Student Submission: The Education and Health Impact of Restricting Diversity, Education, and Inclusion Programming in Alabama

April 12, 2024
Raimi Liebel | UAB Graduate Student, Magic City Acceptance Center Intern

LHC is proud to feature student work on relevant policy issues such as this one. If you are a UAB student interested in contributing to Policy Watch publications, please email

The concept of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) has become a political hot-button in recent years. DEI in higher education refers to programs, training, events, organizations, and spaces that are centered around historically marginalized identities. Higher education institutions have been incorporating DEI measures since the 1960s following the civil rights movement. DEI is not a new concept and has been integrated into universities and colleges across the country. Historic legislation such as Title IX, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) have contributed to the increase in DEI offices, services, and organizations at higher education institutions across the US over the past 60 years.

Since 2022, more than 40 anti-DEI bills have been proposed in the US. Texas, Florida, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and now Alabama have all signed bills into law limiting or banning DEI offices at higher education institutions. Representative Will Barefoot introduced SB 129 to the Alabama Senate on February 20th, which restricts state-funds from being used for DEI offices and sponsored DEI programming, potentially including student organizations such as USGA and SJAC. The University of Alabama at Birmingham alone has 12 DEI offices and more than 150 student organizations that could face state funding loss. SB 129 moved from its first reading to being passed in the Senate within three legislative days before was signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey on March 19th.

According to a 2023 mixed methods analysis, “Students of color thrive and achieve more at higher educational institutions where there are deliberate efforts made to provide diversity, equity, and inclusion activities.” The link between student success, belonging, and graduation rates and DEI programming has been demonstrated in several studies. Academic communities fear that legislation of this kind may prevent students from enrolling in higher education institutions where DEI restrictions are present. Reduced staff and student enrollment or retention can result in economic effects on institutions across the state, especially those that use diversity as an incentive to drive recruitment. DEI efforts at higher education institutions help facilitate students’ learning from a variety of thoughts and perspectives, which has proven to increase cognitive development and cross-cultural empathy.

DEI has been attributed to improved student enrollment, retention, and graduation rates. A 2023 mixed methods study identified significant positive correlations between perceived campus climate, diversity in staff/faculty, curricular diversity, and interactional diversity and college student re-enrollment. Also, explicit DEI policies in workplaces led to more diversity in employment, accounting for 46% of the variance reported in the study. Higher education institutions and workplaces benefit from recruiting and retaining diverse staff.

Attainment of a college degree is positively correlated with improved health outcomes and behaviors. Those who attain a bachelor’s degree or higher earn $1.2 million more than their high school-educated peers over their lifetime, and college degree holders are almost twice as likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance (ESI). ESI covers approximately 60.4% of the US population and is often the most affordable and comprehensive option for workers.

Degree attainment and long-term health are correlated, and historical trends showcase certain populations have lower enrollment and retention rates. The U.S. Department of Education notes that the “participation of underrepresented students of color remains a problem at multiple points across the higher education pipeline including at application, admission, enrollment, persistence, and completion.” DEI bans compounded with lower college enrollment could lead to increased health disparities for marginalized communities. Decreasing diversity in classrooms, workplaces, and communities decreases collaboration, cultural exposure, and productivity.

Other facts of note:

Click here to view this brief in PDF format.

Policy Watch: Alabama Lawmakers Propose Mandated Mental Health Professionals in K-12 Schools

March 17, 2022 | Kimberly Randall, Lister Hill Center Program Coordinator 

Cutout of a head with puzzle pieces in brain

Image Courtesy of Getty Images


In 2009, the Institute of Medicine compiled a report that recommended local and state governments develop a system to increase access to resources for students for the prevention and treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. A year later, the state of Alabama created the School-Based Mental Health Coalition, a subsidiary of the Alabama Department of Mental Health. The agency’s goal was to bridge the various government offices such as the Department of Education and Department of Public Health to ensure that students enrolled in public K-12 schooling had adequate access to adequate mental health intervention, treatment, and prevention services. 

Currently, there are 80 school systems statewide collaborating with just over a dozen mental health agencies to refer students for professional services. The program was expected to increase attendance, reduce the frequency of administrative corrections like suspensions, and integrate mental health practitioners into students’ lives. 

However, the program is not currently statewide, only accounting for 57% of school districts. While the state does offer some funding available for schools to partake in the program, often, the local districts are responsible for a portion of the cost, limiting the ability for poorer districts to join. 

Proposed Legislation 

Senate Bill 306, proposed by Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), works to establish a minimum set of requirements for a certified mental health services coordinator and mandate that at least one position be required in all school districts within the state. The bill would go into effect with the 2023-2024 academic year. 

