SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN)– “How is this even possible?” That was Tyreonta Norman’s question after finding out Texas State University put diversity training on hold.
“It also made me think, ‘What now?’ If we don’t have that type of diversity-type training programs, how are our students of color supposed to feel? How are we supposed to feel safe?” says Norman, a junior who is part of the Black President’s Council and NAACP.
University president Denise Trauth sent an email to faculty and staff around October 5, stating training for employees had to be paused while they evaluate whether or not they comply with the President’s Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.
“We temporarily paused DEI training, workshops, or programs for faculty, staff, and student employees while we develop an evaluation process across the university, assess risk, and provide guidance to our community,” Trauth wrote in a follow-up email on October 9.
“There’s term-specific terminology and concepts that the order states that we are not to mention, or engage in conversation with, and that’s difficult when you’re doing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work,” explains Stella Silva, Texas State University’s interim chief diversity officer. “Sometimes, it’s hard to relay those concepts without mentioning specific words like ‘unconscious bias,’ ‘privilege,’ or power.”
Silva says the temporary halt only applies for training of people who are paid by the university.
That means programs like Allies training, geared toward understanding the LGBTQIA community, can still be held for students but not staff.
“I was disappointed that we appear to be the first sort of raising our hand to say that we’re going to stop these programs,” says Cody DeSalvo, a graduate student who identifies as part of the LGBTQIA community.
A spokesperson for University of Texas-Austin says they are not pausing any programs at this time.
He says UT will review training materials before the executive order’s section for contractors takes effect on November 21st to make sure they are in compliance.
“The president stated in her email, which is that diversity and equity and inclusion are important to being a Bobcat–Why not fight for those values?” DeSalvo says.
The university says millions of dollars of financial aid are at risk if the trainings are found noncompliant.
“This fall, our students received $260 million in federal financial aid, which does not include the TRIO programs, research grants, or other federal contracts. The loss of the funding would be devastating to thousands of our students,” Trauth wrote on October 9.
Both DeSalvo and Norman hope the university will find a way to keep staff training going.
“It’s just one tool to sort of help correct the systemic biases that are so stuck in our system because of historical injustice,” DeSalvo says. “I know they’re in a rough spot but I really wish they would fight a little harder.”
“We already feel like we’re not represented enough,” Norman says.
Silva says the task force meets with general counsel to figure out if and when the university will be able to restart programs.
“Believe me, those of us who do DE&I training or provide education. It kind of pushed us off our base a little bit,” she says.
Until then, she says individuals who would still like to train faculty or staff can still submit their training plans to a task force, which she heads.
That task force answers questions and makes recommendations.
She also says just because formal training programs are on hold, doesn’t mean administration is not still working on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“How can we continue achieve our DE&I goals and how can we continue to embrace diversity and inclusion here at Texas State?” she says. “Let’s reframe this, think outside the box and see how we can accomplish our goals.”