A century ago, Idaho knitted north and south together

Randy Stapilus

This has been quite a summer for diversity in Idaho, even leaving aside the squabble over legislator criticism of ethnic and other types of organizations and programs at Boise State University, and various other associated public protests or outbursts.

Micron Technology at Boise, which long has had a diversity program, raised its visibility and support for that effort a notch by naming the program’s leader as a corporate vice president.

Top officers at the Idaho National Laboratory at Idaho Falls issued a statement strongly supporting diversity at the big center. Laboratory Director Mark Peters said in explanation, “Our employees come from roughly 130 countries. I can tell you that without question, a diverse working group, working together, is the best tool we have to ensure a prosperous and secure future. At INL, we don’t just value inclusive diversity, we need it.”

The University of Idaho named a new athletic director, the first to hold the position since the contentious departure of a predecessor who was enmeshed in sexual harassment issues. The new director is Terry Gawlik, the first woman ever to hold the job at the UI.

News reports about all those events emerged last week, days after the report about another woman, Cristal Brown, who was appointed to lead athletics at Idaho State University, the first ever to do so there. Two of Idaho’s three state universities now have athletics programs directed by women. That unquestionably will come as a shock to some of the state’s socially conservative athletic boosters. (Both appointments also involved the State Board of Education, which was enmeshed in the BSU diversity debate.)

These things did not all happen as a response to the Idaho legislators (and their supporters) who took aim at the diversity programs at Boise State University. But they don’t feel entirely coincidental, either; they have happened in an environment where the whole idea of diversity, the question of what our culture is and should be about, is under dispute and debate.

If the anti-diversity forces thought they could redefine Idaho as a monotone kind of place, they’re not making a lot of progress. The BSU diversity programs (and is it a coincidence that the uproar over that happened just after the appointment of a woman as the new president of the institution?) picked up a good deal of support after a group of legislators criticizing it sent out their letter on the subject. The legislators who attacked it seemed to wind up on the defensive, and at least one backed off his initial support of the letter.

At the same time, don’t imagine these new summer stories will go without some kind of pushback.

Much of politics and society is Newtonian, in that for every action there’s an opposing reaction. This spray of diversity-related stories this summer will certainly lead to a reaction of some kind. It may come soon, or it may simmer until the 2020 legislative session. In fact, the likelihood of legislative controversy in this area — in some form or another — is so probable I’d almost advise you to bet on it — if you could find anyone to take the other side.

The growing number of diversity topics and stories in an election year in which Donald Trump will appear on the top of the Idaho election ballot seems sure to make the subject one of the hottest topics in Idaho (not to mention elsewhere) during 2020.

It will take some careful discussion, if it’s not to degenerate into pure emotionalism, which does seem the most likely outcome.

But one way or another, it’s coming.

Stapilus is a former Idaho newspaper reporter and editor who blogs at www.ridenbaugh.com. His email address is stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Recommended for you