Boise State students respond as diversity and inclusion programs are scrutinized by some Idaho lawmakers
Correction: This column has been updated to reflect that the Idaho Freedom Foundation had nothing to do with the event at the Capitol regarding Native American nicknames, and that Chad Christensen is not an IFF official or representative.
Recently I read the story about a letter that 28 GOP members of Idaho’s House signed urging new Boise State University President Marlene Tromp to distance herself and the school from institutional inclusion efforts. I would like to respond with an example of how these higher education inclusivity efforts benefit all Idahoans, not just our diverse population.
But first, I would like to shed light on what is I suspect is really happening here. In late June there was a talk at the Idaho Capitol titled “How the Redskins got their Name,” sponsored by Republican Rep. Chad Christensen. Tai Simpson, who is an unyielding advocate for indigenous peoples and a woman whom I respect a great deal, attended the program. Simpson, a former Boise State student, challenged the program speaker in a way that apparently galled Christensen and others in attendance. Rather than engaging in a dialogue, Christensen took to Facebook, questioned Simpson’s credentials, expertise and her life experience, and criticized her professionally — and by implication, Boise State. Shortly after this post, the now infamous “Idaho Values” letter denouncing BSU’s diversity efforts was sent to President Tromp. The Idaho Freedom Foundation launched a very active media campaign against those same efforts.
In my mind, at least, this seems to be a pattern of behavior by the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Many years ago, at the University of Idaho College of Law, we instituted inclusivity training in order to combat a hostile learning environment for women. My recollection from that time is that the foundation engaged in the exact same tactic of working with legislators to send a letter to our dean of much the same tone. In light of that, the letter from GOP representatives and subsequent attacks against BSU appear to me to be nothing more than anger and retaliation on the part of Christensen and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. This is the action of a bully, and though I don’t know what transpired between IFF and the legislators who signed the letter, I think it important that both the public and those legislators are aware that in signing this letter, they are steering education policy in the wrong direction, and empowering a bully in the public sector rather than encouraging the open exchange of ideas upon which our democracy is based. This doesn’t serve the interests of the people of Idaho; it only supports a private interest group’s discriminatory agenda.
But enough with shining a light on the shadows. Rather, I would like to provide a solid example of inclusivity efforts yielding positive results for all Idahoans. I cannot talk about BSU efforts, but I know what I am doing at U of I. Recently we held a ceremony on the steps of the Capitol formally announcing the formation of two Women’s Business Centers through a grant provided by the federal Small Business Administration. The centers will be in the Treasure and Magic valleys. These centers will focus on empowering all women who want to start a business in Idaho to succeed, without regard to race, religion, national origin, ability or sexual orientation. This effort will help bring the power of a full half of our population to bear in supporting our state’s thriving economy.
This effort would not have been possible without the inclusivity outreach efforts that I spearheaded on behalf of the University of Idaho with the Hispanic population in the Treasure Valley. You see, U of I is the key university partner with the Idaho Hispanic Foundation, the foundation of the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. U of I has been heavily involved in, and supportive of, the IHCC’s efforts to improve the economy and business environment in Idaho. Through these efforts we learned that a very high proportion of Idaho’s Hispanic entrepreneurs are women, and that the IHCC wanted to provide support to not only our state’s Hispanic women, but to all of the women in Idaho, thereby both improving the chances of successfully launching a business and improving Idaho’s economy.
Without our higher education inclusivity efforts, the necessary relationships and knowledge of these intersecting interests would not be in place, and it is unlikely that the bid to create these WBCs would have met with success.
These WBCs and the relationship between U of I and the IHCC serve as shining examples of how approaching all members of our society with open minds, an earnest desire to learn from one another, and an effort to be inclusive helps improve the lot in life for everyone in that society. The benefits from such actions are for all of us. I therefore welcome President Tromp to Boise and to Idaho, and I urge her to remain resolute in Boise State’s efforts to be a welcoming and engaging university for all. We are better together.
Michael Satz is associate vice president and CEO of the University of Idaho Boise. He is also a member of the University of Idaho College of Law faculty. The opinions are his own and are not an official statement or policy of the University of Idaho.