Fla. college students protest policies
Call on DeSantis to drop education diversity efforts
Florida college students are livid with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, accusing him of targeting the civil rights of LGBTQstudents and people of color by pushing to ban diversity, equity and inclusion, limiting discussion of racism and privilege in schools, and his threats to do more.
A small number of protesters walked out of their college classes Thursday during a planned statewide protest of DeSantis and his policies. One man at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville carried a “Keep Surveillance Out of Education!” sign and a Pride flag. Others at Florida International University waved signs that read “Trans Rights = Human Rights.” In a similar scene at the University of Florida, about 100 people on a campus of more than 55,000 students held signs advocating for transgender health care and said the state is restricting free thought and expression.
The Florida College Democrats and Dream Defenders organized Thursday’s “Stand for Freedom” movement and walkout to challenge DeSantis’ education-related policies. They are calling on his administration to restore diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in colleges and universities, according to the “Stand for Freedom” pledge.
“We are Florida’s students and citizens. It is our education that is being tarnished and our schools being discredited,” the pledge says. “This is our fight for freedom.”
Last month, DeSantis announced plans to dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in previous years across Florida campuses. His legislative proposal would ban colleges and universities from spending money, regardless of its source, on support for initiatives related to diversity, equity and inclusion, critical race theory or “other discriminatory initiatives.”
In response to a question about the protests, a DeSantis spokesperson referred to an earlier statement.
“In Florida, we will build off of our higher education reforms by aligning core curriculum to the values of liberty and the Western tradition, eliminating politicized bureaucracies like DEI, increasing the amount of research dollars for programs that will feed key industries with talented Florida students, and empowering presidents and boards of trustees to recruit and hire new faculty, including by dedicating record resources for faculty salaries,” DeSantis said on Jan. 31.
What do protesters say?
Protesters at the University of Florida said DeSantis is abusing his political power by overreaching into the education system, including K-12 schools, and dictating what can be taught in classrooms.
Sabrina Briceno, a member University of Florida’s College Democrats and Stand For Freedom Florida, said students want to “accurately learn our history, and that includes history that he might not agree with.”
On the Florida State University campus, Ava Anderson said she doesn’t agree with any of the policies DeSantis has introduced.
“Personally, I feel like we’re going in a factious direction,” the 21-year-old sociology and psychology major said. “I’m Jewish, so it does scare me to see how he’s criticizing people’s identities.”
And in Sarasota at New College of Florida, which has been a focus of DeSantis’ efforts to create a more conservative education model, professor Debarati Biswas said she fully supports the students.
“We value academic freedom at New College ... the students are choosing what they want to learn,” Biswas said. “They are creating their own curriculum, and that brings with it growth and critical thinking.”
A protest at Florida State University’s campus in Tallahassee earlier this month drew about 50 people rallying against DeSantis’ initiatives. A political activism group called Students for a Democratic Society led that rally against his efforts to remove DEI from college curricula across the state, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
What is DeSantis doing?
DeSantis’ announcement is just his latest action on academia.
• Earlier this year, he replaced several members of the board of trustees with conservative appointees at New College of Florida, attributing low student enrollment and other financial challenges to the college’s “skewed focus and impractical course offerings.” The board quickly fired the progressive public institution’s president. “New College of Florida has been completely captured by a political ideology that puts trendy, truth-relative concepts above learning,” Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’ press secretary, USA TODAY earlier.
• DeSantis’ Stop W.O.K.E. Act, legislation intended to limit discussion of racism and privilege in schools and workplace training, became law in 2022. A federal judge last year partially blocked the law from being applied to public universities.
• In the 2022 elections, DeSantis endorsed and helped finance conservative school board candidates in several districts, most of whom won their races. This week, DeSantis shared a list of 14 school board members he hopes to help oust in 2024 because they “do not protect parental rights and have failed to protect students from woke ideologies.”
• He rejected the College Board’s new Advanced Placement African American Studies course, saying it violates Florida law and lacks educational value.
• DeSantis signed another bill last year, the Parental Rights in Education Act, which opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The measure bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
• DeSantis’ administration asked 12 state universities for information about how many people were diagnosed with gender dysphoria or received treatment in campus clinics across Florida. It’s not clear what will be done with the data.