Boise State University

‘I believe in diversity’: Hundreds rally in support of Boise State initiatives

Boise State students respond as diversity and inclusion programs are scrutinized by some Idaho lawmakers

Boise State students Ryann Banks, Kaleb Smith and alumna Tai Simpson respond to a letter signed by a group of Idaho lawmakers who are critical of BSU's diversity and inclusion programs.
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Boise State students Ryann Banks, Kaleb Smith and alumna Tai Simpson respond to a letter signed by a group of Idaho lawmakers who are critical of BSU's diversity and inclusion programs.

It’s been 44 years since Terrie Robinson graduated from Boise State. But she still feels like she has a stake in its current affairs.

On Saturday, Robinson was one of hundreds in the crowd at the Boise State Diversity and Inclusion Rally held on the steps of the Idaho Capitol. The rally was held in response to a recent letter sent by 28 Idaho House Republicans asking incoming Boise State University President Marlene Tromp to abandon the school’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. The letter said such initiatives were antithetical to the “Idaho way.”

As Robinson proved, not all of the supporters in attendance Saturday were current students.

“I’m out here today because I believe in diversity,” Robinson said. “I want there to be open communications. I want there to be a chance for students who don’t have the chance to be able to study have some opportunities like all of us did. I believe in all of these people. We’re all equal.”

The letter, which was authored by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, said certain initiatives such as “Black Graduation” and “Rainbow Graduation” for LGBTQ students should no longer be supported, and that certain initiatives, such as allowing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students to apply for the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship, would drive up costs for students in Idaho.

“This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students,” Ehardt wrote. “These initiatives by nature highlight differences and suggest that certain groups are treated unequally now — and that BSU should redress these grievances.”

Chants of “Show me what community looks like, this is what community looks like” rang in the air Saturday afternoon as speakers took turns at the microphone expressing the need for diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus. Among the speakers was Boise State student body president Kaleb Smith.

“The reality is, we need the programs and initiatives to support our student body and the many communities within it,” Smith said. “This is is the beauty of higher education. When we support all students, we become better. That’s why supporting all students should not be a partisan issue, but rather one that brings us all together.”

Per previous Statesman reporting, Ehardt’s letter said the following are “antithetical to the Idaho way”:

  • Supporting multicultural student events “instead of helping all students”
  • Six graduate fellowships for underrepresented minority students
  • A gender-based violence community-coordinated response team, “instead of letting the police handle the matter”
  • A gender-based equity center proposal for funding to provide LGBTQIA+ focused sexual misconduct prevention and response programming
  • Assessing the proper use of names and requested pronouns of students
  • Adding implicit bias sections to hiring and search committee curriculum
  • A graduate school prep course specifically for students from underrepresented groups

Ehardt said the following would raise costs for Idaho students:

  • Targeting DACA students to apply for Idaho’s Opportunity Scholarships
  • Six graduate fellowships for underrepresented minority students
  • New Student Affairs position to support first-generation students of color
  • New American Indian liaison position in Student Affairs
  • New provost’s office position for diversity and inclusion
  • Parents’ academy in the State Board of Education
  • Allocating $25,000 to departments to advertise for a more diverse pool of candidates
  • Allocating $30,000 from Student Affairs to support multicultural student events
  • New program providing Boise State students with financial support for housing, food and emergency loans.

Tromp, who took over as Boise State’s president on July 1, told the Statesman earlier this month that she looked forward to meeting with Ehardt to discuss the issues and was “grateful for the genuine engagement of our legislators, as well as to people from across the state who have reached out to me to express support.”

Ryann Banks, a co-organizer of Saturday’s rally, told the Statesman that without organizations such as the Black Student Association and Boise State’s Student Diversity and Inclusion, she wouldn’t have received the opportunities she has. At the end of the rally, Banks openly invited the legislators who signed Ehardt’s letter to “all events hosted by Boise State’s multicultural student services.”

“We’re out here because programs that benefit everyone and programs that serve underrepresented students and benefit everyone are being criticized and dissected by individuals who I have never seen show up to any of these programs and experience what everyone else experiences,” Banks said.

Banks, who said she has spoken to Tromp since the letter was published, also said she was pleased with Saturday’s turnout despite having little time to prepare. Banks did not elaborate on her conversation with Tromp other than by saying it was “emotional.”

“We usually don’t know who supports us, because we have these struggles that we go through daily that no one recognizes and we have little visibility,” she said. “But we felt visible today.”

Nicole Foy contributed to this story.

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