By Dr. David A. Thomas, president of Morehouse College, and Dr. Nina Gilbert, executive director of the Morehouse College Center of Excellence in Education
Originally published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on May 23, 2023
In recent years, states with staunch Republican strongholds, like Texas and Florida, have accelerated their efforts to eliminate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives, ban books, and control what educators are allowed to teach in public schools.
Georgia is attempting to keep pace with the practices in these states. In 2022, Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 1084, which restricts K12 public school educators from teaching “divisive concepts.” Last week, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, the agency responsible for credentialing educators, announced they would be removing the words “diverse” and “diversity” from the state’s educator preparation programs. According to the Commission, the regulation was necessary because officials from the University System of Georgia believe that these, and other terms such as “equity” and “social justice,” are too ambiguous and have recently taken on different meanings.
Words have – and will always matter. Policies that seek to devalue and diminish historically marginalized people are reminiscent of an era when discrimination was rampant and protected by law. This regulation is an attack on language and lexicon commonly used to tell the accurate history and current challenges of marginalized communities. Left unchecked, House Bill 1084 and similar measures will erode the progress made in the fight for the civil and human rights of minoritized people. To eliminate the words “diverse” and “diversity” from programs that prepare educators is to reject and ignore the lived experiences and identities of the approximately one million students of color who attend Georgia’s public schools.
These policies also contradict the founding missions of the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which exist primarily because Black people were prohibited from attending white institutions. Morehouse College was founded two years after the Civil War and is an institution that is inherently “diverse” as it was born out of the necessity to educate and prepare formerly enslaved men in a society steeped in white supremacy and racist practices.
For over 156 years we have not compromised our founding principles or mission to develop men with disciplined minds to lead lives of leadership and service. As the only institution on the planet solely dedicated to educating Black men, we vehemently oppose policies that use education and educators as weapons to revive and perpetuate a cycle of racial inequality.
There is a solution for those who believe that language that fosters a sense of belonging among historically oppressed people is too confusing and ambiguous. Rather than eliminating or replacing words, consider collaborating with one – or all of the HBCUs in this state. Here one can discover communities of diverse and accomplished scholars, practitioners, students, and alumni who masterfully teach about and interrogate concepts that have been defined as divisive.
Morehouse College stands united with every educator and proponent who unapologetically celebrates the broad range of races, cultures, identities, and abilities of all of Georgia’s children. We will remain steadfast and relentless in our efforts to prepare educators who will stand up for all students and work to create a more just society.