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When 28 GOP lawmakers complained to Boise State University that spending money on things like multicultural student events was driving up student tuition and fees, a piece missing from the conversation was where the funding for those events actually came from.

It turns out that the $30,000 that BSU Student Affairs committed to multicultural student events in the past year, such as Pow Wow, Rainbow Graduation and Black Graduation, came from corporate sponsorship fees paid by Coca-Cola.

Under a Beverage Services Agreement, Swire Public Holdings Inc. pays annual sponsorship fees to Student Affairs each year, according to BSU spokesman Greg Hahn, as part of the contract that makes Coke products the standard on campus, rather than, say, Pepsi. Hahn said such fees and agreements are common “at large colleges everywhere.”

In fact, many of the diversity and inclusion programs criticized in the lawmakers’ letter tap funding sources other than the state or student fees.

Then there's the misperception that BSU holds "segregated" graduation ceremonies, dividing students by race and other factors. Fanned by the GOP letter and no fewer than 10 columns published since June by the Idaho Freedom Foundation — which also is using the claim in fundraising pitches — it's just not true. BSU actually holds all-school commencement ceremonies for all of its students. This year’s commencement, at Taco Bell Arena on May 11, was so large it had to be split into two ceremonies by college, both on the same day.

In addition to commencement, numerous campus groups, from colleges and departments to faith groups, student clubs and more, hold graduation celebrations in the weeks surrounding commencement.

“There’s misunderstanding on both sides,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, who was among the signers of the GOP letter and who is meeting with BSU President Marlene Tromp today. 

“She’s reached out, and I reached out,” Moyle said. “The one good thing that came out of all this is a dialogue opened, and we’re talking.” You can read my full column here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up today's Sunday/Monday edition of the Idaho Press.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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