The Florida Board of Education announced that it is banning public colleges from using state and federal funds for diversity, equity and inclusion programs ― the latest move by the GOP-controlled state to crack down on efforts to address race- and gender-related inequities in higher education.
On Wednesday, the board said it has implemented “strict regulations” to limit the Florida College System’s use of public funds for DEI programs, activities and policies. The decision applies to all 28 of the state’s college campuses, including some that have substantial Black and Latine populations.
The board defines “DEI” as “any program, campus activity or policy that classifies individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation and promotes differential or preferential treatment of individuals on the basis of such classification.”
But actual DEI professionals work to help organizations correct inequities that affect marginalized groups, such as addressing accessibility issues for disabled people and drafting reports on potential discriminatory practices related to hiring and pay.
“Higher education must return to its essential foundations of academic integrity and the pursuit of knowledge instead of being corrupted by destructive ideologies,” Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said in a statement on Wednesday.
“These actions today ensure that we will not spend taxpayers’ money supporting DEI and radical indoctrination that promotes division in our society,” he continued.
DEI has become a popular boogeyman for Republicans as they aim to turn academic institutions into places of censorship and conservative ideology. GOP lawmakers have introduced legislation meant to gut diversity initiatives in over a dozen states.
“This is about discrimination against people who have just begun to get access to these spaces,” Antonio Ingram, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), told HuffPost last year. “They’re being told the doormat is being rolled up, we’ve had enough.”
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has spent years targeting the education sphere, going after what he claims are instances of schools using the college-level academic framework known as critical race theory. His agenda has also included banning books that don’t align with conservative values, and signing multiple pieces of legislation that effectively prohibit educators from talking about race, gender and sexuality.
DeSantis has made his so-called “war on woke” the centerpiece of his current presidential campaign – with a particular focus on an intentionally vague piece of legislation, the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act, that blocks publicly funded colleges from teaching race-related curricula. The law severely limits people in academic institutions from learning and speaking about issues related to race and gender.
In August 2022, the LDF and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of college students challenging the law.
“Governor DeSantis’ nefarious attack on truth, history and public education cannot be masked by a fatuous acronym mocking a Black colloquialism,” LDF President Janai Nelson said in a press release at the time of the lawsuit. “[This law] seeks to deprive future generations of knowledge, information and the ability to appreciate the humanity of their fellow citizens. It is also a direct and unlawful assault on the bedrock principle of free speech in a democracy.”
A judge blocked the law from going into effect, arguing that the First Amendment protects speech in the classroom, and that the legislation’s vague restrictions make it unenforceable. A bench trial to ultimately decide the law’s future is set for October.