BOISE, Idaho — Boise State University’s new president, Dr. Marlene Tromp, is weighing in on a letter from a group of Idaho Republican lawmakers, criticizing the school's efforts to create diversity and equality on campus.
The letter addressed to President Marlene Tromp was signed by 28 Idaho Republican lawmakers in July. It was sent just days after Dr. Tromp took office. Now, less than two weeks from the start of school, Tromp says she wants to help everyone see the bigger picture.
“I really want to talk to these people so I can understand better what’s at the heart of their concerns, and so that I can share with them the things that I know and that we’ve learned at the university, and also, give them a bigger picture,” said Marlene Tromp, President of Boise State University.
In that letter, they criticized former Boise State Interim President Martin Schimpf’s efforts toward diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts; stating those efforts do not reflect Idaho values.
“Our goal should be for higher education, but hopefully we’re enticing students of all backgrounds to come because they want that great education,” said Rep. Bryan Zollinger, (R) Idaho Falls.
A concern mentioned in that letter by those 28 lawmakers, was Boise State’s support for multicultural student events,including rainbow graduations and black graduations.
“I think when you start talking race, then that creates a separation,” said Rep. Tammy Nichols, (R) Middleton.
President Tromp said that isn’t the purpose of those multicultural events. One commencement ceremony is held for all students. She said those extra events are meant to help minority students feel a greater sense of community.
“We have one Boise State commencement, but there are celebrations for departments and for clubs and for many, many ways in which students affiliate," said Tromp.
Another concern from those lawmakers, is that money from the state is being spent to fund some of these diversity efforts at Boise State.
“Diversity officers at $140,000 a year plus benefits. That’s money that could be going toward education,” said Zollinger.
Those lawmakers say knowing how to interact with those of different backgrounds is something that should already be taught at home.
“I think in today’s world, knowing how to handle other races and culture is not an issue," said Zollinger.
President Tromp emphasized the importance of diversity on campus, saying different perspectives create a healthier student population.
“We need people to be able to work with each other, across different landscapes, so it actually benefits our community for us to serve that whole diverse population," said Tromp.
And while 28 Idaho Republican lawmakers are critical of those diversity efforts at Boise State, other lawmakers support the programs.
“Their letter was essentially a way to say, ‘we failed to fund higher education for the last 20 years, and so rather than effectively fund higher education, we’re going to tell you what programs you should and shouldn’t be doing’,” said Rep. Mat Erpelding, (D) Boise.
Representative Erpelding, a Democratic lawmaker and instructor at Boise State University, said traditional values are and should be that people from all over the country can come to Idaho and live a high quality of life.
“The Idaho way is to make them feel welcome, ensure that they have the resources they need and help them to a better place in life,” said Erpelding, who also said diversity is essential to a student body and multicultural events are a piece of that.
“Diversifying the different events we have and providing opportunity for all cultures to share in university life, is the responsibility of a public institution,” said Erpelding.
Regardless, both sides of the spectrum have confidence in President Tromp’s expertise leading Boise State University.
“I’m hopeful that she’ll act appropriately, and I have confidence that she will and that we’ll focus excellence in education and diversity will follow,” said Zollinger.
And Erpelding expressed his confidence as well, “She knows that she needs to stay the course and continue to do the things that continue to make Boise State a great university.”
Both the lawmakers and President Marlene Tromp say they want to meet with each other to discuss where each side is coming from, and President Tromp hopes to be able to provide those lawmakers with what she calls, the whole picture.