Ohio's chilling new pro-ignorance bill a threat that will drive off students| YWCA

Lalitha Pamidigantam is Advocacy manager for YWCA Columbus.

Our state's senate has been active lately — taking after other states, introducing bills that would make Ohio a harder place to live and thrive for marginalized people.

In the latest attack on education, Sen. Jerry C. Cirino introduced Senate Bill 83, a comprehensive attack on higher education.

From prohibiting diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings for university employees and students, to prohibiting collective bargaining, Senate Bill 83 is an attempt to radically skew oversight of higher education, truncate the self-leadership of Ohio’s universities and colleges, and shortchange the university experience.

The bill is in direct opposition to YWCA Columbus’ values and vision for a liberated future.

A direct threat

Lalitha Pamidigantam
Lalitha Pamidigantam

YWCA Columbus is a longstanding social justice agency.

Our mission — to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, dignity, and freedom for all — is why we oppose this bill.

Universities are where people go to explore ideas, ideologies, and have a free flow of thought and dialogue. Students enter university for the purpose of education and to gain a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. Higher education is often an economic driver, a catalyst for innovation, and propels the values of free speech, free thought, and active dialogue.

While university DEI programs are only one part of a continuum of resources and programming that contribute to student safety, university programs can attract highly talented students of historically marginalized identities by incorporating those practices into their administration and curricula.

On campus, marginalized students deserve spaces where they can feel safe.

Furthermore, this bill poses a direct threat to YWCA Columbus’ vision of a more just and equitable society.

Our justice, equity, and belonging trainings benefit participants who want to better understand the historic and social context of our modern-day society. We train private, public, and nonprofit teams, while centering the margins, which allows companies to thrive in their approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.

These practices are tools to build better relationships amongst attendees and impart an understanding about systemic and systematic racism, along with other forms of oppression. We are moving forward through the quagmire of racism, step by step, through training the public and advocating for the marginalized. Universities have long been an ally in this work.

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At university, students can expand their knowledge base, challenge predetermined — or yet unchallenged —assumptions, and debate amongst themselves and with faculty to sharpen their understanding of the world. Graduates frequently reflect the desire to create global positive changes that systemically reinforce social justice in the systems in which we live and work.

State Sen. Jerry Cirino
State Sen. Jerry Cirino

Universities are a bastion of ideological diversity, and DEI values are positive for everyone. They increase empathy, encourage discourse, and create opportunities for harm repair when harm occurs. These skills are highly beneficial once students leave university and join the workforce.

Employees of universities also deserve to feel safe within their workplace. DEI training for staff is a beneficial way to ensure that all those who work together treat one another with respect. It helps to empower marginalized people, who may not have access to the same power systems that allow their white counterparts to excel in their roles.

For example, research shows us that women often do not feel empowered to ask for raises, but by studying and understanding this, we can coach women and narrow the wage gap. But, the first step to empowering marginalized people is education.

And, this is how DEI trainings play a role in the wellbeing of marginalized employees.

The consequences

This bill will create a chilling effect on students applying to Ohio schools.

Young people all over the world want to move to Ohio to attend the prestigious universities here, including the Ohio State University, Bowling Green University or Wright State University, and to contribute to the legacy of Ohio’s only public historically black colleges and universities, Central State University.

These public universities shape a workforce of highly talented and special young adults who are both professionally and personally invested in the future of Ohio, but Senate Bill 83 will force these young people to think twice before applying.

Our best and brightest homegrown students have long been exiting the state – thanks in part to attempts to prevent educators from engaging in social-emotional learning or harm trans youth, a piece of legislation that Ohio voters roundly denounced last fall.

Ohio will fall further behind in innovation and diversity. In fact, restricting the free flow of thought at universities may create an irreversible stain on Ohio public universities.

At a time when Ohioans are excited to see jobs expansion and incoming large companies accelerating our economy, is that really the approach we, as a state, want to take?

Next steps

All people deserve access to the information that they need to make informed choices as voters, family members, professionals, and neighbors, from the creation of the policies which govern our land, to how they treat each other interpersonally.

We know education is the first step towards building the future that we want to see.

We stand by our partners, groups like Honesty for Ohio Education and OPAWL, who are working towards implementing honest education into Ohio’s education systems.

We will continue to train our community and promote justice, equity, and belonging practices. We will advocate on behalf of the oppressed, and we won’t rest until we have eliminated racism, empowered all women, and brought peace, justice, dignity, and freedom to all.

Lalitha Pamidigantam is Advocacy manager for YWCA Columbus.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Pro-ignorance bill will make Ohio less appealing. What impact would Senate Bill 83 have?