Schatzel to talk to legislators.

“You can send us emails all you want, but what are we going to do to change it? We already know it's messed up,” Reeves said.

Elements of HB 9, introduced by Republican state Rep. Jennifer Decker of Waddy, are similar to SB 6, introduced by Republican state Senator Mike Wilson of Bowling Green. SB 6 passed the House last week and will head to the Senate for concurrence.

Both bills call for banning the promotion of so-called “discriminatory concepts.”

In Senate Bill 6, discriminatory concepts include “race or sex scapegoating, “a belief that some individuals are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, any teaching that promotes that “All Americans aren’t created equal”, and any instruction that “promotes division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people.”

Elizabeth Hinsdale is a U of L senior studying women's and gender studies and history.

Hinsdale, who is white, said they don’t see a problem with teaching the history of the transatlantic slave trade or chattel slavery. They said learning that history helps them to make a better world.

“They think that education on those topics is a threat because it pushes people to act and to challenge the status quo and white supremacy as it exists in our institutions,” they said.

Hinsdale plans to get their Master's in Women's Studies at another university “because it seems pretty uncertain to continue my education in Kentucky.”

To associate professor Kaila Story, who teaches in U of L’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Pan-African Studies departments, the bills themselves are discriminatory.

“As much as the sponsors of the bill attempt to say that this is about a diversity of ideas, let’s be clear on which ideas they are interested in being propped up and privileged in these spaces,” she said.

Story pointed out that the bills were introduced and taken into consideration during spring break when many students were not on campus.

States like Florida, Utah and Texas have passed bills condemning diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in universities and colleges.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.