Despite continued rumblings and lawmakers threats of defunding, Boise State University President Marlene Tromp told a room of more than 300 leaders and members of Idaho’s business community Tuesday she remains “committed” to diversity and inclusion efforts.
“You may have noticed that people have talked to me about diversity and inclusion a lot since I arrived,” Tromp said at BSU’s 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Summit. “And what I keep responding and what I believe from the bottom of my heart, is that we have to care for every student on this campus, no matter where they come from, what they look like or what religion they are. And that includes, of course, our students who come from rural communities like I did ... ”
Boise State University’s Blue Sky Institute runs the annual Diversity and Inclusion Summit, now in its fifth year. The Blue Sky Institute was founded in 2017 by the deans of Boise State’s College of Health Sciences and the College of Business and Economics to “provide a nonpartisan space” for different groups to partner on solutions to common problems, according to the website.
The summit comes at a time when Boise State faces criticism and defunding threats from Idaho lawmakers who take issues with university programs dedicated to diversity and inclusion. In June, 28 Idaho Republicans wrote a letter to Tromp asking her to roll back those initiatives, including many meant to support students of color and LGBTQ students.
Since then, Idaho lawmakers have toyed with the idea of blocking DACA recipients from the Opportunity Scholarship, spoken against Boise State’s use of gender-neutral bathrooms on Facebook and hinted at plans to defund Boise State’s diversity programs in the upcoming legislative session.
“We have these kids that we’re paying to be educating and they’re being indoctrinated,” State Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, told Breitbart last month, according to an Idaho Education News report. “... And I think it’s going to be taking away the funding in order to change the dynamics of what’s happening in our education system.”
But Idaho’s business community spoke up, too. Last week, Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters told the Statesman’s editorial board an “inclusive environment” and a “diverse workforce” was critical to the lab’s success.
Along with Tromp, the Tuesday summit also featured national diversity consultant Risha Grant and leaders from a variety of industries who spoke at breakout sessions dedicated to closing the gender pay gap, embracing diversity and inclusion in Idaho, multi-generational diversity in the workplace and addressing microaggressions in the workplace — such as assuming an immigrant doesn’t speak English well or touching someone’s hair without permission.
Many speakers insisted diversity and inclusion programs were crucial to Idaho’s effort to attract and retain a diverse workforce, especially in competitive industries. On a panel about embracing diversity and inclusion in Idaho, several Treasure Valley participants of color spoke candidly about times they experienced discrimination or discomfort living and working in Idaho — and how that made them not want to live in Idaho for much longer.
Mario Pile, a black veteran who recently joined Boise State’s Division of University Advancement, said he vividly remembers what it felt like to move to Meridian and see his neighbor was flying two Confederate flags. He said after he moved in, his neighbor added a third.
“You wonder why people don’t want to live in Idaho?” Pile said. “It’s not comforting to see a sign that says ‘Go back, we don’t want you here.’”
Several prominent Idaho and national businesses sponsored or sent staff to the summit, including Hewlett-Packard, Micron, Boise Cascade, Saint Alphonsus, Clearwater, Wells Fargo, Simplot, Idaho Power and more.
Clark Krause, executive director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, moderated the diversity in Idaho panel. He said the belief that diversity was good for business was only one reason the organization had been involved in the summit since it began.
“The other answer is: We live here,” Krause said. “I would hate to think that my child or any other child would suffer from behaviors we can’t all be proud of, that aren’t accepting of all of us.”