Utah’s governor took to Substack, a blogging platform, on Friday to set the record straight about his views on diversity, equity and inclusion in a 5,000-word essay that includes complete verbatim answers to reporter questions and clarifies some “disingenuous media reports” and social media posts.

Responding to what he said were misleading characterizations, Gov. Spencer Cox offered up an essay titled, “An accounting of my actions on DEI,” which provides background and context for previous comments condemning some DEI practices, while embracing a better way forward espousing many of their principles.

For example, he defended his signing of a bill to overhaul state DEI programs to ensure resources for college students are meted out on the basis of individual need, not group identity.

“While nuance is a foreign concept in the politics of today,” Cox began, “I have not given up hope that explaining the thinking behind specific decisions I make — even those with which you may disagree — will help you understand the spirit with which I have recently taken those actions.”

Cox said: “While we have made great strides as a state and country, we must continue to work together to combat racism. There’s tremendous value in getting proximate with those who are different than we are and I’m grateful for the many partners who are working to make Utah a more inclusive place.”

Here are three main points the governor made.

Quotes were taken out of context

During his December PBS press conference, Cox was asked by a Deseret News reporter whether the Utah Legislature would take up the issue of DEI offices in public universities this session, as had recently been done in many other states.

Cox said state lawmakers needed to play a part in rolling back certain elements of DEI that had proven to be problematic. He singled out the practice of requiring diversity statements in hiring and promotions, saying it is “bordering on evil that we’re forcing people into having a political framework before they can even apply for a job by the state” — a statement he later apologized for.

In his essay, Cox said some outlets emphasized his use of the word “evil” and framed his comments as “attacking” efforts to increase diversity in the state. Cox said these articles neglected to provide fuller context for his comments, including what he said earlier in his response:

“I believe that diversity is very important. And I think it is a worthy goal. I think that inclusion is absolutely critical.”

Questioning DEI doesn’t equal being a racist

Cox said it should be possible to question the effectiveness of DEI programs, which cost the state millions of dollars each year despite little evidence backing their effectiveness, without being labeled a bigot.

“I’m so tired of the false choices,” Cox quoted himself saying in December’s press conference. “‘If you’re opposed to the kind of the identitarianism of DEI, then you’re racist.’ That’s not true. I care deeply about our brown kids and our black kids.”

In his essay, Cox cites a handful of experts that argue that DEI programs may actually increase feelings of division on campuses and wherever else they are implemented. He said the “majority of Americans” are “concerned about the growing and divisive political ideology behind DEI.”

“At the core of the issue is this simple question,” Cox wrote, “Can you be supportive of diversity and still raise concerns with the way in which $3.2 million in DEI operations are administered? If the answer is no, then I’m afraid many of us, myself included, will forever be cast as hypocrites, racists, or worse.”

New Utah bill goes beyond DEI to help struggling students

On Jan. 30, Utah lawmakers passed HB261, Equal Opportunity Initiatives, which outlaws “discriminatory” DEI practices in all public institutions, including mandatory trainings, diversity statements, differential treatment based on personal identity characteristics, and maintaining offices under the title “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The bill also offers general language that commits continued funding for student success centers at universities as long as they ensure that resources are fully accessible to all struggling students. Cox, who signed HB261 the same day it passed with a veto-proof majority in both chambers, called this provision the “core of the bill.”

“If a student needs help, Utah colleges and universities will provide help without excluding any students,” he wrote Friday.

Cox commended the Legislature for going beyond the “easy” path of simply banning diversity statements or defunding DEI offices, as has been done in dozens of states around the country.

“Utah decided to chart a different path,” he wrote. “I’m grateful to the Legislature for not following the lead of other states that simply eliminated DEI funding with no alternative path for students who may be struggling.”

In his conclusion, Cox expressed optimism that the country can continue progressing toward the ideal of race-blind public institutions.

“Every day I am grateful for the countless Utahns who work to make our state a more inclusive place,” Cox said. “But this work can only be done by finding ways to get closer to each other — not further apart like the DEI of today requires.”

You can read the governor’s essay in full here.