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Goldwater Institute's lawsuit involving ASU could threaten DEI training in Arizona

The lawsuit, which targets diversity, equity and inclusion training, may put a state law to the test


The ASU Barrett Residential Complex is pictured on Friday, April 16, 2021 in Tempe.

The Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of professor Owen Anderson over University-mandated diversity, equity and inclusion training for faculty and staff.

The lawsuit, filed March 19, primarily seeks "public money" not to be used for DEI training and for the Maricopa Superior Court to declare the training "unconstitutional." 

The lawsuit references a state law that says public funding cannot be used for "training, orientation or therapy that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex." The state makes an exception for sexual harassment training.

An ASU spokesperson said the lawsuit is "without merit" and the claims are false.

"The Goldwater Institute suit misleads the court and misrepresents both the content and requirements of this training to make an argument that represents a political perspective but is not based on the law," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "ASU's commitment to providing a supportive and welcoming educational environment for students of all backgrounds will continue and the university will respond appropriately to the Institute’s tactic."

Stacy Skankey, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute, said Anderson has not completed any of the DEI training from ASU and never will. She said the lawsuit is only looking at the specific ASU Inclusive Communities training, which she called problematic and unlawful. 

According to an ASU spokesperson, there is no university requirement for DEI training. 

"There's some examples where they're talking about that white people need to be open to critique whiteness to, be called white supremacist, that white supremacy is built within our founding documents that our nation's, things like that," Skankey said. "These were examples that seemed pretty obvious to us to fit within that statute, which is well beyond a well-meaning diversity course; this is this blame or judgment."

Skankey said things like land acknowledgments in the training were an example of passing blame and judgment. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, also known as FIRE, has been involved in the Goldwater Institute's legislation in the past and has been part of similar lawsuits regarding land acknowledgments, campus free speech and DEI training.

"We represent everyone: left, right, center. If it's protected by the First Amendment, we're going to be there to defend them," said Daniel Ortner, an attorney at FIRE. "No matter how controversial it is, or unpopular it is, that's what we stand for."

FIRE said DEI has "politically loaded terms and frameworks to inquire about faculty members' views, affiliations, or activities" that have concerned them about First Amendment violations. 

"I think that's what we really need: to restore the First Amendment," Ortner said. "People actually (need to be) understanding the importance of free speech, the importance of protecting speech that we don't agree with or even like."

Threats to DEI training in Arizona

Controversy surrounding DEI initiatives is not new. In October 2023, Gov. Katie Hobbs announced the formation of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility Council and the Disability Community Advisory Council.

In a post on her X, formerly Twitter, account, Hobbs said, "Diversity is Arizona's greatest strength, and I'm proud to honor it by assembling these two councils. I look forward to working with them to uplift everyone."

In response, state Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said the group was formed in violation of state law, calling Hobbs "racist" in a press release on the same day as the announcement.

"Not only may the state not spend any funds on this type of training, but it cannot require state employees to be subject to this type of indoctrination," Hoffman said in the press release. "Taxpayer dollars should never be used for anything other than public good. Diversity, equity, and inclusion training is divisive and racist progressive propaganda."

Editor’s Note: This story is developing and will be updated as new information becomes available.

Edited by Grey Gartin, Sadie Buggle and Angelina Steel.

Reach the reporters at and and follow @alysa_horton and @shanebrennan36 on X.

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Shane BrennanEditor-in-Chief

Shane Brennan is the Editor-in-Chief at The State Press. He was a sports and politics reporter, before becoming the editor of the politics desk. He has covered local and state politics for the Arizona Capitol Times and Cronkite News.

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