The coordinator must have one or more of the following qualifications: 

(1) Have a bachelor’s degree in social work. 

(2) Satisfy State Department of Education qualifications for a school counselor. 

(3) Satisfy State Department of Education qualifications for a school nurse. 

(4) Have professional mental health experience, or have been licensed in a mental health occupation including, but not limited to, licensure as a licensed professional counselor or marriage and family therapist.

(5) Other qualifications as determined by the Alabama Department of Mental Health and the State Department of Education.

Additionally, employees have one year after being hired to complete a certification program developed and implemented by the Alabama Department of Mental Health. 

The legislation also outlines an implementation plan to enact the bill, requiring each local board of education to complete a needs assessment report and a resource map for all public schools in their jurisdiction. These documents are intended to document the status of mental health for the entire school system and create a baseline on which to improve once the program is implemented. 

While the bill does not specify that school districts must join the School-Based Mental Health Coalition, there is substantial overlap between the legislation and the purpose of the SBMHC. 


According to the World Health Organization, mental-health-related disabilities are a leading cause of mental health issues worldwide, with over ⅔ of patients receiving no or inadequate treatment for those conditions. Rates of depression have risen almost 50% in the last ten years, but access to mental health services has remained stagnant. Weare and Nind (2011) state that “childhood and adolescence provide key opportunities to develop the foundations for mental health and prevent mental health problems, and the school is a unique resource to help achieve this.” School-based services such as counselors and caseworkers have been shown to positively impact mental health prognosis in children and teens.

Multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) are integral to providing proper support to students utilizing a school counselor, social worker, or psychologist. MTTS methods often utilize universal intervention as the primary mechanism for identifying at-risk students, primarily through widespread behavioral testing across the student body. A second tier, narrowed intervention, focuses on a select, smaller unit of students who may be at risk or suspected of behavioral disorders and includes increased monitoring and small-group counseling sessions. Lastly, the final stage of MTSS is an individualized plan of action which may consist of

“(a) conducting a functional behavior assessment and developing an individualized behavior plan; (b) direct student-level mental health services provided by a counselor, school psychologist, or school social worker; (c) additional coordinated mental health services with community agencies; or (d) possible identification for special education.” 

However, there can be a substantial delay in getting students access to necessary psychiatric and behavioral resources, negatively impacting mental health outcomes. A study completed by Guerra et al. (2019) found that the presence of a mental health services coordinator was vital to creating an environment that supports mental student health and learning. While there is no accessible data in the state of Alabama correlating improved health outcomes with mental health service coordinators, broad-scale investigations have shown a substantial impact on overall mental health outcomes across districts. The legislation would ensure that coordinators employed in every school district help streamline the processes to get students the help they need. 

Next Steps 

The Alabama Legislative Session is currently underway and will continue for several months. SB306 is presently being discussed in committee and has not yet gone to a vote. If you want to make your voice heard on this or future legislation, click here to identify your elected officials

Don’t know what to say? Check out this guide from the American Civil Liberties Union on drafting a letter to your government officials. 

Stay Informed 

Want to learn more? Several state agencies are dedicated to mental health resources in the state, such as the Alabama Department of Mental Health and its subsidiaries, the National Alliance on Mental Health, and the Youth Services Institute

Additionally, check out these previous publications that the Lister Hill Center has released about mental health services in Alabama: 

Policy Review: Analyzing Alabama’s Efforts to Improve Mental Health

Policy Review: Medicaid Expansion’s Impact on Mental Health

Policy Review: Student Mental Health at UAB

Policy Watch: Alabama Establishes Grant Program for Public Schools to Provide Feminine Hygeine Products to Students

April 6, 2022 | Kimberly Randall, Lister Hill Center Staff

Female student in bathroom


The purchase of menstruation products has historically caused financial hardship to a large percentage of the population, particularly individuals and families below the poverty line. In Alabama, feminine hygiene products are not eligible to be covered under SNAP or WIC. Last year, Illinois became the first state to lift this restriction to allow the purchase of tampons and menstrual pads using SNAP benefits; however, no such legislation has been proposed in Alabama. 

Currently, only five states require or provide funds for public schools to offer menstrual products at no cost to students, while 37 states have pending legislation to do so. Legislation in Alabama was proposed in 2020 to obtain funding for period products in schools that passed the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate. 


HB50, sponsored by Representative Rolanda Hollis (D-Birmingham), creates a grant program beginning in the 2022-23 school year for schools to apply for funding to purchase feminine hygiene products for students. Eligible schools must receive Title 1 funding and house students in grades 5-12. Funds will be reimbursed to schools that apply for the program and purchase supplies for students, who will be able to receive the products from a female counselor, teacher, or nurse in their schools. The bill has allocated $200,000 for the first year. The State Department of Education will administer the program.


