As we were wrapping up an hourlong editorial board interview with Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters, he paused, leaned forward and indicated a change of subject.
We had just spent the previous hour talking about nuclear waste, small modular reactors and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.
“The only thing we haven’t covered, if I may, quickly,” Peters said, “is, you know, I mentioned workforce. ... I also want to bring up, I know this is a topic that comes across your radar, is diversity at the laboratory is really, really important to us. We don’t do the great work we do unless we have an inclusive environment and the diverse workforce. So there’s a lot of focus on trying to continue to grow the diversity of our workforce.”
As you may recall, a group of 28 legislators, all House Republicans, urged incoming Boise State University President Marlene Tromp to abandon the university’s inclusion programs and initiatives, which they say are antithetical to the “Idaho way.”
They argued that the programs in reality segregate students based on race and waste money that could go toward reducing tuition for everyone.
Just last month, state Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, told Breitbart News that legislators should consider defunding BSU over the diversity programs.
In his conversation with the Idaho Statesman editorial board on Tuesday, Peters equated diversity and inclusion efforts at the state’s universities and community colleges with efforts to bring more women into science, technology, engineering and math fields, noting that women make up 20 percent or less of the workforce.
“If we collectively don’t do a better job of attracting girls into those fields, we’re never going to get to where we need to get,” Peters said.
Peters made it clear that this effort for diversity doesn’t just happen organically.
“This doesn’t happen without deliberate action,” he said. “So you’ve got to be very deliberate about building the pipeline.”
He was also very clear that this includes all minorities.
“It’s also true for all minorities,” he said. “You’ve got to be deliberate about some of these programs in order to be successful.”
I pushed Peters a bit on the point to clarify whether he would be an active advocate in defense of the universities’ diversity and inclusion programs against legislative action, asking if he found himself sitting across the table from a legislator vowing to defund BSU’s diversity programs, would he look that legislator in the eye and say, “Don’t you dare touch these diversity programs at Boise State University”?
“My intent in this coming session is to probably be a part of this discussion,” Peters said. “The lab needs it. I have personal passion for it. … To be clear, I was using women as an example, because I have the statistics right here, right? It’s everything. And by the way, it’s inclusion, too. So it gets into LGBTQ-plus, and all of that. So it’s everything, it’s race, ethnicity, it’s gender, it’s sexual orientation. It’s everything. And I think that’s the conversation, we’re going to be a part of that conversation.”
That’s really what it’s going to take, too. It’s one thing for some newspaper columnist or an editorial board or a Democratic state legislator or, apparently, even a university president to rally in favor of diversity and inclusion programs. State legislators need to hear from business leaders, the director of the Idaho National Laboratory, heads of nonprofits, bank presidents, leaders across the board.
Just Thursday, Wells Fargo donated $150,000 to The College of Idaho’s diversity and inclusion programs. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Does that send a strong enough message to the Legislature?
I know some people, including Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, who was one of the legislators who signed the letter, don’t think there’s a chance of defunding BSU over diversity programs. But you never know. It’s more important to be proactive, vigilant and to send a clear message.
“Well, I’ll be curious to see how this all plays out in the session,” Peters said. “But you know I’ll be over here during the session, and I’ll be talking about it. I figure, it’s a voice that needs to be heard.”
More of the state’s leaders should be following Peters’ lead.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
What is this column all about?
This column shares the personal opinions of Idaho Statesman opinion editor Scott McIntosh on current issues in the Treasure Valley, in Idaho and nationally. It represents one person’s opinion and is intended to spur a conversation and solicit others’ opinions. It is intended to be part of an ongoing civil discussion with the ultimate goal of providing solutions to community problems and making this a better place to live, work and play. Readers are encouraged to express their thoughts by submitting a letter to the editor. Click on “Submit a letter or opinion” at idahostatesman.com/opinion.