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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Adria R Walker

Anti-DEI law forces closure of University of Utah LGBT center

the word 'Utah' in large letters on the roof of a building
The University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City in 2018. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

After 21 years of service, the University of Utah’s LGBT Resource Center will close on Friday, as the second-largest public university in the state comes into compliance with HB 261, Utah’s version of the anti-DEI legislation that has swept the country and gutted inclusionary programs at several public universities.

“As we’ve evaluated how best to comply with the legislation, I want to be clear that we’ve faced very difficult decisions,” the vice-president for student affairs, Lori McDonald, said in a statement. “The law and subsequent guidance require a foundational change in how we approach student support, and we will follow the law. This isn’t about changing the words we use; we’re changing how we approach the work.”

The law prohibits schools and government offices from using the phrase “diversity, equity and inclusion” and from asking job applicants to submit statements on their beliefs in diversity, and it bars some diversity trainings. As of 1 July, when the legislation goes into effect, there will be a hotline for people to report alleged government violations of the new law.

The University of Utah’s Center for Equity and Student Belonging, LGBT Resource Center and Women’s Resource Center are all closing to comply with the law. Those centers’ “student services and cultural offerings” will be reorganized under two new centralized centers. Still, the university will continue to observe Juneteenth, Martin Luther King Jr Week, Pride Week, Women’s Week and cultural heritage months, according to the school.

The Utah board of higher education will now require board review of existing centers and approval of new centers. With guidance from the Utah commissioner of higher education and the Utah board of higher education, the University of Utah will create a new community and cultural engagement center focused on cultural education, celebration, engagement and awareness.

“In this new model, the Women’s Resource Center, LGBT Resource Center and the Black Cultural Center student support services that are allowed under the law will be incorporated into the Center for Student Access and Resources,” a statement by student affairs reads. “The cultural and community engagement functions of the three centers will be incorporated into the Center for Cultural and Community Engagement. The Black Cultural Center building will continue to operate as a space for broader community engagement.”

Further, the school’s American Indian Resource Center will be renamed the Center for Native Excellence and Tribal Engagement. Under the new name, the university says it will continue to work with tribal nations, including as the liaison with the Ute Indian Tribe. The Veterans Support Center will continue to exist.

Unlike at campuses such as the University of Texas, at which anti-DEI legislation led to the elimination of 300 positions, the University of Utah’s restructuring has, as of yet, not required any staff or faculty to lose their jobs.

On Friday, the LGBT Resource Center is inviting the campus to come out for a farewell celebration, according to an Instagram post.

“Let’s come together to honor the center’s legacy of support, advocacy and resilience, as well as to honor the 21 years of commitment that went into creating a safe environment where everyone is valued, not despite of their identities, but because of them.”

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