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KERA news and the Denton Record Chronicle are tracking the impacts of Texas' Senate Bill 17, the ban on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs in higher education on schools, students and educators across North Texas.

‘Stripped away’: UNT students of color, DACA recipients see resources ebb after DEI ban takes hold

Students return to the University of North Texas campus in August 2021.
Al Key
DRC file photo
Students return to the University of North Texas campus in August 2021.

For students like Rayvon Bray, the Multicultural Center at the University of North Texas was like a second home — a place to meet friends, play games and share experiences as part of the Black gay community.

Now, Bray said, all that has been taken away.

“We didn’t really know that it was being stripped away from us until the week before Christmas break, and we just had to suddenly figure out how to go about things,” Bray said.

Some UNT students said the new state law that bans diversity, equity and inclusion programs sponsored by public universities has created confusion. They said they now must deal with the loss of funding, meeting spaces and resources, in addition to missing what had been a welcoming atmosphere.

Senate Bill 17 went into effect on Jan. 1 and prohibits public colleges and universities from making hiring decisions or supporting cultural and student activities based on race, sex, color or ethnicity.

The author of the bill, Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, sent a letter to Texas universities last week reiterating the law’s expectations. Creighton said the law is intended to “ensure a merit-based environment where every student, faculty, and staff member can strive for and achieve personal excellence.”

Creighton added that the letter should serve as “a reminder that SB 17 encompasses stringent enforcement provisions, including the potential freezing of university funding and legal ramifications for non-compliance.”

UNT was among the first universities to disable programs, including the removal of the Multicultural Center, which housed many student organizations.

Bray, a sophomore and president of the Black Out Alliance, said the change has been chaotic.

“We were majorly funded under the Multicultural Center,” Bray said. “That’s where people were aware that they could come to find us and our members.”

The Black Out Alliance is an organization that gives Black LGBTQ+ members of the community “a safe space to be able to express themselves,” Bray said.

“We host game nights and sessions for people to talk about things that might not be easy to talk about outside of a different space.”

The organization relied heavily on funding from the Multicultural Center, which was taken away from them along with the removal.

UNT’s Office of General Counsel issued a universitywide memo in late November detailing the new guidelines of the bill.

“The University of North Texas System remains committed to supporting a diverse and inclusive student body, faculty and staff within its values-based environment, and provides the following guidance to assist UNT System institutions in implementing the new law,” said Alan Stucky, vice chancellor and general counsel.

The Black Out Alliance is just one among several UNT organizations dealing with the repercussions of the ban. In addition to the closure of the Multicultural Center, UNT student groups have faced the withdrawal of university sponsorships and the removal of resource webpages online.

One group working to combat the loss of resources is the Eagle Dreamers.

Eagle Dreamers is a group that supports UNT students who are in the U.S. without legal permission while also working to educate the UNT community on the issues such students face. Even though student groups related to the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are not placed directly under the ban, they are still feeling the rippling effects.

Mariela Nuñez-Janes, a UNT anthropology professor and adviser of Eagle Dreamers, said the bill has made planning feel tumultuous.

In August, UNT’s DACA resource webpage, which was housed under the DEI website, was eradicated. The page provided resources for DACA recipients, such as information on receiving in-state tuition.

The page was briefly relocated to the Multicultural Center; however, it was deleted again upon the center’s closing.

“When it disappeared again in the fall, it was around the time that students would be enrolling in classes for the following semester,” Nuñez-Janes said.

Although the Eagle Dreamers group is not included under SB 17 because it is not targeted toward any particular race or ethnicity, the removal of resources has been a concern for members.

“It’s been me and the president of Eagle Dreamers who have been advocating and asking questions about where resources for undocumented students, particularly the DACA resources webpage, would be housed,” Nuñez-Janes said.

As for the future of UNT student organizations and students like Bray, a state of uncertainty remains.

With resources curtailed and outreach limited, he is still hoping to get the message out.

“I want everybody to know that we are here for them,” Bray said.