Texas State Students’ Respond to Senate Bill 17

At many statewide universities that serve minority communities like Texas State, the passing of Senate Bill 17 left many students in a sense of unease for their Spring semester. Texas State classifies as a Hispanic Serving Institution with majority of their students identifying a Hispanic. This unique title gives Texas State the duty to foster communities that support their diverse student body. Though, students wonder how SB 17 will affect this duty to fulfill.

Senate Bill 17 prohibits state funded universities from organizing and maintaining an office focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This also includes hiring an employee to carry out the duties of a DEI office.

Institutions are barred from requesting DEI statements from job applicants or favoring candidates based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.

Additionally, any compulsory diversity training centered on race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation is prohibited.

This bill was passed in May 2023 and Texas universities were expected to be in compliance by January 1st, 2024, with routine audits conducted.

Texas State University quickly began to move things around to be in compliance with this bill. Texas State President, Kelly Damphousse chose to dissolve the office August 1st in a statement addressed to the University with his details on how the future of the office of Inclusive Excellence and its’ staff.

Student workers like Kaison Ward are particularly familiar with the feeling of unease. Ward worked as a student worker for the Inclusive Excellence office at Texas State University for a year before he learned that his workplace would be changing.

“We’d changed names to Student Connection and B

elonging before I went home for the summer and when I came back, we were under Student Involvement and Engagement” Ward said.

Ward described this experience as “stressful” as he felt “all of the work [he’d] put into [his] office went to waste” Ward said. Ward chose the Inclusive Excellence office as an African American student looking to find a community at Texas State. This job allowed him to work towards paying for his schooling as well as finding a community in a new city.

Damphousse detailed in his statement that “Current IE employees working in support of student success initiatives have the opportunity to be reassigned to new positions in the Division of Student Success” which is coherent with the experience of Ward.

This abrupt shifting of assets came as a shock for many employees of the Inclusive Excellence office. Though, Texas State University has shown they plan to continue to create a welcoming environment for students of all demographics.

Texas State’s office of Student Involvement and Engagement which is where a great number of staff were relocated to, is the main office in charge of building a community similar to the duties of the DEI office. Student Involvement and Engagement’s motto is “A sense of belonging, a community, an experience

Though, many students like Cecilia Garzon believe that an office exclusively focused on diversity and inclusion matters. Garzon is currently a second-year student at Texas State University. Identifying as a first-generation student, Garzon herself had strong opinions about how this news was received by students at Texas State.

“The fact that it’s taken away, it’s basically not helping marginalized groups even more” said Garzon when asked about her initial reaction to the dissolving of the office.

Despite that some students have strong feelings about the future of their university. Texas State University has seemingly handled the shift well in comparison to other universities. Universities like The University of Texas have found themselves under scrutiny after deciding to lay off over 60 employees who worked for the DEI office on their campus. This decision left many students uneasy for the future of their experiences at UT.

The university also disbanded its Division of Campus and Community Engagement which is similar to the Student Involvement and Engagement office at Texas State, with a parallel motto of “focused on four core pillars: student success, campus engagement, community engagement, and advancing access and belonging.” This office is a resource hub for students looking to engage and connect with other students on campus. Many longhorns wonder how the community will be affected by these big changes.

Students at Texas State University are feeling similar feelings of students at The University of Texas. Eric Rios, a third-year student at Texas State details just how closely it can affect students even at a university 45 minutes away.

“We feel it here on Texas State campus,” said Eric Rios.

Spring 2024 made the first semester since the enacting of this law. Some students feel as though they can feel the difference on campus while others feel things haven’t changed. One thing that is apparent is that Texas State University is expected to continue to foster a community that accepts all students and makes all feel welcomed and cared for.