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DeSantis Wants to Defund Florida Colleges That Have Programs on Diversity

The Florida governor described lessons on equity and inclusion as "political window dressing" in a statement on Tuesday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a press conference to announce the Moving Florida Forward initiative at the SunTrax Test Facility in Auburndale, Florida, on January 30, 2023.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Tuesday that he plans to ask the state legislature to revoke funds from public colleges in the state if they offer lessons on diversity, equity and inclusion.

The proposal would be part of a larger package that the state legislature plans to pass in the spring, The Associated Press reported.

DeSantis, who is viewed as a viable Republican candidate heading into the 2024 presidential election season, has staked his political future on attacking policies meant to benefit communities of color and LGBTQ people, most notably through attacks in the sphere of public education. Last March, DeSantis signed HB 7, a law commonly referred to as the “Stop WOKE Act,” which forbids educators from providing lessons on racism or LGBTQ issues if it offends parents in those districts.

The law has had chilling effects, forcing teachers and school librarians to ban books, and prompting many districts to reevaluate lessons that they believe could run afoul of its provisions.

In discussing his plans for college campuses, DeSantis disparaged educators who teach about the history of racism in the U.S.

“I think people want to see true academics and they want to get rid of some of the political window dressing that seems to accompany all this,” he said.

DeSantis’s plan would revoke funding from institutions of higher learning in the state if they offer classes on diversity, equity or inclusion — a broad definition that could have a vast impact on colleges’ academics.

DeSantis also said that he wants to see such programs “wither on the vine” from a lack of state funding.

DeSantis’s announcement comes weeks after the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) — working on guidelines he helped create — rejected an Advanced Placement (AP) course introduced by the College Board, a nonprofit that creates college-level classes for high schoolers throughout the country. The company had attempted to expand a course on African American history, introducing a curriculum that would examine contributions from Black Americans in “a variety of fields [including] literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography, and science.”

FDOE rejected the course, stating that it ran “contrary to Florida law” (likely alluding to the Stop WOKE Act) and that it “significantly lacks educational value.”

On Wednesday, the College Board said that it would remove aspects of the curriculum, including lessons on intersectionality, in hopes that FDOE would accept it.

“I am now disappointed to learn that a major section on the end of this curriculum was removed from an earlier version,” David Blight, a professor of history and African American studies at Yale University, told NBC News.

Historian Barbara Ransby condemned DeSantis’s rejection of intersectional Black history lessons in an op-ed for Truthout that was published on Saturday.

“With a nod toward his homophobic base and illustrating his own ignorance, DeSantis asked the question, how could queer theory be relevant to African American studies?” Ransby wrote. “Perhaps if he had taken an African American studies class somewhere along the way he would know the names of world-renowned award-winning writers, artists and courageous activists whose long careers and eloquent words answer that question from myriad angles.”

Ransby added that the Florida governor could have benefited from such lessons when he was younger:

If he had taken an African American studies course in the 1980s and ’90s when he was in school, perhaps DeSantis would also know about the long and bloody history of racism in Florida, and the righteous freedom fighters who organized against it. These struggles were not just against ‘hate’ or prejudice; they were a response to systemwide discrimination, greed and domination.

DeSantis “is a part of an unabashedly ignorant political sect comprising people who are averse to evidence, research and empirical facts that don’t suit them,” Ransby continued.

She went on:

DeSantis’s dangerous actions are textbook proto-fascist measures. His militant opposition to any teaching of the Black freedom struggle is also reminiscent of the South African apartheid regime’s book banning and curricular and speaker censorship, which limited the circulation of ideas that could undermine the legitimacy of an unjust system.

Ransby’s piece pointed to young organizers in the state — including members of the Dream Defenders, the Florida Rights Restoration Project, Florida Rising and the Power U Center for Social Change — as “forces of the future” who are pushing back “against the bullish backwardness” of the governor.

“We have to support them as much as we oppose the racist and repressive agenda of the right,” she said.

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