Kentucky House moves to cut DEI programs, impacting protected groups Skip to content

Kentucky House moves to cut DEI programs, impacting protected groups

The House decided to rip out the Senate’s bill, and replace it with one that was much worse.

The Kentucky House has voted to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at public colleges and universities – a move that could potentially ban state schools from offering programs geared toward federally protected classes of religion, race, sex, color or national origin.

The move came Friday when House members voted 68-18 to strip earlier DEI language from Senate Bill 6 and replace it with House Bill 9. Rep. Jennifer Decker (R-Waddy) is the sponsor of HB 9 who called for changes to SB 6. All but two members of the Northern Kentucky caucus voted for the bill. Rep. Kim Banta (R-Fort Mitchell) did not vote. House Minority Whip Rachel Roberts (D-Newport) voted no.

The amended bill now returns to the Senate for consideration.

As amended, SB 6 would prohibit state colleges and universities from making employment, housing, contracting, student admissions, financial aid and other decisions based on someone’s race, religion, gender or ethnicity. 

It wouldn’t block any academic courses, books, or programs from Kentucky public postsecondary campuses, Decker said before the House vote Friday. But she said it would prohibit schools from teaching “discriminatory concepts” – concepts taught “as truth,” the bill says – that tie current social systems to oppression, colonialism, socioeconomic status, religion, race, sex, color, or national origin. 

In a floor speech, Roberts cited concerns about the bill’s overall impact while honing in on its potential impact on diversity programs, including those at Northern Kentucky University. 

The Northern Kentucky region’s sole Democrat lawmaker tried unsuccessfully to amend Decker’s proposal to exempt financial assistance and diversity scholarships – including the Art & Design Diversity Scholarship at NKU – from House prohibitions added to SB 6. The NKU Art and Diversity Scholarship was created in memory of NKU student Craig Haskins, an African American art and design student at the university who Roberts said “showed great courage in pursuing his degree at NKU while battling several health conditions.”  

An incoming freshman or international student must meet diversity criteria, including ethnicity, race, gender identity, age, abilities or socioeconomic status, to qualify for the NKU award, according to the application website. 

When asked if scholarships like the NKU award would be banned under SB 6 as passed by the House, Decker had a qualified response. 

“I’m not sure of what the terms are,” she said. “But if it is only to be given based on race, sex, religion, national origin it would be prohibited by this act.”  

SB 6 now returns to the Senate, which voted 26-7 to pass it in a different form on Valentine’s Day. Sen. Mike Wilson (R-Bowling Green) is the sponsor of the bill. 

As passed by the Senate, SB 6 would keep DEI offices at state schools but change their mission to focus largely on helping students apply for federal need-based scholarships. It also addresses discriminatory concepts but defines them in a list of 16 ideas mostly focused on racial and gender privilege. 

LINK nky requested comment from the NKU DEI office and Gateway Community & Technical College when SB 6 passed the Senate. The NKU Office of Inclusive Excellence has not yet responded. Gateway President Dr. Fernando Figueroa told LINK in an email last month that “Gateway and the Kentucky Community & Technical College System are currently reviewing the impact of Senate Bill 6, and working on setting up the proper strategies that could help our programs be compliant with the spirit of the legislation.”

Democrats representing different races, genders, countries of origin, and religions all spoke against the bill.  Rep. Daniel Grossberg (D-Louisville) voted no. Lexington Democrat Rep. George Brown Jr. voted no, along with several other lawmakers. 

Also voting no was Rep. Al Gentry (D-Louisville). Gentry lost his arm in a work accident while working as a geologist in 1993. The lawmaker said he opposes the bill as a member of another group: people with disabilities who, Gentry said, benefit from DEI initiatives. 

“I get up every single day and live life short-handed. And I have to compete with people in the workforce. And the beautiful thing about that is you can compete and you can win. But it takes an incredible amount of self confidence, self esteem, persistence, because it’s very difficult,” Gentry said.  “Diversity, equity, and inclusion is supposed to be awareness for all of us. What we really want in America is equal opportunity and equal justice for all. We want a hand up so we can prove how great we are. To all the people of color in this state, to all the people with disabilities in this state, I can, too. Please let me.”

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Written by Rebecca Hanchett. Cross-posted from Link NKY.



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