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The Idaho Way: Boise State Students, Community Gather at Statehouse to Rally for Diversity, Inclusion Programs


Abby Barzee, center, a Boise State student and organizer of the Diversity and Inclusion Rally - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Abby Barzee, center, a Boise State student and organizer of the Diversity and Inclusion Rally
Boise State University student Caleb Smith had a hard time being heard during his speech from the podium at the July 20 Diversity and Inclusion Rally at the Idaho Statehouse, but everyone caught one of his last lines.

"Inclusivity is our way," he said. "It's the Idaho way."

The rally is the latest flashpoint in the growing conflict between Idaho legislators of both parties, with the university and its students caught in the middle, but when Smith, echoing the words of Idaho Gov. Brad Little, said what he thought the "Idaho way" was, he showed the rally was as much about what the Gem State stands for as it was about protecting programs that help students from underrepresented backgrounds feel safe and included on campus.

"Our marginalized communities continue to be a talking point when there should be no discussion, no debate," said one of the organizers of the event, Boise State student Ryann Banks.

  • Harrison Berry
In a letter sent in early July to Boise State's new president, Marlene Tromp, a group of Republican lawmakers took aim at programs like Black and Rainbow graduations, the Pow Wow and fellowships for minority students as being costly and ultimately divisive, treating some students differently from others. Soon thereafter, a separate letter signed by every legislative Democrat was sent to Tromp's office in support of those programs, putting forth that they help students feel safe and included in the university setting.

The latter was also Boise State student and rally organizer Abby Barzee's argument.

"We don't need a 'white graduation' because that's exactly what graduation is," she said of the need for specialized graduation ceremonies for LGBTQ students and students of color. "We are reclaiming higher education for all of us—for everyone."

  • Harrison Berry
The rally started slowly, but grew as the students spoke to a small crowd of 50 people at first to more than 200. Speaking from the podium, Tai Simpson, a local activist, said there were some people noticeably missing from the audience—the Republican lawmakers who had taken issue with the university's diversity and inclusion efforts.

"The faces that need to be here are not here," she said.

From the Capitol steps, students said the programs in question were not divisive, but were extensions of what the student body itself wants Boise State to be, and the university's director of diversity and inclusion, Francisco Salinas, said he worried some students may feel like legislators' concerns were an attack on them, and added that diversity and inclusion efforts are on the forefront of giving all students the same access to education.

"If students don't feel safe, that undermines your education," Salinas said. "A rally like this—these students represent the interests of hundreds or maybe thousands of students on campus."