The politically craven assaults on diversity, equity and inclusion on college campuses in Florida and Texas are embarrassing. Unless you’re an opportunist looking for a leg up in a possible run for governor. Then, the attacks are inspiring.
Case in point: Georgia Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is now demanding information on what the state’s public universities are spending on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, including staffing, the names and aims of the programs.
“These programs are particularly concerning when taxpayer funds are used to enforce the type of intellectual and political conformity that appears to be the hallmark of many campus DEI initiatives,” wrote Jones in a letter to University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue. Jones is being mentioned as a possible GOP candidate for governor in 2026.
Perdue drew Jones’ wrath for criticizing the Legislature’s $66 million cut to the higher education budget, telling The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “This is an incredibly disappointing outcome, given the work done over the years by our state leaders to elevate higher education and send Georgia on a path to ascension.”
Why ascend when you can descend into a political cesspool of manufactured white aggrievement? Such tactics copy the playbook of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who seems intent on replacing the Sunshine State slogan with “Where woke goes to die.”
In seeking an accounting of DEI programs on campuses, Jones is repeating demands made last year by Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin. Maybe, Knight could save Georgians some time and money by sharing the USG response with Jones. But it’s not the information that Jones wants; it’s the reputation as a warrior against wokeness.
Over the past two years, diversity in education has turned into a vice to purge rather than a virtue to pursue. Pandering to white voters who see expanded option for minorities as a personal threat, some state legislatures have recast diversity, equity and inclusion as dangers to the values, history and future of the nation.
American campuses embraced diversity, equity and inclusion to counter the uniformity, unfairness and exclusion that had long typified who was admitted, who was employed and what was taught. As the country itself became more racially and ethnically diverse, higher education recognized there was a moral and economic imperative to welcoming different genders, races and ethnicities in jobs and schools.
Before college campuses committed to admitting more minorities, few college students were Black. In 1960, Black students constituted 4.3% of total U.S. college enrollment.
Most recent U.S. census data shows Black students represent 15.1 % of the nation’s undergraduate college student population. The 2020 college enrollment rate among Black and Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds was 36% each, compared to 64% for Asian Americans and 41% for whites, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
It wasn’t that long ago that Charlayne Hunter-Gault, one of the two Black students to integrate the University of Georgia in 1961, faced harassment and isolation, describing days of just going to class and studying without talking to anyone. Even today, Black students at UGA must deal with isolation. Of the 28,757 full-time undergraduates at UGA at the start of this school year, 1,816 — 6.3% — were Black.
Without any tangible evidence, Jones and his colleagues contend that diversity initiatives on college campuses are damaging to students. As usual, the General Assembly leadership shuns comments from any actual students, who would likely tell them they’d prefer lawmakers prioritize college affordability and mental health services over diversity bans.
In fact, a survey asked nearly 22,000 high school students from the Class of 2022 what they saw as important campus characteristics when choosing a college; 84% cited diversity as the most important community factor.
While conservative think tanks crank out apocalyptic warnings that woke ideology and liberal indoctrination are rampant on campuses, research disagrees. A 2022 study that included surveying students at eight institutions in the University of North Carolina System concluded: “In courses where politics comes up, students generally indicate that their instructor handled political discussions inclusively.”
Jones is appealing to voters who like the status quo, who regard more opportunities for students of color as fewer for their kids and grandkids.
With every passing year, I see the truth in what education activist Jonathan Kozol, author of “Illiterate America” and “Rachel and Her Children,” told me three decades ago: “Most Americans do not want their child to have an equal chance with another child. They want their child to have a better chance, and implicit in that is that some other child has to have less of a chance.”
I can understand the instinct of parents to protect their child’s advantage. What I cannot understand is the collaboration of state leaders to that end.
About the Author
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com