To Rep. Erpelding: Name-calling is fun and all, but how about some real dialogue?

Janae Wilkerson Education Leave a Comment

Have you ever tried to raise a question, only for misinterpreting responders to make legitimate conversation impossible? That’s how I felt reading a recent op-ed rebuttal by Rep. Mat Erpelding, the House minority leader from Boise’s North End.

Two weeks ago, 28 legislators signed a letter to BSU President Marlene Tromp, in which they expressed concerns about some BSU initiatives that give or deny services to students and staff based solely upon race. The letter argued some of BSU’s new diversity programs are “divisive and exclusionary because (the focus) separates and segregates students.”

Erpelding’s op-ed disagrees, starting with a ‘these points are so absurd I can’t even find the words to explain how absurd they are’-style introduction. As it turns out, this is true, as Erpelding never properly addresses Republican legislators’ concerns. Erpelding comes closest with a personal anecdote containing his rebuttal: Actually, diversity programs are helpful.

So to confront this main issue: I’ll start by saying everyone in this debate supports a diverse and inclusive campus. Despite Erpelding’s assertion, there’s no one — no one — legitimately arguing BSU would be better off as a racist, exclusionary school that suppresses people of certain races.

However, there are clearly different ideas on what makes an inclusive college. Erpelding favors “student life programs dedicated to finding connection for every student.” For Erpelding, diverse schools make “efforts to ensure that students (feel) welcomed and included in university life.”

I agree, though I hope the main point of college isn’t social “student life programs,” but learning from classes, mastering skills, and getting a degree that leads to a fulfilling career. Furthermore, I agree all students should feel welcomed and included in university life, the key words being “all students.”

Republican legislators chiefly objected to new BSU programs designed to help very specific students or staff, based not on academic department, grades, or financial need, but solely upon race.

For example, the sponsored black graduation ceremony.

Imagine for a second if BSU decided to sponsor a white graduation ceremony — no people of color allowed! Idahoans would be rightly outraged; You can’t keep students out of a university-sponsored ceremony based on the color of their skin! Consider also graduate fellowship spots: No one would let BSU say, “These six spots are for white people only.” That would be ridiculous and racist. An inclusive campus is one with equal opportunities for all its students, regardless of race. But when applied to different races, Erpelding defends these programs as inclusive and supportive, while differing opinions are “riddled with bias and error.”

Erpelding’s op-ed offers other irrelevant (or untrue) replies, like some finger pointing: Erpelding blames tuition hikes on the Legislature’s failure to fund higher education. Yet from 2012 to 2020, Idaho colleges received nearly a 50% increase in taxpayer funds. Idahoans should question why tuition rates are rocketing while state lawmakers continually shovel money into higher education.

Erpelding misses the Republican legislators’ point: At a time when taxpaying Idaho families and college students feel overwhelmed by taxes and tuition, is it in students’ best interests to add administrative positions and programs with no academic merit? This shouldn’t be a forbidden question.

As for Erpelding’s final (if robust) rabbit trail, that Idaho needs more college graduates: Sure. I guess we just disagree on how Idaho can best help students graduate. Erpelding says more money. Many Idahoans, including 28 Republican legislators, say it’s by seeking to lower tuition and focus on giving all students — regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation — marketable skills and a rigorous education. I think we should hear them out.

Note: The Idaho Press first published this article. Read the post here.