The Daily Gamecock

Efforts ramp up across South Carolina to ban DEI programs, books in higher education, public K-12 schools

The state of South Carolina has seen a simultaneous effort to ban diversity, equity and inclusion programs at higher education institutes as well as books at the K-12 level of education within the past year. 

The efforts come as many other states such as Alabama, Florida, Texas and Arkansas have enacted efforts to ban DEI initiatives and books in all public schools.

Bans on both books and DEI initiatives can limit the availability of information about minority groups and their history, as well as place limits on what teachers can teach about history in both K-12 and higher education institutes, according to the Intercultural Development Research Association.

Nicole Cooke, a professor of library science at USC, said book bans passed at the K-12 level in public schools could also affect higher education administration role names and change the areas their offices cover, especially if they oversee DEI initiatives.

"On the higher ed end, Julian Williams, our vice president of equity, diversity and inclusion — his title was changed," Cooke said. "The dimensions of his office were changed to exclude those words."

Williams' new title is "Vice President of Access, Civil Rights & Community Engagement." His title was changed to better serve the entire campus community and to align with federal requirements, university spokesperson Jeff Stensland said in an email in August 2023.

"His division will now align ongoing efforts to ensure access and opportunity to members of the campus community, compliance with federal civil rights and Title IX requirements, and foster partnerships with public and private sector entities to share university knowledge in support of local communities," Stensland said. 

University of Maryland College Park professor Roger Worthington said in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education that restricting DEI offices would limit student and university employees' access to communities that would help support them.

"Removing DEI from the office title signals a move from an office with concerns about creating a welcoming and inclusive campus where marginalized students, faculty, and staff can achieve a sense of belonging, to an office strictly focused on compliance with nondiscrimination laws and policies,” Worthington said to The Chronicle.

The South Carolina House of Representatives  passed Bill H.4289 on March 27, which seeks to ban diversity training programs for public university faculty and staff, as well as prohibit diversity statements from being used in university admissions and employment decisions. 

According to the bill, any higher education institute may not ask an applicant or employee to follow a statement in support or opposition of a political ideology, movement or issue, including diversity, equity and inclusion. Public higher education institutes are also prohibited from infringing on the right to free speech and may not discriminate in admissions and hiring based on a political viewpoint.

The bill states that public state colleges and universities must still abide by federal anti-discrimination laws, but it also says these institutions may not discriminate in admissions or hiring based on expression of approval or opposition to DEI and other political statements. If the bill is approved by the governor, it could eliminate mandatory DEI programs and initiatives for faculty and staff at higher education institutes.

The bill would also require each DEI office at the public colleges and universities to compile an annual report detailing its costs, number of people employed and any complaints the office received throughout the year. 

The bill passed in the House on March 27 with a vote of 84-30.

The South Carolina House Republican Caucus released a statement celebrating the passage of the bill.

"This landmark legislation ensures no diversity pledges can dictate admissions or job outcomes, halts mandatory diversity training and upholds the unassailable right to free speech. It’s a bold affirmation of our commitment to equality and academic freedom, safeguarding our institutions against bias and promoting fairness in line with federal laws and standards," the caucus said.

Rep. Mike Burns (R-District 17) a sponsor of the bill, said he supported the bill because he believes current DEI measures need to be changed as they promote "strife and division." 

“We want everybody to be included. We want everybody to be treated the same," Burns said. "But this has gotten way out of balance, and this (has) got to be brought back under some kind of control.” 

The bill prompted opposition among some members of the House. 

Rep. Jermaine Jackson (D-District 70), who spoke out against the proposed bill during a committee debate on March 26 as reported by WIS TV, said DEI measures help people understand the viewpoints and experiences that those in minority communities have.

Burns said the legislature previously took measures to ban DEI efforts, such as last year, when members of the House attempted to defund all of the public universities' DEI programs, according to South Carolina Public Radio. Burns said those in support of the measure wanted all kids to be treated the same, and current DEI programs were promoting division.

