UNF students rally to support DEI programs in face of DeSantis’ pledge to block them

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis is moving to block public funding for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs at state colleges and universities. He argues that these initiatives are purely ideological and need to be dismantled.

In response, students at several institutions, including the University of North Florida, are pushing back.

“Education for all, education for all!” Just one of the chants heard on campus Tuesday afternoon. Another: “When DEI is under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back! When UNF is under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!”

The UNF branch of Students for a Democratic Society led the protest on The Green.

Gov. DeSantis calls DEI “divisive” and is calling for higher education to not promote what he calls ideological indoctrination.

The governor said, “We are also going to eliminate all DEI and [critical race theory] bureaucracies in the state of Florida, no funding and that will wither on the vine,” DeSantis went on to say. “And I think that that’s very important because it really serves as an ideological filter, a political filter.”

According to Students for a Democratic Society, the organization is demanding:

  • The university president publicly stand with other Florida Universities against what SDS calls state attacks on academic and free speech
  • That he commits to “non-compliance with targeted list-making activities”
  • Maintains his pre-existing commitments to DEI
  • And protecting all faculty

Lissie Morales is the president of UNF’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. “This is beyond just an attack on education. It is an active assault on programs that students, campus workers and faculty fought bitterly to establish throughout the ‘60s and beyond.”

VP of the student organization, Marlo Crosby, said losing funding for DEI programs would eliminate safe spaces for students of color and students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“We have to stand against it,” Crosby said. “It is not something that’s going to warrant inclusion.”

Several members marched at the Capitol last week in support of academic freedom. They also made signs for Tuesday’s rally Monday night.

DeSantis asked state colleges and universities for an accounting of the resources they put into DEI activities.

UNF responded with a list of 20 entities, including The Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Intercultural Center, Interfaith Center, LGBTQ Center and the Women’s Center, as well as four classes.

The overall spending of UNF’s projected budget for this school year showed over $3.5 million of funding is put toward DEI and critical race theory. Florida only pays for half that, accounting for just half a percent of UNF’s budget.

Beyond UNF, at least 28 Florida state colleges have already ended campus DEI initiatives. Locally, that includes FSCJ, St. Johns River State College and Florida Gateway College.

Lawmakers have NOT officially introduced any legislation that would impact DEI funding. They are expected to take up the issue when the session begins in March.

Harvard Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad said if the governor’s latest proposal to eliminate all state funding for DEI programs in state colleges becomes law, Florida’s educational system would suffer.

“We will see a version of flight from the state for people who take these values as fundamental to who they are,” Muhammed said. “And Florida will not be able to compete with some of the best talent that exists in this country because they will see the backlash against DEI as an indication that Florida is not a welcoming place.”

Muhammad said studies prove DEI programs have been beneficial in education and in the workplace.

There are several positions at local institutions which are centered around DEI.

UNF said it’s still looking over what the proposal would mean and didn’t have a comment.

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