As UNC students across the state celebrate commencement, a proposal from the Board of Governors Committee on University Governance jeopardizes equity on campus and beyond.

RALEIGH (May 9, 2024) – All students—Black, Brown, and white students, disabled students, LGBTQ+ students, students from rural communities, students of all religions, and English language learners—should have access to safe, supportive, and well-resourced educational environments. A recent proposal from the UNC Board of Governors’ (BOG) Committee on University Governance would eliminate the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policy adopted in 2017, jeopardizing the progress made in addressing systemic issues impacting the most marginalized communities in our state.

If the BOG votes to pass this policy at its May 22-23 meeting, it would be a blow to the critical work of eliminating poverty in North Carolina, would contribute to the erosion of diversity, and would hinder progress toward a more equitable society.

“The discussion around DEI initiatives has taken center stage in recent years, but we must remember the work of fostering equity and belonging is not a trend or a fad,” said Reggie Shuford, Executive Director of the North Carolina Justice Center. “As a Black Carolina alumnus, I know firsthand how critical it is for students like me to be seen and valued for their unique contributions—and to have the full support of a university that recognizes the structures historically excluding them from these spaces.”

The impact of defunding DEI

The reach of the UNC system is vast—the UNC BOG governs 250,000 students across 16 public universities and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics—and the implications of dismantling DEI initiatives would extend far beyond the university campuses. The targeted defunding of the UNC Center for Civil Rights is one example.

The Center for Civil Rights serves as a resource for communities impacted by historical injustices such as school segregation and environmental racism in Eastern North Carolina and was a plaintiff in the decades-long Leandro v. State of North Carolina case, in which education advocates sought to ensure the state lived up to its constitutional obligation to provide adequately funded public schools. However, in 2017, the UNC BOG ended the School of Law’s decades-long participation in civil rights litigation through the Center, a decision that eliminated a crucial support system for the communities it serves.

The defunding of the Center for Civil Rights, the proposal to defund DEI initiatives, and national court rulings all reflect a broader trend of backlash against efforts to make our state more inclusive. These divisive tactics undermine our state institutions’ attempts to address social disparities and promote equity for all.

“The proposed repeal of the DEI policy comes after over three decades of litigation in the Leandro case and right on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in SFFA v. UNC, a case that gutted race-conscious admissions,” said Shuford. “Generations of students and teachers coming through North Carolina’s public schools and the UNC system are being denied necessary resources at every turn.”

The NC Justice Center urges all UNC system institutions to maintain policies and practices that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Ensuring young people, especially those from marginalized communities—such as Black and Brown students, disabled students, and LGBTQ+ students—have access to safe and supportive educational environments is paramount to building a more just and equitable society. All North Carolina students deserve to walk across the stage at their commencement ceremony, having been equipped with the resources and opportunities they need to thrive.

Submit a comment to the UNC Board of Governors

The deadline for submitting public comments to the UNC Board of Governors is May 23 at 5PM. We encourage everyone to voice their support for marginalized students by opposing the proposed changes to the current DEI policies.