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Ala. Gov. Ivey signs ban on DEI funds that restricts 'divisive concepts' in schools

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Alabama is the latest state to prohibit diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in schools, public colleges and state agencies.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Governor Kay Ivey has signed a bill that embraces a national conservative theme. The governor said she wants to stop, quote, "bad actors" on campuses from pushing a, quote, "liberal political movement."

INSKEEP: Kelsey Shelton with NPR member station WBHM in Birmingham is following this new law and the reaction to it. Good morning.

KELSEY SHELTON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What exactly does this law do?

SHELTON: So this law mirrors other anti-DEI bills we've seen in other Republican legislatures. The sponsor of the bill said it's designed to protect students from indoctrination in the classroom. This law prohibits public schools, universities and government agencies from maintaining a DEI office or funding any DEI programs. It also requires students use bathrooms that correlate with the sex on their birth certificate. And another big thing in the bill is it stops any program that teaches what the law calls a divisive concept. Any teacher who knowingly violates this act can be fired.

INSKEEP: I'm just dwelling on that phrase divisive concept. What does that mean exactly when you're trying to ban it?

SHELTON: That's the big question. You know, what is a divisive concept? During a debate on the House floor, Democrats actually questioned the language. They tried to get the sponsor, Senator Barfoot, to give a clearer definition. But the best response they got was that it's talking about race or gender or nationality or religion in any way that makes a student feel superior or inferior.

INSKEEP: Ah, which catches another national conservative theme - the idea that talking in a certain way about DEI makes white people feel bad, or may make some white people feel bad. So this is the kind of thing they say they want to prohibit, and teachers can be punished if they're saying too much on this topic. What are you hearing from students about this?

SHELTON: So I spoke with Miguel Luna just after the bill passed. He's a sophomore at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He was involved in a protest against this bill, and he says students are disappointed by the outcome. I asked him if there have been any changes yet. Were students afraid? Or have any clubs or organizations paused? And he says, actually, it's only made diversity efforts stronger. But Luna was really concerned about losing access to some of the things that make school enjoyable. You know, he's a part of a networking organization for Latino students, and they're worried their adviser might lose her job because she works out of the school's DEI office. But he says he hopes this law will galvanize students.

MIGUEL LUNA: If anything needs to happen in the future, it's people need to start voting and paying attention to state politics.

SHELTON: I've also talked to some students who attended a protest against the bill at the Capitol in Montgomery, along with Luna, earlier this month. Isabella Campos was one of the organizers.

ISABELLA CAMPOS: 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, and we're not going to be silenced.

INSKEEP: It's interesting that they're arguing that the efforts now need to come from themselves, rather than some formal state initiative. But whatever their views, they don't seem to have persuaded the Legislature.

SHELTON: No, not quite. So for Republicans, they said this bill was created to protect students. You know, they don't want them to have what they call a, quote, "sense of guilt." When Governor Kay Ivey signed it into law, she said it supports academic freedom, embraces diversity and treats people fairly. However, at the Capitol protest, students waited outside of the Republican caucus meeting hoping to talk to them, and Luna says legislators went out the back door and would not speak to them.

INSKEEP: Kelsey Shelton of WBHM in Birmingham, thanks so much.

SHELTON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Kelsey Shelton