BOISE, Idaho — Four state legislators met at Boise State University Tuesday evening to hold a discussion panel about diversity efforts on campus.
That discussion panel, in part, stemmed from a diversity letter that was sent by 28 Idaho State Republicans to Boise State President Marlene Tromp, criticizing diversity efforts and diversity funding on campus.
Panel moderators asked both Republicans and Democrats a list of questions, giving each side four minutes to give a response. Those questions ranged from funding, to hate speech, what defines inclusion, and how to best increase graduation rates.
Representative Barbara Ehardt, the author of the letter that was sent to President Tromp in July, said her main reasons for writing it were in regards to funding of diversity programs, as well as diversity initiatives at BSU that she believes are silencing certain people on campus.
“What’s happening on the campus of Boise State, is we have conservatives who are not able to speak up in class, who are ridiculed if they happen to wear a MAGA hat,” said Rep. Barbara Ehardt, (R) Idaho Falls.
The other side of the panel believes those diversity initiatives are important.
“If we just lift people up, we will have an economy that is vibrant, and sometimes we have to use something other than mainstream dominant cultures, definition of who has the right to go to school and get an education, and how they go about doing their business,” said Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, (D) Boise.
And in regards to the funding of these programs, the democratic side of the table believes the amount being spent on them is justifiable.
“When we start talking about the budget behind student groups we’re talking about $140,000 a year, which is not a lot of money, but it’s a place for people to come together, find an organization that they connect with and grow with and help them succeed,” said Rep. Mat Erpelding, (D) Boise.
While the republican side of the panel is worried that much more than $140,000 is actually being spent on diversity initiatives.
“Nobody would disagree that student groups shouldn’t have some funding on campus, $140,000 is probably a good thing. You know, we should be funding some parts of these student groups, like you said, some of it’s through grant funding, but the overall program, the overall size of this bureaucracy is crazy, creating 20 new positions,” said Rep. Bryan Zollinger, (R) Idaho Falls.
It was a heated discussion between the two sides, and following questions by moderators, students at Boise State were given the opportunity to ask questions as well.
Representative Ehardt said she believes the things discussed in the meeting will be among many higher education discussion topics in the 2020 Legislative Session.