The teaching of many social justice and equity based concepts (culturally responsive teaching, anti-racism, conscious and unconscious bias, culturally responsive practices, diversity training, equity, microaggressions, multiculturalism, patriarchy, restorative justice, social justice, systemic racism, white privilege, white supremacy) have been under attack for some time now, but a 2020 executive order has consistently caused these discussions to make top headlines. Whether or not the legislation passes or courts ultimately uphold their constitutionality, their purpose is to intimidate and, ultimately, to silence these views. Since January 2021, over 120 educational bills regarding race, gender, power, and oppression have been introduced or prefiled in 33 different states.
- 12 have become law in 10 states
- 88 are currently live
Of those currently live:
- 84 target K-12 schools
- 38 target higher education
- 48 include a mandatory punishment for those found in violation
Many of the proposed legislation directly targets the K-12 system, but has clear ties to higher education institutions as well. 46% of the bills in 2022 specifically target speech in higher education and 55% include some kind of mandatory punishment for violators. Many of the current bills and successful legislation have adopted language that discourages educational leaders from making “race or gender salient in conversations about power and oppression.” Some states have considered banning the use of certain language promoting social justice for a race, gender, or social class both curricularly and co-curricularly. Some have specifically outlined that inviting speakers external to the campus or agency with a history of discussing these topics should be prohibited. Other states are banning specific publications such as the New York Times’ 1619 Project or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Case for Reparations. Reasserting control is fundamental to all the legislative measures: control over Black lives, control over the political process, and, at the level of schools, control over the discussion of race and racism in the classroom. Below is a list of some live bills in the state legislature as of May 2022 that could affect colleges & universities in NASPAs region II:
- New Jersey Bill: A3647/A6140/SB664 Bans public employers from requiring that any employee complete a training program that encourages the adoption of certain ideas related to race, sex, and other identities.
- New York Bill: A8253 Prohibits public schools and universities from holding courses or curriculum teaching certain concepts. Bans requiring students or faculty to learn or study the 1619 Project.
- Pennsylvania: HB 1532 Bans schools and universities from "host[ing], pay[ing] or provid[ing] a venue for a speaker who espouses, advocates or promotes any racist or sexist concept." Bans contractors from engaging workplace training that teaches such concepts.
(these are all statused as of May 9th 2022. From PEN America’s index of legislation across the country that is regularly updated and organized by state).
If any of the aforementioned states pass these bills (or copycat bills are created in other states across the country), it would directly affect all state institutions including colleges and universities. This could completely change assignments, courses, and departmental strategies on the academic side of the house. These changes would also impact programming around race, priviledge and oppression, directly affecting heritage months and many divisional missions that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Also, depending on the interpretation of these statutes, if adopted federally, these laws could also impact private colleges and universities across the country.
There are mixed emotions from faculty and staff across higher education reacting to these policies on social media platforms, in professional circles, as well as in campus-led committees. The voice of students is emerging in this fight for academic freedom. Region III NASPA member Brent Marsh wrote a blog outlining that the University of Mississippi's student body senate “condemns the passage of Mississippi Senate Bill 2113, which inhibits students’ and faculty’s academic freedom and freedom of speech.” This is a powerful move from a student body and we should expect to see more of this as students become more aware of the legislation in their respective states and territories.
Recommendations for Proactivity and Awareness
- Research policies that affect your institution and have conversations with your departmental and divisional leaders about them.
- Prepare yourself to have conversations with students by utilizing resources provided below (and elsewhere) to help you navigate this process.
- Encourage students to hold space for conversations about these policy changes among their peers. This can include inviting legislatures to campus and hosting roundtable conversations with the student body.
- Be open-minded to differing opinions and perspectives on policy issues. Keep in mind your own personal boundaries and protect your mind and spirit when having these conversations.
You can use the Kimberlé Crenshaw's #TruthBeTold campaign resource to track anti-CRT legislation. More generally, higher education bills can be tracked at the Education Commission of the States 2022 Education Policy Watchlist. Also feel free to use PEN America’s index of legislation that is regularly updated and organized by state and jurisdiction (K-12, higher education, etc.). Lastly, take a look at Learning for Justice’s facilitator guide on critical conversations with students.
A. Schmitt, Fitzpatrick, Lemondes, Angelino, Blankenbush, McDonough, Manktelow, Byrne, & Gallahan. (2021, August 25). New York A08253: 2021-2022: General Assembly. LegiScan. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://legiscan.com/NY/text/A08253/id/2429778
Diamond, Gleim, Metcalfe, Borowicz, Hamm, Kauffman, Keefer, M. Mackenzie, Rowe, Ryan, Smith, Staats, Zimmerman, Moul, Cox, Lewis, Grove, & Mustello. (2021, June 7). Pennsylvania HB1532: 2021-2022: Regular session. LegiScan. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://legiscan.com/PA/text/HB1532/id/2412593
E.O. 13950 3 C.F.R. (2020). https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/09/28/2020-21534/combating-race-and-sex-stereotyping
Marsh, B. (2022, February 28). Student Leaders Pushing Back Against Anti-CRT Bills [web log]. Retrieved May 5, 2022, from https://www.naspa.org/blog/student-leaders-pushing-back-against-anti-crt-bills.
Oroho, S.V. (2022, November 1). New Jersey S664: 2022-2023: Regular session. LegiScan. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from https://legiscan.com/NJ/text/S664/id/2475144
Sachs, B. J. (2022, January 28). Steep rise in gag orders, many sloppily drafted. PEN America. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from https://pen.org/steep-rise-gag-orders-many-sloppily-drafted/