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Governor Ron DeSantis’ actions in Florida to restrict the discussion of race in K-12 schools and universities are a major threat to democracy, particularly for historically marginalized groups like African Americans.

The recent move to abolish the diversity office at New College of Florida, which handles diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, is a clear example of DeSantis’ attempts to stifle growth in diversity.

What is particularly concerning is that DeSantis has appointed conservative activist Christopher Rufo to New College’s board, who pushed to abolish diversity programs at his first meeting. The board voted to eliminate the Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence, which handles DEI programs, despite little mandatory diversity training.

The majority of trustees also voted to eliminate the diversity statement when hiring faculty and to direct DeSantis ally Richard Corcoran to consider adopting a prohibition on diversity training for employees. Additionally, the board voted to prohibit spending money on any DEI efforts.

Desantis attacks DEI at all levels in Florida

These actions are a dangerous attack on democracy. DEI programs are essential to creating a fair and equal society. They provide opportunities for historically marginalized groups to access education, employment, and other opportunities that were once closed to them due to systemic discrimination.

Eliminating these programs perpetuates systemic inequalities and discrimination and creates an environment where marginalized groups feel unwelcome.

Furthermore, DeSantis’ actions are a clear violation of academic freedom. Universities and colleges are supposed to be places where ideas are freely exchanged, and diverse perspectives are encouraged. By eliminating DEI programs, DeSantis is trying to stifle critical thinking and create an environment where only certain ideas are allowed. This is reminiscent of authoritarian regimes in which free thought and open discussion are discouraged, if not banned outright.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Florida’s education system has been plagued by discrimination. In the past five years, there have been multiple incidents of racial discrimination in K-12 schools and universities in Florida.

For example, in 2019, African American students at West Boca Raton High School were subjected to racial slurs and taunts by white students during a football game. The incident led to protests and calls for the school to address systemic racism and discrimination.

Florida has a history of racial discrimination that Desantis ignores

Similarly, in 2020, a Black student at Tampa Catholic High School reported that a white student had used a racial slur against him during a virtual class. The school launched an investigation, and the student who used the slur was disciplined.

Also, in 2016, a University of Central Florida student filed a lawsuit alleging that the university had discriminated against her on the basis of her race and gender. The student, who was Black, claimed that she had been harassed by a professor and subjected to racial discrimination by university officials.

These incidents highlight the ongoing problem of discrimination and racism in Florida’s education system, from K-12 schools to universities. It is essential that education leaders take action to address these issues and create a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students.

Eliminating DEI programs and stifling critical thinking, as Governor DeSantis is attempting to do, only serves to perpetuate systemic inequalities and discrimination.

In the past, Republican leaders have claimed that they want to “Make America Great Again.” But what does that even mean? If we look at the past, “greatness” has meant slavery, segregation, and the suppression of women’s rights. Is this really what we want to return to? It is time for us to move forward and create a society that values diversity, inclusion, and equality.

A worrying trend

DeSantis’ actions are an attempt to turn back the clock, to a time when only certain groups of people were allowed to succeed, and others were left behind. But we cannot let him succeed. We must continue to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in our schools and universities

It is worth noting that Governor DeSantis’ attempts to curtail diversity programs and discussions around race are not unique to Florida. Several other states, including Idaho, Oklahoma, and Texas, have also passed legislation aimed at limiting diversity and inclusion programs in schools and universities.

This is a worrying trend that suggests a broader effort to whitewash history and ignore the ongoing impacts of systemic racism and discrimination. As human beings, it is our duty shared to continue to push back against these efforts and demand that our voices be heard.

Schools need to teach the truth

One promising development is the growing movement to promote ethnic studies programs in K-12 schools and universities. These programs provide students with a more comprehensive understanding of the history and experiences of marginalized groups, including African Americans. By learning about the struggles and contributions of diverse communities, students are better equipped to navigate a complex and often unjust world.

However, these programs are also under threat. In 2021, Idaho passed a law banning the teaching of critical race theory, which examines the role of race and racism in society. This law has been criticized for being overly broad and potentially infringing on teachers’ academic freedom. This year Governor Desantis also banned AP African American Studies because it included the study of political movements that advocated for “abolishing prisons and “queer theory”. Desantis said at a press conference in Jacksonville Florida, these topics are “political agendas”. 

“That’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards. We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them when you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”

We must continue to fight

It is crucial that we continue to fight for inclusive and equitable education, both in K-12 schools and universities. This includes advocating for diversity programs and initiatives that support marginalized communities, as well as pushing for reforms to address the ongoing legacy of discrimination in our educational systems.

Governor DeSantis’ efforts to eliminate diversity programs and stifle discussions around race and gender identity are a dangerous attack on democracy and academic freedom.

It is imperative that we push back against these efforts and demand that our voices be heard. We must continue to advocate for inclusive and equitable education, both in K-12 schools and universities, and promote ethnic studies programs that provide students with a more comprehensive understanding of our diverse history and experiences.

The fight for a fair and just society is far from over, but together, we can create a brighter future for all.

Kourey Hendryx-Bell is a wife and mother. She loves the outdoors and spending time with her family and two dogs. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences with an emphasis...