Posted on October 25, 2023

Universities Axe Diversity Statements in Wake of US Supreme Court Ruling on Affirmative Action

Amanda Heidt, Nature, September 27, 2023

Academic institutions across the United States are abandoning diversity statements provided by potential faculty members in a move that could freeze under-represented groups out of academia, educators warn.

A diversity statement, which is often collected as part of a job application, allows applicants to reflect on their own experiences and explore the question of how diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts will factor into their teaching and mentoring. Defending the statements’ use as the United States becomes increasingly racially and ethnically diverse, Pat Heintzelman, president of the Texas Faculty Association (TFA), who is based in Beaumont, says: “I absolutely think this is a fair question to ask.”

But critics of diversity statements and other DEI initiatives say that the measures have been poisoned by political and ideological influences that create needless divisions between groups and threaten national unity. In May, for example, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis described diversity initiatives as promoting “discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination” after signing a bill that bans such programmes in public colleges and universities across the state.

Although diversity statements are often voluntary, since 2022, several states have passed legislation barring them from hiring practices. In total, 40 bills have been proposed across 22 states. The bills attempt to ban diversity departments or officers, considerations of race or ethnicity in hiring, and promotion and diversity training for new employees. So far, seven bills have gone on to become law in five states — Texas, North Dakota, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida.

In North Dakota, a ‘divisive concepts’ bill signed into law in April banned both diversity statements and mandatory diversity training at public institutions. Nick Archuleta, who is based in Bismarck and is president of North Dakota United, a union that represents roughly 11,500 public employees — including faculty members and students in higher education — says that the bill was adapted from a version first introduced in Tennessee.


Even in states that don’t have explicit laws, universities are voluntarily removing diversity statements and other references to DEI following a US Supreme Court decision in June that overturned ‘affirmative action’ admission policies. These were aimed at widening academia to those who have historically been excluded, particularly women and racial minority groups.

Although that ruling applied only to admissions, “university administrators seem to have been waiting for this decision and have paused certain things over fear of lawsuits”, says Stephanie Masta, an education researcher at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.


The University System of Georgia banned diversity statements in July, even as one of its institutions, the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, shared a campus-wide message of solidarity with faculty members, staff and students in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, recommitting to “fostering a welcoming, inclusive environment”. One UGA researcher shared on social media that faculty members were quickly asked to remove equal-opportunity statements from existing job announcements. {snip}


Data gathered since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic show some students are choosing institutions that they perceive as being more inclusive. After US universities desegregated in the 1950s, enrolment at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) steadily declined. But in recent years, these institutions have seen a surge in applicants. For instance, Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, received 58% more undergraduate applications in 2021 than in 2019 — a record.

Chad Womack, vice-president of national STEM programmes and tech initiatives at the United Negro College Fund in Washington DC, says that many Black students are drawn to the personal and professional support that HBCUs offer.


The shift away from DEI, predicts Womack, who was a guest editor of Nature’s 2022 racism special issue, is likely to result in fewer Black students making the transition from undergraduate to master’s and PhD degrees through bridge programmes. These are aimed at increasing diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).