Georgia State Representative Tanya F. Miller, D-Atlanta, speaks from the well inside the Georgia House Chamber on Monday, March 20, 2023. Miller spoke out against legislation that would establish mandatory minimum sentences for persons found guilty of committing gang-related crimes in Georgia. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

While Florida Governor Ron DeSantis may not be having the success he anticipated in his presidential campaign, it seems some Georgia lawmakers are still all too eager to follow his lead in attacking diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in higher education. The result: Growing dissatisfaction by Georgia educators, with many considering seeking employment in another state, according to a recent survey by the American Association of University Professors. An exodus of talent will have a devastating impact not only academically, but on the future of our state’s economy and growth potential.

That is why I am saddened and deeply troubled by the results of this survey and the University System of Georgia’s decision announced late last month to bar diversity statements in hiring. Georgia’s strength lies in its rich tapestry of cultures, backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. That is especially true in higher education, where freedom of thought is essential for the functioning of a democratic society and the protection of individual rights.

While diversity, equity and inclusion are moral imperatives, it is important that the leaders of our state recognize that they are also necessary for Georgia’s continued economic growth. Georgia is one of the fastest growing states in the nation. According to a report by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, “people of color could account for about 85 percent of new Georgians over the next three decades.” This has profound implications for our state’s gross domestic product (GDP), which has doubled over the past 20 years, and the jobs that will fuel an economically prosperous future for the next generation of Georgians. Ensuring diversity in higher education ensures that our residents have not only fair access to education but are adequately prepared to access the economic opportunities that drive growth.

Unfortunately, we have seen what happens when states fail to dismantle barriers that hinder diversity and inclusion in higher education. In 1996, California amended its constitution to prohibit state institutions, including institutions of higher learning, from using race, sex and ethnicity as criteria in employment and public education. As a result, admissions declined for every underrepresented group at public universities across the state. The number of Black and Brown students pursuing highly skilled professions in careers like medicine and law cratered and are only now just recovering. And overall, it has led to lower economic outcomes for Black and Hispanic residents. We cannot allow that to happen here in Georgia.

Removing diversity as a consideration in our state’s system of public education is shortsighted, senseless, and self-destructive. Instead of being led by the data, our state leadership has decided to take their cues on education policy from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his ongoing crusade against equity, inclusion, and freedom of thought. Instead of doing what is in the best interest of all our state’s residents, those in power have decided to prioritize an ideological, partisan agenda. If fully implemented, this agenda will leave our state in worse shape in every sector, from education and employment to innovation and economic growth.

As we forge ahead, we should remember that our diversity is our strength, and any attempts to undermine it are antithetical to the principles on which our great nation was founded. In the face of a rising tide of hate spewed against Americans by other Americans, let us raise our voices in strong support of diversity, not only in higher education but in every facet of our society. It is our duty to protect and preserve the ideals that have propelled Georgia forward for generations.

As Americans and as Georgians, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to freedom, liberty, and inclusion, standing strong against any efforts to dismantle the very essence of who we are. Our children’s futures and the future of this great state depend on it.

Georgia State Representative Tanya F. Miller is a Democrat representing the 62nd District, which contains portions of Atlanta, College Park, East Point, and South Fulton. State Rep. Miller also serves as the Deputy Whip within the Georgia House Democratic Caucus.