Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Students and faculty consider ‘divisive concepts’ section of Senate Bill 129

CW / Caroline Simmons

On March 7, Senate Bill 129, which aims to cut state funding for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, passed in the Alabama House of Representatives. One of the stated aims of the bill is to prevent universities from requiring students to affirm divisive concepts in class, but lawmakers and supporters of the bill have not cited specific examples of such a problem at The University of Alabama. 

Several student organizations have voiced their support or disdain for the bill. On March 8, the Queer Student Association released a statement urging Gov. Kay Ivey and state senators not to pass the bill after it returned to the Senate. 

“A ban on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will cripple minority student groups and student resources, violate students’ constitutional rights, and represent another embarrassment by AL politicians,” the statement read. 

By contrast, on March 4, UA College Republicans released a statement announcing their support for SB129. 

In the statement, UACR Chairman Riley McArdle said, “The constant barrage of divisive concepts that have been pushed onto students at the University of Alabama over the past several years is incredibly alarming, and there is a strong sense of fear among students who quietly question the narratives that are imposed on them every day at campus.”  

McArdle said he is required to speak on behalf of the Republican Party and that DEI programs do not align with “Alabama values.” 

“When you come to Alabama, you got to live under Alabama law and live with the values that we have here,” McArdle said. 

‘Divisive concepts’ in the classroom 

Along with prohibiting state funding of DEI programs, the bill would prohibit public schools and colleges from compelling students to affirm so-called divisive concepts, such as the idea that members of one race are responsible for past actions of other members of the same race. 

McArdle said that a professor sharing their personal beliefs with the class, even on topics unrelated to “divisive concepts,” can “compel” students to affirm the professor’s beliefs to get a good grade. He said that he has had professors who said in passing that white people should feel guilt for Jim Crow laws, although he declined to name the professors. 

However, when asked multiple times if he could provide specific examples of professors explicitly requiring students to affirm divisive concepts, McArdle could not. 

The Crimson White asked several other people if they could provide evidence of UA professors requiring students’ assent to divisive concepts. 

Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, has worked over the past two years on similar bills that focused on prohibiting promotion of divisive concepts in public schools and colleges but never passed.  

According to, Oliver held an informational meeting in February 2022 for his first divisive concepts bill, during which time he repeatedly claimed critical race theory was being taught in Alabama K-12 schools without offering specific evidence.  

While he didn’t author SB129, he has been one the bill’s largest advocates in the House. 

“A particular incident with a student was the reason we originally considered legislation. … with very little effort, you will be able to find DEI statements required for employment and certain classes,” Oliver said. 

However, Oliver did not provide any details of specific incidents or examples. Instead, he said that Sen. William Barfoot, R-Pike Road, the bill’s author, should provide “any statements” prior to a final vote on the bill. 

Barfoot’s office did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. 

Scott Yenor, a Washington fellow at the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank, authored a 2023 report on DEI in Alabama universities. 

When asked about examples of students being required to affirm divisive concepts, Yenor said, “We did not know of any specific examples of such things, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We studied policies and personnel, not specific incidents. 

Nicholas Davis, an assistant political science professor at the University, said the bill is trying to address an issue that doesn’t exist. 

“Discrimination on the basis of race or sex is already expressly prohibited by law,” he said.  

Davis said it is improbable that professors have the sort of control that the bill is implying. 

“Professors have a hard enough time getting students to read their syllabus,” he said. “How in the world could we compel students to affirm that they are at fault for conditions that are produced by institutions over which they have no control?” 

Amanda Edgell, an assistant political science professor at the University, said that the bill will create more problems for students and faculty alike. 

“I study dictatorship, and this legislation reads like a gag order,” Edgell said. “The vague language makes it impossible to know where the red lines are and will create a culture of fear with damaging effects on academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus.” 

DEI Passport Program 

When asked how students faced a “constant barrage of divisive concepts,” McArdle cited the Student Government Association’s DEI Passport Program as one of his most pressing concerns; the program rewards participation in DEI events with points that help student organizations get block seating at football games. 

“The girls in [sororities] have good seats at football games … held hostage unless they go to things like trans coffee hour,” McArdle said.  

“Transgender coffee hour” is not an actual program or event held by the University or any student organizations. The University does offer events focused on issues of gender and sexual orientation, such as the Safe Zone Resource Center’s recurring “Cinnamon Rolls Not Gender Roles” discussion group. 

McArdle added that UACR members in sororities said they feel afraid to voice their disapproval of the passport program to their sororities for fear of being “shunned.” 

SGA Vice President for DEI Bella Loia said that the passport program is entirely voluntary and that participation is “encouraged.” 

The program works by assigning point values of 1-3 to different events depending on the event’s general classification, such as whether the event involves listening to a speaker or discussing topics with peers. Each student organization that applies for block seating has a cumulative point total and must obtain at least 1.125 points per block seating seat. 

However, meeting the DEI Passport Point minimum counts for only 11% of an organization’s block seating application and is not required for the application. 

Loia added that there are no guidelines that require students to attend specific events, such as those that cover LGBTQ+ issues.  

“This means any points earned from any event can be contributed to an organization’s total,” Loia said. 

McArdle said that he personally doesn’t attend DEI events, so he cannot be sure if students opposed to them are mischaracterizing them. 

To McArdle, there’s a difference between promoting diversity and forcing it onto students. 

“I don’t think that diversity or inclusion or whatever is a bad thing,” he said. “I’m all for campus being as diverse as possible, but I don’t think that it should be shoved down the throats of students.” 

Davis said that he hopes the University will do everything in its power to keep academic freedom in the hands of the students. 

“Bills of this nature discourage academics, many of whom are already precariously employed, pit the public against institutions that are simply trying to educate students, and, I would argue, harm students by treating them as children who cannot think for themselves,” he said. 

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