Anti-DEI bill faces opposition from students across Alabama

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Jasmine Hernandez Alamillo and Miguel Luna protested against Senate Bill 129 at the State House on March 6, 2024.

Miguel Luna

Update March 20, 2024:

Alabama lawmakers gave final approval to Senate Bill 129 Tuesday afternoon. The bill now awaits signature from Governor Kay Ivey. 

The legislation prohibits universities, K-12 school systems and state agencies from sponsoring Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs. Under the bill’s definition, this includes classes, training, programs and events where attendance is based on a person’s race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation. The bill also prohibits students from using bathrooms that don’t correlate with their biological sex.

The legislation is expected to have sweeping impacts on Alabama’s public universities. 

In a statement, the University of Alabama system said its institutions – The University of Alabama, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, The University of Alabama in Huntsville and the UAB Health System – remain dedicated to a “mission of providing exceptional educational, research and patient care experiences to all people, of all backgrounds, in welcoming environments that foster open thought, academic freedom and free expression.” 

“We are committed to providing resources and opportunities that are accessible to all and will continue to work with the legislature as we equip our campus community members for success at our universities and beyond,” officials wrote in the statement.

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When Miguel Luna started attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), he wanted to throw himself into the Latino and Hispanic community. He got a job in the multicultural and diversity office and co-founded Esperanza, a networking organization for Hispanic and Latino students. 

He said UAB’s office of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) was essential to the development of Esperanza.

“We were given a lot of opportunities from that office to be able to uplift our community,” Luna said.

Now, Luna and his co-founders, Jasmine Hernandez Alamillo and Isabella Campos, are worried about the future of Esperanza – because of Senate Bill 129. 

SB129 prohibits government institutions from funding a DEI office or sponsoring DEI programs. It also forbids teachers from teaching “divisive concepts” and requires colleges to make sure people use restrooms based on their biological sex.

“I strongly believe in the movement against SB129. I fully support diversity, equity and inclusion programs,” Luna said.

Rise of anti-DEI legislation

Republican Senator Will Barfoot said he introduced the anti-DEI legislation to protect students from indoctrination in the classroom. 

“The purpose of this bill is to prevent compelled speech and indoctrination,” Barfoot said.

He said the bill was inspired by one of his constituents, who felt compelled to agree with other students’ opinions during a class discussion about law enforcement at the University of Alabama.

Opponents of SB129 call it unconstitutional. 

“This is a fourteenth amendment violation. Clearly vague. Clearly unconstitutional,” Democratic House Representative Ontario Tillman said during a debate on the House floor.

Tillman said it also violates first amendment protections.

“We’re putting a prior restraint on my thoughts of speech,” Tillman said.

Across the country, 80 anti-DEI bills have been introduced and at least eight have been signed into law, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Alabama House representatives approved an amended version of SB129 earlier this month. The legislation now awaits another vote in the Senate. 

Students speak out

Luna, Hernandez Alamillo and Campos are concerned about how the bill could impact their organization’s advisor, who works out of UAB’s DEI office. With this proposed legislation, the group worries the position could be terminated. 

The trio joined dozens of college students across Alabama to organize a rally against the anti-DEI bill at the state house earlier this month. 

Students gather at the State House on March 6, 2024 to protest SB 129.

Luna was one of the first to arrive at the rally. He said once other students arrived, he felt empowered standing in unity with them.

“As we started to gather outside, right in front of the statehouse steps, you could really feel the energy and the determination of all the students there,” Luna said.

“We felt very united. And we hope that we don’t lose that voice.”

Part of the rally included going inside the State House. It was a committee day, but Luna said that didn’t stop them. He said advocates tried to speak with legislators, but most of them avoided the students.

“We were standing in the corridor right outside of the Republican caucus meeting, and we waited for them to come outside so that we could speak to them … But unfortunately, they left out the back door of that room and they didn’t come speak to us,” Luna said.

The students are hoping for complete opposition to the bill, but Campos said even if it passes, they won’t stop fighting.

“The hope is that UAB fights back, that our campus stands up for us, and if not that, we as students are able to stand up for ourselves and get external support. Because regardless of if we’re not going to receive funding from the state, we’re not going to disappear,” she said.

 

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