Congressional Black Caucus asks Garland to protect DEI programs

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is calling on the Department of Justice to investigate if it is legal for states to ban diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at colleges and universities.

In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday, the CBC detailed how Republican-led legislatures have enacted laws to limit such programs, despite receiving federal funds.

The letter specifically cites Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities of recipients of federal funding, and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex.

“As these university systems are in receipt of federal dollars, the Congressional Black Caucus questions the legality of the state’s actions with regard to the DEI programs,” the letter reads. “Title VI and Title IX regulations issued by the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights make clear that learning institutions are supposed to provide safe learning spaces. DEI programs have, in recent years, become a central player in ensuring the inclusion of all students on American campuses.”

Anti-DEI bills have been introduced in more than 30 states as of Feb. 29, 2024, according to an analysis by NBC News.

This year alone, Florida’s State Board of Education voted to prohibit spending state or federal funds on DEI programs at its 28 state colleges. This decision followed Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s comments calling DEI programs “wasteful,” “ideological” and “discriminatory.”

Then, last week, the Alabama state Senate passed a bill to limit DEl programs and the teaching of “divisive concepts” that touch on “any race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.” And earlier this year, Texas implemented a bill that eliminated DEl programs and support for student constituency groups at the state’s colleges.

“These attacks on DEI are coordinated, well-funded, and meant to do one thing: take our country backward,” Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), chair of the caucus, said in a statement.

The CBC’s letter says these attempts to limit DEI programs ignore the explosion of students of color on campuses around the nation since 1980, despite discrimination and challenges to affirmative action policies.

“For centuries, the American collegiate experience has offered the opportunity for students to expand their perspectives and wealth of knowledge, and push the boundaries of innovation and thought leadership beyond the four walls of a classroom,” the letter says. “However, this Nation’s history makes clear that such opportunities were severely limited to white male students for centuries.”

Only the passage of legislation such as the Civil Rights Act and Title IX changed this.

“It must be noted, however, that the increased visibility of a diverse student body came with challenges to the safety of those diverse students,” the letter added.

The CBC highlighted the need for DEI programs as racially motivated crimes continue to take place on college campuses, including the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and the hanging of nooses and bananas at American University the day after the election of the school’s first Black student body president.

“The CBC will not sit back and allow the idea that we are not all deserving of equal opportunity to take hold again in this country,” Horsford said. “We will not be silent while conservative actors continue to cut off access to opportunities for the communities that we serve.”

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.