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BOISE — 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.

For example, a proposal to provide sexual misconduct prevention and response programming for LGBTQIA+ students, highlighted in both the lawmakers’ letter and a June campus newsletter to which the letter responded, is a grant application that’s being submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice.

A recently added position in Student Affairs “to support first-generation students and students of color,” dubbed the “Student Success Coordinator,” was funded by ground-lease payments from EDR/Greystar, the private partner in BSU’s Honors College and Sawtooth Hall.

Those aren’t the only misunderstandings that are surfacing as the conversation continues about BSU diversity and inclusion programs and some lawmakers’ criticisms of them.

Critics have honed in on the “Rainbow Graduation” and “Black Graduation” events to suggest that BSU segregates its graduation ceremonies by race and other factors. However, 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.

Not mentioned in the June newsletter or the GOP lawmakers’ letter, but highlighted on BSU’s “Commencement Events” website, were three others besides the Black and Rainbow events: International Graduation Celebration, to highlight the many different countries represented among Boise State graduates, including international students, exchange students, study abroad alumni and Peace Corps Prep program participants; First Forward Graduation Ceremony, a May 9 celebration in the student union where students who were the first members of their families to graduate from college had the opportunity to thank someone who supported them during their “collegiate journey”; and the School of Nursing Convocation, a ceremony celebrating nursing graduates.

Numerous other BSU groups also hold graduation celebrations on campus.

“I don’t care if they have a party — a party’s a good thing,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, who signed on to the GOP lawmakers’ letter. “There’s misunderstanding on both sides.”

Moyle’s comments at a recent Twin Falls town hall comparing race to the differing colors of his cattle — “they’re all cattle” — drew national attention, and he said he’s being wrongly painted as a racist. “It’s really easy to take a person’s comments and snip pieces and parts and make ‘em look bad,” he said. “The fact is, I was saying we’re all the same, and we all should be treated the same.”

He said he’s still concerned about a public university holding an event called “Black Graduation,” because he believes it would be objectionable to hold an event called “White Graduation.”

“Graduation’s for everybody, not a specific group,” Moyle said.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation, which helped stir up the controversy by immediately forwarding the June newsletter from then-interim BSU President Martin Schimpf to GOP lawmakers complete with comments about how BSU is “going in an increasingly radical direction,” has been publishing frequent columns since then deriding BSU as “neo-segregationist” and even sent out a fundraising pitch based on the issue.

“You can strike back against BSU’s radical agenda. Here’s how,” the fundraising pitch states: By donating to IFF. The email pitch also repeated the claim that BSU holds segregated graduation ceremonies.

“My concern is if we allow the fringes … to control the dialogue, we will lose control of the situation,” Moyle said. “We have common ground.” That common ground, he said, includes valuing diversity and fairness, and agreement that tuition is too high.

Moyle said he’s meeting with new BSU President Marlene Tromp on Monday. “She’s reached out, and I reached out,” he said. “The one good thing that came out of all this is a dialogue opened, and we’re talking.”

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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