Oklahoma lawmakers are taking aim at higher education spending on diversity equity and inclusion programs. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed an executive order in December to crack-down on DEI spending and require state agencies, colleges and universities to cut non-critical staff positions. Stitt’s office has branded the effort as “Defunding Discrimination.” Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, has filed legislation that would ban colleges and universities from establishing DEI offices or employing staff to carry out DEI practices, describing such efforts as “Discriminate, Exclude and Indoctrinate.”
It’s true that some Oklahoma colleges and universities have hosted hot-button events like drag shows and lectures on race and gender issues. Some institutions also maintain diversity offices that employ full-time staff to oversee programs. But the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s 2023 report on DEI spending also includes programs for students with autism and veterans as well as staff who oversee compliance with Title IX, the federal mandate that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires DEI practices, as well as some accreditation programs, according to the State Regents. Some DEI funding comes not from the state but federal or private sources.
The Frontier used public records, state data and requests for information from schools, campus organization and other sources to fact-check claims about Oklahoma’s DEI spending from public officials and advocacy groups.
Claim: The University of Oklahoma spent $1 million furnishing menstrual products in men’s bathrooms.
Source: A flyer distributed at the Oklahoma Capitol in December made this claim, crediting the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, as the source of the information. The flier included a QR code linking to an anti-DEI website maintained by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.
Fact check: False
The campus group OU Women’s Health Advocacy says it is the sole provider of free menstrual products at the University of Oklahoma. It maintains more than 80 menstrual stations on and off campus in women’s and gender-neutral restrooms. The group did previously place products in a few men’s restrooms in one building at the request of a professor, said Emily Carr, president of OU Women’s Health Advocacy.
“We did this in acknowledgment that not all menstruators identify as women and, as an organization, we wanted to eradicate any potential barriers for obtaining menstrual products,” Carr said in an email. “However, due to a lack of use, those stations are no longer there.”
The group is primarily funded by donations. Carr said the only money the group has received from OU amounts to less than $8,000 since 2019 from the Student Government Association.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs did not respond to questions about whether it published or distributed the flier.
Claim: The University of Oklahoma held identity-based graduation ceremonies in 2023
Source: An April 2023 article from the conservative Campus Reform website claims OU planned “ceremonies segregated by ethnicity and gender identity.”
Fact check: True but misleading
OU held five different identity-based graduation celebrations in 2023, but a university spokesperson said in an email that it only holds one university-wide ceremony where degrees are officially conferred. According to the OU Multicultural Programs and Services website, different cultural groups based on race, gender identity or sexual orientation held celebrations before and after graduation. The goal of these events was to create a “more intimate celebration” of students’ successes.
Claim: Some DEI staff at Oklahoma colleges and universities earn six-figure salaries.
Source: “We need to stop sending six-figure salaries to DEI staff and more on preparing students to get that job and to have a successful career,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said during a press conference in December.
Fact check: True
At least a few DEI staff at Oklahoma universities make six-figure salaries. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education reported in 2023 that a diversity and inclusion program coordinator for the Price College of Business made $100,320 that year, partially funded with state money. A senior program administrator in charge of diversity equity and inclusion programs for the OU Athletics Department made $149,160 in 2023, but the salary wasn’t paid with state money.
Stitt spokesman Meyer Siegfried shared meeting minutes showing Belinda Hyppolite, who OU hired as its vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion in 2019, makes $230,000 a year. Siegfried also said Oklahoma State University’s vice president of diversity makes more than $200,000 a year, but The Frontier couldn’t independently verify that figure. Oklahoma State University’s Division of Institutional Diversity touts a 111% increase in students of color earning a bachelor’s degree from the school since 2010, but its directory of DEI employees sends users to an empty page, as does a link to the school’s DEI Task Force.
Claim: A student orientation program at the University of Oklahoma featured drag queens and “queer tours.”
Source: Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, said this during an interim study on DEI programs he hosted at the Capitol in October. “I saw the OU Sooner camp. I didn’t see any Bible study, which I would have been surprised to see that, but we see queer tours, drag shows and drag bingo for all these young kids coming onto campus. Is that really what we want to spend our money and time doing?” Standridge said, according to the OU Daily. “Shouldn’t we just talk to them about math and science and English and just let them study?”
Fact check: True, but misleading
The OU Gender and Equality Center hosted a “Queer Tour,” in August, a guided tour of the OU campus meant to “connect students to resources, allies and queer-friendly spaces across campus.” The event was held during the University of Oklahoma’s “Camp Crimson” — a weeklong orientation camp for incoming college freshmen featuring numerous activities, games and campus tours. The Gender and Equality Center also hosted “Drag Bingo: Pride on the Prairie,” an event that featured performances by drag queens. But going on the tour, attending the drag performance or even attending Camp Crimson entirely were not mandatory for incoming freshmen. The events were only two among dozens of other non-academic activities that were also available for new college students during Camp Crimson and were not part of the university’s academic programs.
Claim: Oklahoma colleges spent $83 million on diversity programs.
Source: This was the headline of a Feb. 15 article on the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs website.
Fact check: True but misleading
Oklahoma public colleges and universities reported spending $83.4 million over the past decade on diversity, equity and inclusion programs and personnel, according to data The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education released in February 2023. But the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs headline and accompanying article lack critical information to put that figure into context. The article neglects to mention that $83.4 million represents less than one-third of 1% of Oklahoma’s total higher education spending over the past 10 years. Less than one-tenth of 1% of DEI spending came from state higher education funding. Some of the money came from federal programs, charitable donations and other private sources. The State Regents counted spending on support and engagement programs for students from a wide variety of underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds including those with low incomes and disabilities, students aging out of foster care and single parents as well as people of color and different gender identities.
True: A claim that is backed up by factual evidence
Mostly true: A claim that is mostly true but also contains some inaccurate details
Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of accurate and inaccurate or unproven information
True but misleading: A claim that is factually true but omits critical details or context
Mostly false: A claim that is mostly false but also contains some accurate details
False: A claim that has no basis in fact