Upcoming Statehouse Rally to Support Embattled Boise State Inclusion, Diversity Programs 

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  • Boise State University
Idaho legislative Republicans and Democrats are in a tug-o-war over diversity and inclusion programs at Boise State University—and Ryann Banks, Abby Barzee and Kameelah Diaz say students like them are caught in the middle.

"These are the only things that are making us feel safe and want us to continue our education," Banks said.

In response to the back-and-forth between legislators, the students have organized the Boise State Diversity and Inclusion Rally at the Capitol steps, which will take place on Saturday, July 20, starting at noon. The demonstration, they said, will demonstrate why the university's efforts in those areas have a broad, student body-wide impact.

The letters started flying in the wake of a newsletter from former Boise State Interim President Martin Schimpf, in which he wrote that "it is clear to me that students, faculty, and staff understand the importance of Boise State being a leader on inclusive excellence—not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is vital to maintaining our ability to serve our students in the future."

Umbrage from conservatives began almost immediately. Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation wrote that the programs have edged Boise State and other Idaho public universities into the "legion of left-leaning institutions that are using their campuses as state-sponsored platforms for intolerance, division, and victimhood."

Soon thereafter, 28 legislative Republicans echoed his sentiments in a letter to Boise State's new president, Marlene Tromp, taking aim at programs like the Pow Wow, Black and Rainbow graduations, Project Dream, graduate fellowships for underrepresented minority students and more for creating an atmosphere of division at Boise State while costing students and taxpayers money for programs that may not directly benefit all students.

"This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students," they wrote. "These initiatives by nature highlight differences and suggest that certain groups are treated unequally now—and that BSU should redress these grievances."

In a separate letter dated July 12, legislative Democrats fired off their own response, writing that "Colleges like Boise State University help our citizens (present and future) achieve security for their families by ensuring equal access to world-class educational opportunities and by reducing obstacles for underserved communities."

Within a few days, diversity and inclusion had become hot political potatoes, and Tromp wrote in a statement that she had scheduled a meeting with Republican Rep. Barbara Ehardt, who drafted the letter on behalf of her fellow Republicans, and that "political divisions in our country often make [conversations about diversity and inclusion] very difficult and even cause harm."

The organizers of the Saturday rally said that exclusion and discrimination, however, are persistent problems in society and on campus, and that the school's efforts to address that issue have been invaluable to retaining LGBTQ students, students of color and other people from marginalized backgrounds.

"I use a lot of the services provided," said Diaz. "There has been a trend at institutions of higher learning of these folks being excluded."

What's more, they said even events like Black Graduation and the Pow Wow, which cater to black and Native American members of the Boise State community, respectively, are not exclusive to those groups, and contribute holistically to education at Boise State by growing the diversity of the student body.

"All of us benefit from these [programs] because they create an environment where everyone feels safe," said Barzee. 

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