“We tried to take the money out to stop the programs so kids could be treated the same," Burns said. "So kids could be treated equally and treated with respect and not have all this division that we're actually promoting under the guise of taking out racism (when) we're actually causing it. So that's why we were trying to do this. And that's why we'll continue to do it.” 

Rep. Kambrell Garvin (D-District 77) who spoke out against the bill in committee, reported by SC Daily Gazette, said he wanted those listening to the debate who might lose increased access to college admissions and hiring to know they are still respected.

“For the kids that are listening, for the women that are listening, for the folks that belong to the LGBTQ community that are listening — you are valued, regardless of what this committee does or says,” Garvin said.


The Committee on Higher Education declined to comment. 

The bill is in the Senate Committee on Education, but as of publication, a date has not yet been set for the bill to be debated both in committee and on the Senate floor.

Alongside efforts to ban DEI programs in higher education institutes, concurring challenges and bans on books available in public school libraries have also been occurring across the state. Both DEI changes and book bans aim to limit information and access to resources for those in minority communities. 

Thirteen different school districts across South Carolina have faced challenges related to books in public school libraries that are considered by some to be "inappropriate" or "obscene" for school-aged children over the past three years, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Dorchester School District Two, one of two school districts within Dorchester County, saw in February one of the largest efforts to ban books in the state since 2020.

The complainant, Dorchester County resident Nancy Warner, belongs to a local group called Concerned Citizens for Education. She submitted a list of 673 books to the school board that she thinks should be banned. Warner said in an interview with Live 5 News that she found the list on the BookLooks and RatedBooks websites.

These sites are known for rating books on a zero-to-five scale that could have "inappropriate " or "obscene" content for children. The higher the rating is, the worse the site claims the content in the book is.

Some titles that could potentially get banned under this challenge include "Brave New World," "Beloved," "The Kite Runner," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "Slaughterhouse-Five." These books, among others, have all been challenged for containing "obscene" and "inappropriate" content and themes related to socialism, misogyny, racism and the LGBTQIA+ community.

Of the 673 book titles on the list, 155 were found to be in Dorchester School District Two's school libraries.

Warner submitted the challenge to the school board, but under current board policy IJL, the challenge was dismissed because she does not have a child in the school district.

The board, however, voted 4-3 to hear the challenge and send the list to the district's media specialists to review. The vote occurred after board member Justin Farnsworth motioned to dismiss the challenge and send the ban request back to Warner. 

The State Board of Education approved new regulations in February that would give the state control over the books that go in public school libraries rather than the local school board. All books challenged in school districts would then go before a committee made up of State Department of Education members for deliberation.

Vanessa Kitzie, an associate professor in USC's School of Information Science, said the system being proposed would prevent professionals from being able to select what they believe to be appropriate materials for students.

 She said the proposed system would instead rely on the ideological views of those in power.

“You're setting up a system in which whoever is in power is then going to be able to decide what content is visible and what content is not visible based on their own ideological values, rather than having a trained professional who is operating using a set of professional values to make those decisions,” Kitzie said. 

The regulations still have to be approved by the South Carolina Statehouse and governor before becoming law. 

The proposed bans and challenges would limit the work that academics can do and undermine the work of librarians, Cooke said. 

“This is what I mean by 'lack of academic freedom' ...  Librarians are trained in collection, development and other things, and we know how to select books," Cooke said. "We know how to provide readers (with) advice. We know how to recommend things to you." 

Kitzie said the bans could also restrict access to information about topics pertaining to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, which could, in turn, affect their mental health.

“It doesn’t reduce the amount of LGBTQ people who exist in the world," Kitzie said. "Instead what it’s going to do is restrict their ability to understand the possibilities that are out there, which ... from a health perspective, can be extremely damaging.” 

Everyone who opposes the potential bans on books and DEI programs should learn more information about the bans and their effects and then join together to stand up against them, Cooke said.

“I think there's a lot of folks that don't realize how serious this is and, unfortunately, might not find out until it's too late," Cooke said. "The more we have these conversations, I think the better organized we can be.”


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