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Alabama governor signs anti-DEI law

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Another state has moved to ban diversity initiatives and put limits on how race can be discussed in schools and universities. This time it's Alabama. The Republican-dominated legislature there has passed a bill that would allow school staff to be terminated if they teach what are considered, quote, "divisive concepts." Governor Kay Ivey signed the bill into law today. And joining us to talk about what it all means for Alabama is Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott. Hi there.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This new law is part of a wave of anti-DEI legislation across the country, mostly in red states. What is in the final version?

GASSIOTT: Well, the final version of the bill prohibits schools that receive public support, both K-12 and colleges and universities, from using public funds to support diversity, equity and inclusion offices and programs. Ari, it also requires these institutions to designate restrooms on the basis of biological sex only. And as you mentioned in the intro, the section that seems to be getting the most attention is the prohibition against what the bill calls divisive concepts. It also says that any employee who knowingly violates this act can be fired.

Now, Ari, it defines what it calls divisive concepts that students can't be required to deal with in coursework, and that they include the idea that people should accept or assent to a, quote, "sense of guilt or complicity" based on their race, and that traits such as hard work are racist or sexist. We should also say that an earlier version of the bill included a prohibition against talking about slavery and racism. Now, this is similar, Ari, to bills that have already been passed in a few states and are working its way through legislatures in several more.

SHAPIRO: What do supporters of the bill say they're trying to do here?

GASSIOTT: Well, after signing the bill, Governor Kay Ivey released a statement saying the legislature had stopped what she calls bad actors from pushing their liberal political movement counter to what the majority of Alabamians believe. We should also say an early version of the bill included a prohibition against talking about slavery and racism, and that was removed from the bill before it passed. But it concerns opponents of the law about what the intentions are. Now, unsurprisingly, Ari, Democrats and others who strongly oppose this law say that this is just an effort to roll back affirmative action programs and diversity initiatives that have benefited the state. And there's a growing concern specifically among educators that this law would eventually end up chilling important conversations about race and gender.

SHAPIRO: Alabama's history is full of key moments in the fight for civil rights, in the battle against slavery. I mean, some of the most important events in the history of the Civil Rights Movement, such as the Montgomery bus boycott or the Selma to Montgomery march, took place in Alabama. How is this law going to impact how that history is taught and passed on?

GASSIOTT: That is what a lot of people are thinking about today, such as people like Lily McNair. She's the former president of Tuskegee University, which is one of Alabama's more than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities. And, Ari, McNair is worried about how divisive concepts are going to be interpreted.

LILY MCNAIR: It really wants to erase a core history of Americans here in the United States. There's no reason why we should not be able to understand the history of slavery and racism in America today.

GASSIOTT: McNair sees the bill as an effort to erase the ways in which race, gender and sexuality are paramount in people's identity. And she's also concerned about the effects this law could have on HBCUs themselves, which are created with equity in mind.

SHAPIRO: Could Alabama face repercussions now that this has been signed by the governor?

GASSIOTT: Well, in another part of the state, the mayor of Birmingham is advising Black athletes to avoid coming to Alabama schools where diversity and equity are not a priority. And that mirrors what the NAACP has advised athletes regarding other states, such as Florida. Now, I don't know if you've heard, Ari, but college football and other sports are kind of important down here in Alabama.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

GASSIOTT: They're a large economic engine for the state, so there would be some potential consequences there.

SHAPIRO: That is Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott. Thank you very much.

GASSIOTT: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kyle Gassiott