JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Governor Ron DeSantis laid out his case against Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs at state colleges and universities Monday morning, the same day a bill that would weed out diversity programs in higher education had its first hearing in the Florida House.
The proposed legislation targeting diversity, equity and inclusion on college campuses still has a long road ahead of it before becoming the law of the land, but it’s already making an impact at the University of North Florida.
OneJax, a group whose mission statement aims to promote civility, understanding and respect for all people, announced last week it is severing ties with UNF.
The organization’s executive director Kyle Reese said the decision is a direct result of the Governor and Republican lawmakers’ crusade against diversity, equity and inclusion on college and university campuses.
“It’s the anticipation and the fear the bill creates,” said Reese.
In a routable hosted by Governor Ron DeSantis Monday, examples of DEI initiatives at Florida universities were highlighted.
Darryl Boyer, a UNF grad and Black conservative, claimed he was targeted while attending the university because of his political affiliation.
“Because my friends thought that because I was a person of color I had to identify as a Democrat,” said Boyer.
The Governor blamed DEI initiatives, arguing they have been used as tools of indoctrination.
“To try to impose, not diversity of thought, but to try to impose uniformity of thought and instead of inclusion, the people that dissent from this orthodoxy are actually excluded and marginalized,” said DeSantis.
But State Representative Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) argued the Governor is mischaracterizing the role DEI offices play at universities.
“DEI is about belonging. It’s about ensuring that every person, no matter who you are, who you love, the color of your skin, how much money you have, whether you’re a non-traditional student, that you have the equal chance to succeed,” said Eskamani.
The state spends about $20.7 million on DEI programs at its public colleges and universities.
And while Republicans have argued it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars, Reese countered the loss of relationships universities will suffer from abolishing DEI initiatives could cost far more down the line.
“DEI is so prevalent in the corporate space, I can’t help but think that for the state to make this move, that it’s going to hurt universities in the short term,” said Reese.
A recent poll conducted by UNF asked voters whether they supported prohibiting DEI efforts in higher education.
Of the people polled, 61% said they opposed the idea, while just 35% were in support.
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