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DeSantis Appointees Eliminate DEI Programs at Fla. College Amid Student Outrage

DeSantis Appointees Eliminate DEI Programs at Fla. College Amid Student Outrage

A group of college students outside a campus building at New College of Florida in Sarasota.

The school has been just fine since 1960, but conservatives see an opportunity to transform the liberal arts school from the inside out.

The recently radically reshaped board of trustees at a small liberal arts public college in Florida voted to abolish all diversity, equity, and inclusion programs amid outrage and student uproar over the conservative takeover of the school's culture.

The educational institution recently drew the attention of the state’s hardline conservative governor, and after shaking up the school's leadership, a new beginning loomed over the school where students, faculty, and alums are concerned things are going to change for the worse.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last month that DEI programs would be defunded at Florida state colleges and universities, leading to Tuesday's vote, CNN reports.

These policies and programs aim to ensure that individuals who have historically been discriminated against are represented, regardless of their race, ethnicity, disability, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.

Sarasota-area New College of Florida boasts a tiny student body (fewer than 700), no football team, nor a mascot, instead opting for the mathematical symbol for the null set — empty braces. As a result, since its establishment in 1960, the campus earned the monicker “Barefoot U” in some circles, the South Florida Sun-Sentinelreported.

In short, the school exhibited signs of being what conservatives have taken to deride as “woke.” So now, the governor has installed like-minded individuals in the school’s leadership to trojan horse in his restrictive view of education.

Gov. Ron DeSantis — the 2024 GOP presidential hopeful who is openly waging war on the LGBTQ+ community in his state — in January, replaced six of the 13 trustees on the college's board with conservative allies, including Christopher Rufo, a far-right activist and provocateur, who has fought against critical race theory and urged the end of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

There was a growing sense that the new board members would bring about a sea change at New College, where anxious faculty, students, and alums feel like unwitting draftees in an ongoing political war over education that the DeSantis is spearheading statewide.

Tuesday's decision is a realization of some of the university community members' worst nightmares.

Republicans have sought to eliminate tenure and defund college diversity centers, but DeSantis has built on those efforts.

He has instructed schools to report on diversity and equity programming, signed a law limiting what professors can teach, and requested information from universities about gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers.

Now the small state school is the target of the right, and if Republicans have their way, the university experience there will change quite drastically.

Rufo is a conservative commentator who called himself “a drastic solution to a crisis” held a meeting on the New College campus late January, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

He made critical race theory a galvanizing rallying cry and turned the conspiracy theory into a right-wing reality before CRT was the bogeyman it has become, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremism.

More recently, he has been at the forefront of anti-LGBTQ+ movements, demonizing queer and trans teachers, aligning himself with Chaya Raichik of Libs of TikTok and other provocateurs who security experts say use tactics that amount to stochastic terrorism.

“We are recapturing higher education,” Rufo tweeted when DeSantis announced his appointment in early January.

A private Christian high school superintendent in Bradenton, Jason “Eddie” Speir, accompanied him.

Only teachers versed in “constitutionalism, free enterprise,” and “American principles” will be hired going forward, according to Rufo.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion” are out, whereas “a small “equality, merit, and colorblindness’ department” is in.

Rufo says the school needs a “new core curriculum [and] mandatory board review of all course offerings,” the Washington Postreports.

People responded to Rufo’s appearance, from those who disagreed with the new trustee’s descriptions to those who believed they could improve New College under their leadership.

According to the Campus Pride Index, a national listing of LGBTQ-friendly institutions of higher learning, New College of Florida scored 3 out of 5 stars overall, with the lowest score in the category of LGBTQ+ recruitment and retention with two stars and the highest at four stars in housing, residence, and academic life.

Rufo’s intolerance of and opposition to diversity, equity and inclusion programs on college campuses have New College stakeholders worried.

Sam Sharf, a transgender student at New College, said she felt “targeted” by Rufo’s rhetoric.

“It’s very concerning,” Sharf said, “because we understand where this rhetoric leads to if it’s not stopped,” the Postreports. If bigotry and hate aren’t kept at bay, “it could lead to future violence against us,” she said.

DeSantis’s press secretary Bryan Griffin claims that the school has strayed and needs refocusing.

“New College of Florida has been completely captured by a political ideology that puts trendy, truth-relative concepts above learning,” he said in a statement to the paper.

He said the new trustees would be “committed to refocusing the institution on academics and truth.”

This week's moves were apparently the opening salvo toward that commitment, as Florida continues to become allergic to educating children and young adults within its borders about an open worldview based on truth and access to information on topics like race, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

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