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Idaho Lawmaker's Letter Prompts Pro-Diversity Rally By Boise State Students

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
State Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls) sent a letter to Boise State University's new president, blasting spending on programs aimed at boosting diversity.

Boise State University students are pushing back against a group of Republican state lawmakers who blasted spending on programs aimed at boosting diversity.

That group of 28 lawmakers, led by Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls), singled out Boise State’s programs and celebrations for minority students as “antithetical to the Idaho way” in a letter to the university’s new president, Marlene Tromp.  

Each of Idaho’s universities have similar support offices or programs.

Those who signed the letter include House Majority Leader and Assistant Majority Leader Mike Moyle (R-Star) and Jason Monks (R-Nampa), respectively, as well as several members of the House Education committee.

Now, a group of Boise State students are organizing a rally at the Capitol this weekend in support of the university.

“[A] quality education isn’t just made up of math and science," said Abby Barzee, one of the rally’s organizers. "We need these kinds of programs because they help foster a diverse and inclusive environment for those of us who aren’t white, [cisgender], straight, those kinds of things.” 

Barzee says encouraging students to embrace inclusiveness helps them better prepare for their future careers.

Ehardt’s letter contends programs like graduation celebrations for minority students or targeting undocumented students for scholarships segregates students and adds “unnecessary costs” while tuition continues to rise.

"The letter was really written where they were kind of guessing how we felt and we don't feel like our tuition is affected by these programs. In fact, we feel like this helps give us a more quality education," Barzee said on Boise State Public Radio's Idaho Matters.

On Tuesday, interim Boise State Provost Tony Roark sent an email to university staff and faculty defending the school's policies.

"As your Interim Provost, I want to reassure you that I remain steadfastly committed to the programs and initiatives we've undertaken to make Boise State an accessible, welcoming, and supportive campus for all students," Roark wrote. "They are mission-critical, in the best interests of the State of Idaho and the students we serve, and necessary for the health and productivity of our campus community."

Tromp released a statement last week, saying she was looking forward to speaking with Ehardt and other lawmakers who signed the letter. "Political divisions in our country often make these conversations very difficult and can even cause harm. I believe we can have a meaningful dialogue that underscores our common commitment to the well-being of our students and to the future of the state," Tromp said.

A few days after Ehardt sent her letter, all 21 Democratic legislators sent a letter to Tromp encouraging her to continue the university’s inclusionary efforts.

“Exclusion won’t make college more affordable, but it will destabilize our economy and threaten our quality of life. Increasing accessibility and making college more affordable will tear down barriers,” Democrats wrote.

Barzee has invited to the rally each of the Republican lawmakers who signed Ehardt’s letter, as well as Tromp, but none have immediately responded.

It’s scheduled to begin at noon Saturday at the Idaho Capitol.

Correction: The original article misstated that Rep. Barbara Ehardt was chairwoman of the House Education Committee. She is a member of that committee.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!