Rice University PRIDE Offers Honorary Membership to LGBTQ+ Students Impacted by Texas Anti-DEI Laws

More than 120 students from over 20 schools signed up to be honorary members of Rice PRIDE after Texas banned DEI offices in public universities.
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Published on September 22, 2023
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  • Texas Senate Bill 17 prohibits public universities from having diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices, including resource centers for LGBTQ+ students.
  • Rice University's LGBTQ+ organization is extending honorary membership to students at other schools.
  • Rice University is a private, nonreligious-affiliated research university not subject to the legislation.

As Texas Senate Bill 17 made its way through the legislative process, Rice University junior Cole Holladay brainstormed ways to support LGBTQ+ students if the bill came to fruition.

The bill, signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on June 14, prohibits public institutions from "establish[ing] or maintain[ing] a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) office," which includes entities focused on "conducting trainings, programs, or activities designed or implemented in reference to … gender identity, or sexual orientation."

The move only affects public colleges and universities in the state, leaving the Queer Resource Center at Rice University — a private, nonreligious research university — exempt from the restrictions.

While the legislation does not take effect until Jan. 1, 2024, some universities are already taking action to comply with the law. According to the Houston Chronicle, the University of Houston disbanded its LGBTQ Resource Center on Aug. 31 and opened a new Center for Student Advocacy and Community.

Holladay, a chemistry major and co-president of Rice PRIDE, Rice University's LGBTQ+ undergraduate organization, said they knew how detrimental LGBTQ+ resource center closures would be for students at other universities impacted by the legislation.

The solution, Holladay said, was a clause in the organization's constitution that allowed it to extend honorary membership to people in the community and at other universities.

"That was something that we didn't even really know we could do. But as soon as we read that, we were like, 'Oh, that's the best solution,'" Holladay told BestColleges.

"We drafted up a statement within a day … and have since been working with students at other universities to try to combat any fallout that they might be seeing as a result of Texas Senate Bill 17."

Over 120 students from over 20 campuses across the state have filled out the form for honorary membership, far more than Holladay said Rice PRIDE was expecting.

"The reactions have been outstanding. We've received a lot more attention and interaction than we kind of expected. We thought that maybe a couple of people at [the University of Houston] would participate, and that would be about it."

Student sign-ups aren't just coming from the Houston area, where Rice University is located. Holladay says they have gotten interest from people attending Texas Tech University, Texas A&M University, Texas State University, and several community colleges.

Honorary students get access to the Queer Resource Center at Rice, which organizes social events and networking opportunities for LGBTQ+ students to get together. The center also offers in-person resources, such as a library of LGBTQ+ literature, contraceptive materials, menstrual products, and information on sexually transmitted infections testing.

"The main goal is to create a community for students at Rice University and beyond," Holladay said.

While Rice PRIDE is entirely student-run, Holladay says the university has offered its support to the organization, including posting about the effort to recruit honorary members on social media, though there has been no official university action in response to the Texas legislation.

"I do think that there is something to be said for administrative support, and we have received a lot of big thumbs-up and support from the university itself," Holladay said. "However, we haven't seen any solid action or plans that they're going to be taking to try to support either us or students outside of Rice."

In an emailed statement, Rice University Provost Amy Dittmar said the university supports Rice PRIDE's efforts to help LGBTQ+ students across the state in the wake of SB 17.

"We are proud of Rice PRIDE and its efforts to help LGBTQ+ students. These efforts reflect Rice's culture of care, which often extends beyond our campus to help ensure students and scholars in Texas and Houston specifically can find a supportive, welcoming place as they further their education," she said.

Looking forward, Holladay says Rice PRIDE will be putting on several events, with both in-person and online attendance options, to connect students from across the state and build advocacy networks.

"We're really upset by this legislation, but we're very motivated to continue working against it in any way that we can," Holladay said.

"We're really proud of the work that we're doing. And we're not going to stop supporting ourselves and other students, regardless of what legislation in Texas might have to say about it."