‘Can’t rewrite that history:’ Senate passes anti-DEI bill

Published 10:27 am Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The first of several bills targeting diversity, equity and inclusion has received approval in one chamber of the General Assembly.

Bowling Green Republican Mike Wilson filed Senate Bill 6 at the beginning of session. It bans public colleges or universities from discriminating against current or prospective students and employees based on their adherence or non-adherence to certain “discriminatory” concepts.

These include the concepts that:

  • an individual is inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive based on their race or sex, consciously or subconsciously;
  • an individual bears responsibility for past actions committed by members of their race or sex;
  • Kentucky or the U.S. are fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist;
  • a meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress another; and
  • any concept that ascribes character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of their race or sex.

The bill has a few other requirements. Public universities would have to publicly post course descriptions, syllabi and the title of each book assigned or recommended for each of its classes.

New student orientations would have to include the full text of the First Amendment, including a discussion on the importance of free speech and viewpoint diversity, and historical examples demonstrating the need to protect free speech, “including unpopular speech,” among other things.

Mandatory trainings could not include any “discriminatory concepts.”

Any employee hired as part of a diversity initiative would have to spend at least half their time mentoring and providing academic coaching for Pell Grant recipients.

In 2025 and 2027, colleges would hold campus wide surveys of students and employees determining their diversity of thought and comfort level speaking freely on campus.

‘Not always for diversity’ Floor sees wide-ranging debate

One Louisville Democrat, Sen. Gerald Neal, filed a floor amendment that would have relied on schools to enforce the bill, instead of the attorney general.

It also would have removed the requirement for DEI officers to spend at least half their time mentoring and academic coaching students who receive Pell Grants.

After his amendment failed, Neal cautioned against glossing over history. Everyone is a product of their past, what they’ve been taught, he said, and they can correct future behavior by learning from that.

“He who does not know his past and the mistakes therein is doomed to repeat it,” said Neal, who is Black.

He added that, according to the FBI, anti-Black hate crimes are rising. While his fellow legislators may be tired of hearing about racism and race, he said that we still have a ways to go.

“It’s not over,” Neal said. “It’s painful to many, but it’s not over.”

Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, disagreed with Neal’s assessment of the bill. Douglas, also a Black man, said that Kentucky cannot correct the past by “discriminating against those from the present or the future.”

“This bill is not a racial bill. This bill is not an equality bill…” Douglas said. “This bill is an education issue, it is a fairness issue, it’s a responsibility issue, but mostly this is a bill meant to stop discrimination.”

He told a story about him getting into medical school as a Black athlete, and the shame he felt over that around his peers, who assumed it was only because of affirmative action.

“Some people will fail without this crutch. They will,” Douglas said. “But the irony is that most will succeed.”

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, talked about the progress Kentucky’s campuses have made since affirmative action, with over 20% minorities across state campuses today.

He said that they should never move to a “colorblind society” and instead embrace people of all backgrounds.

“We’ve got a state university system today that looks like America,” Thomas said. “…I don’t wanna take us back that far. We have made significant progress and we’ve come a long way.”

Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville, said she was concerned about the potential chilling effect on educators. Armstrong, a University of Louisville professor, asked if she would be able to teach about the history of redlining and the impact on housing today, or the history of women struggling for the right to vote.

These are things that ascribe privileges to certain races or sexes, which the bill bans on its face, she said.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, agreed, particularly in regards to the history of women fighting for equality.


“You can’t rewrite that history,” she said.

Webb added that the courts will likely decide on the question of whether this bill violates academic freedom.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said that this bill is about more than what happens in higher education, and added that he’s “not always for diversity.” He’d rather have the “best darn team,” regardless of its diversity.

“This diversity thing, whether it’s in corporate America, whether it’s at UK or wherever it is, is being blown way out of proportion,” Schickel said.

Senate Bill 6 passed 26-7, on party lines. Next, it will move to the House.