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Senate votes to defund University of Wyoming diversity office and gender studies courses but the fight’s not over

A sandstone building rises four stories above.
Bob Beck
Wyoming Public Media
Old Main, the University of Wyoming's oldest building and the seat of its administration.

The Wyoming Senate voted to defund gender studies at the University of Wyoming (UW). If that amendment survives the state budgeting process, it could mean big changes for the Gender and Women's Studies Program at UW.

Immediately following the vote to defund gender studies, the senate also voted to defund UW's Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion.

In the coming days, lawmakers will have to hammer out differences between the Senate's budget bill, which includes both amendments, and the House's budget bill, which includes neither.

Gender studies vs. traditional values

Gender studies courses take a critical look at institutions and power structures, using insights from feminist or queer studies literature to examine topics or perspectives that have historically been overlooked.

These courses are optional for UW students. But the state senate voted to take away those options last week, adding a footnote to the senate budget that forbids UW from funding such a program with state money. Republican legislators like Senator Bob Ide (R-Casper) argued that the courses conflicted with traditional Wyoming values.

"I think we have a real opportunity to set University of Wyoming apart as a grassroots, traditional-value university," he said.

Right-wing legislators advanced the amendment along these lines, but several Republican and Democratic senators pushed back. Senator Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) said it was inappropriate for the legislature to ban classes it doesn't like — and he accused the senate of fearing certain ideas.

"My kids are not afraid of ideas," Rothfuss said. "My kids could take these classes and know what to do with them and learn from them."

After about 45 minutes of debate, the senate voted to defund the program on an 18-13 vote.

But gender studies at UW will only be defunded if the new footnote survives the budgeting process. It's included in the Senate version of the state budget, but not in the House's version. The differences between those versions will have to be smoothed out in the coming days.

This is the second time the senate has attempted to defund the program with a budget footnote. During the last budget session in 2022, the senate approved a similar amendment, but the provision was ultimately dropped from the final state budget bill.

Diversity and its detractors

Also during the senate's third and final reading of the state budget bill, the chamber added another footnote to UW's funding.

That footnote says UW is not allowed to spend any of its appropriations on its Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion or on any "program, activity or function" geared toward diversity, equity and inclusion.

Right-wing senators blamed diversity efforts like UW's for all sorts of things — from the erosion of traditional values to recent airplane failures — before approving the budget cut on a 20-11 vote.

Senator Charles Scott (R-Casper) called the diversity office "a monolith of wokeness" and said the cut was necessary to protect students from being indoctrinated into left-wing ideologies.

Again, Senator Rothfuss (D-Laramie) was among the loudest defenders of UW's funding, arguing to his fellow senators that the diversity office exists to help racially diverse, first-generation and rural students feel welcome.

"How do we make those students feel like they're a part of the university?" he said. "How do we ensure that they're comfortable at the university? That's what this office works on."

Like the amendment to defund gender studies, the amendment to defund diversity efforts is not set in stone. It will have to survive the merger of the two versions of the budget bill.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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