Diversity enters crosshairs in Legislature


AP Photo - Eric Gay

Gov. Greg Abbott addresses the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol during the first day of the 88th Legislative Session in Austin on Jan. 10, 2023.

CARMEN GUZMAN, Managing Editor

Gov. Greg Abbott has set his sights on diversity, equity and inclusion hiring practices in the 88th legislative session.

While the Texas Legislature has yet to vote any initiatives into law, the GOP and Abbott are setting the stage for limitations on diversity, such as a ban on diversity, equity and inclusion policies in state-funded agencies, including higher education institutions.

“When a state agency adjusts its employment practices based on factors other than merit, it is not following the law,” Gardner Pate, Abbott’s chief of staff, wrote to Porter Wilson, executive director of the Employee Retirement System. “Rebranding this employment discrimination as ‘DEI’ does not make the practice any less illegal.”

Institutions such as the University of Texas system and University of Texas A&M system have rolled back their DEI hiring practices in response to the memo’s remarks.

When Alex Lyda was asked about the future of Dallas College’s DEI office, he replied with no comment.

The Et Cetera also sent four emails to DEI Senior Director Jasmine Parker for comment, but has received no reply.

“Removing DEI initiatives will only hurt our TX economy. … We urge Gov. Abbott to reevaluate his position & instead, join us in promoting the advancement of all Texans,” Democratic Rep. Victoria Neave Criado said in a tweet from the Mexican American Legislative Caucus Twitter account.

Neave Criado’s district includes parts of Mesquite, Garland and Dallas.

Dallas College is a majority-Hispanic institution, serving a student population that is 37% Hispanic, 25% Black, 25% white and 8% Asian.

Abbott said that DEI-based hiring is illegal by extension of anti-discrimination laws. By selecting candidates to promote diversity in the workplace, it’s counterintuitive to diversity, said Abbott.

Diversity in hiring practices date back to former President Lyndon B. Johnson, rooted in anti-discrimination laws in the 1960s. Laws such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 set the stage for diversity-based hiring practices.

However, Texas Republicans have targeted diversity initiatives for years.

Removing DEI initiatives will only hurt our TX economy.

— Democratic Rep. Victoria Neave Criado

Last year, state Rep. Carl Tepper, R-Lubbock, filed a bill prohibiting state funding toward “any office of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” or an office that supports DEI goals.

And in 2021, Abbott signed into law a bill that banned students in high school and below from participating on school sports teams that did not align with their gender assigned at birth. 

Recently, Abbott, alongside 77 House Republicans, expressed his support for a bill that would expand the ban to higher education.

Dallas College supports LGBTQ students through its Office of Inclusive Excellence. In the past, the college has hosted an LGBTQ student summit and drag queen bingo on campuses. The college is “committed to creating a campus culture which celebrates diversity and empowers students to realize the full potential of their authentic selves,” according to the Office of Inclusive Excellence website.

While the administration has provided no comment, it continues to voice support for diversity at Dallas College on its web pages for inclusivity.

Meanwhile, groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have spoken against the governor’s initiatives.

“The governor’s initiative will do enormous harm and take the state backwards,” NAACP president Gary Bledsoe said in a Feb. 14 news conference.

The current legislative session ends May 29, and several outlines have been drafted to prioritize bills before it wraps up.