According to the Alliance for Period Supplies, a non-profit started by feminine hygiene brand Kotex, 1 in 5 women and girls between the ages of 11 and 44 live below the poverty line in Alabama. Along with 29 other states, Alabama taxes period products at a sales tax rate of up to 11%. According to a study completed at St. Louis University, two-thirds of women reported an inability to afford period products in the past year. At the same time, 21% of respondents stated that they faced financial hardship concerning period products every month. 

Lack of access to period products can impact the education of students. In a national survey, 1 in 4 students reported skipping class or leaving school early due to lack of access to period products, often due to financial difficulties. Individuals often resort to paper towels, toilet paper, or rags when proper menstruation products are unavailable. According to the University of Michigan, “when menstruators resort to unhygienic alternatives, they are vulnerable to harmful physical and mental outcomes [and are at a higher risk for] urogenital infections, such as urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis.” Additionally, the emotional toll caused by a lack of access to proper hygiene products can lead to depression, anxiety, and overall elevated distress. Providing menstrual products would help alleviate students’ mental and financial across the state. 

Next Steps 

HB50 passed unanimously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate on April 5, 2022, and now advances to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk to be signed into law. If you want to make your voice heard on this or future legislation, click here to identify your elected officials

Don’t know what to say? Check out this American Civil Liberties Union guide on drafting a letter to your government officials. 

Learn More 

Want to learn more on this issue? Women in Training is a non-profit organization located in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to providing menstruation education and period products to underserved women, girls, and nonbinary youth in packages coined WITKITS. Started in 2019 by twin sisters Brooke and Breanna Bennett, the organization also facilitates programs to help girls break the generational cycle of poverty, including:

  • WIT Leadership Development Circle to develop a select group of high school young women into compassionate and culturally aware global leaders
  • WIT Girls STEAM Initiative to expose girls to careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics
  • WIT Mentor Program to match high school girls with university students or professional women to guide them through the educational and early career stages

Incorporating Mindfulness in Schools

October 28, 2021 – Anushree Gade, LHC Student Assistant

Children meditation

Mindful describes mindfulness as the “ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing and feeling”. We can practice mindfulness through meditation. However, mindfulness is not just limited to meditation but also various other practices. You can practice mindfulness throughout the course of your entire day. For example, when you wake up, you can sit in your bed, upright, or find a chair to sit in and just think to yourself about your intentions for the day. You can even practice mindful workouts. Being mindful about your day and your emotions helps you become more aware of your thoughts. 

Researches Tang, Holzel, and Posner have shown that mindfulness practices contribute significantly towards improving physical and mental health; it also helps us improve our cognitive processes. It has also further shown that meditative practices promote awareness, attention, emotion regulation, and self-awareness. Not only does meditation improve these functions, but it also causes physical changes in the brain. Furthermore, the “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Change in Health Related Behaviors” study found the impact of mindfulness on health behaviors has shown that mindfulness enhances dietary choices, physical activity, and sleep quality. Not only does mindfulness promote mental health, but it also positively influences healthy behaviors. This makes it more important for us to discuss mindfulness and its significance in terms of our physical and mental well-being. 

YogaSchoolsHaving said this, how are we promoting mindful practices in the state of Alabama? Earlier this year, in May, Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill (alabama reporter/alabama legislation) that lifted the ban on yoga in public schools. This ban was initiated back in 1993 due to its implication of Hindu and Buddhist cultures on the elementary, middle, and high school children in Alabama. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posited that the meditation involved in yoga helps those who practice yoga to de-stress and focus their attention better than those who do not. Though public schools across Alabama are allowed to teach yoga now, this bill comes with caveats. The bill still prohibits meditation alongside other things such as saying “Namaste” or even using chanting, mudras, or mantras. Yoga can significantly help children with de-stressing and focusing. Furthermore, in accordance with the research we discussed earlier, yoga can also help children be more self-aware and regulate their emotions at an early age. In the long-run, these children will be able to cope better with stressors and maintain good physical/mental health. 

Located in Homewood, Ala., the Magic City Acceptance Academy is a local charter school that is working to promote mindfulness and better mental health in their students. Originally, the intitution was founded to create an affirming LGBTQ environment, however, they have affirmed their commitment to increasing access to mental health resources by: 

  • Assuring the presence of a social worker in the academy 
  • Providing access to therapy groups
  • Including trained mental health professionals in the academy’s staff
  • Ensuring the existence of a functional crisis team/crisis response team 

The social workers, mental health professionals, and teachers support the students through various areas of stress and hardship. Furthermore, they also utilize journaling and mindfulness in their everyday routines. Overall, this academy operates as a local example of how to integrate mindfulness practices and mental health resources in a school environment.