State Watch

New Florida bill would ban diversity, inclusion programs on university campuses

A new Florida bill would ban programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion in colleges and universities across the state. 

House Bill 999, or the Public Postsecondary Educational Institutions, bans colleges from financially supporting “any programs or campus activities that espouse diversity, equity, or inclusion or Critical Race Theory rhetoric.”

The language has led to concerns that Black fraternities and sororities will be barred from Florida campuses under the proposed legislation.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones (D) told Jasmine Burney-Clark, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha and founder of Equal Ground Florida, said in an Instagram live ahead of Monday’s debate in the House that the bill is “so vague that HBCUs or other institutions period who have a Black fraternities and sororities on their campuses can practically say we will no longer be supporting you on our campuses based off of this law.”

Florida’s House passed the bill on Monday, and the state Senate will debate the proposed legislation on Wednesday.

The bill bans courses “based on unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content” and majors in women’s studies or gender studies.

It forbids state schools from using diversity, equity and inclusion statements, critical race theory rhetoric “or other forms of political identity filters as part of the hiring process,” including as part of applications for promotion and tenure. 

The bill does not define critical race theory rhetoric, however.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Alex Andrade (R), follows a GOP-agenda in the state led by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to limit discussions on race, gender identity and sexuality in schools. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 7, 2023, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears, File)

Though the bill follows DeSantis’ agenda to combat the spread of “woke” education agendas, however, he has not yet said if he will sign the bill in its current form.  

During Monday’s House debate, Andrade was confronted by Gainesville Democrat Rep. Yvonne Hinson on how Black student unions and even LGBT+ organizations would be affected by the law.

“Those student groups can continue to operate how they see fit currently, subject only to the policies and procedures that are content neutral that apply to all organizations, student organizations on campus,” Andrade replied.

But on the Instagram live event with Jones, State Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby (D) said that being permitted does not guarantee protection for Black fraternities and sororities. 

“There are also other ways to preclude us,” said Rayner-Goolsby. “With our Black fraternities and sororities, unlike the ones that are predominantly white that are privately paid, our monies come through student activities and [student government associations].” 

This means Black sororities and fraternities could be barred from meeting in the student union or even in classrooms on campus under the law, she said. 

Florida is currently home to four Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Florida A&M University. Members of the “Divine Nine” – a set of Black fraternities and sororities established a hundred years ago – spoke out against the proposed law at FAMU on Monday.

Rayner-Goolsby said she presented an amendment to specifically say organizations like the Divine Nine and other multicultural organizations would not be subject to the law but the Republican sponsor was not amenable to it.

On Monday, two amendments officially filed by Democrats to remove bans on curriculum and give student groups the uninhibited right to reserve spaces on campus were both rejected by Republicans.

Under Florida law, public grade schools and high schools are already prohibited from instructing on topics that could make someone feel “personal responsibility” for historic wrongdoings because of their race, sex or national origin. 

The state has also banned the teaching of “critical race theory,” a legal framework that aims to understand systemic racism in the United States, though many experts have argued it is not taught in elementary or high schools. 

Most recently, DeSantis announced the state would prohibit a new advanced placement African American studies course from running in schools because it “lacked educational value.”

HB 999 is one of the first pieces of legislation to target higher education institutions. In a scathing criticism, Genesis Robinson, political director of Equal Ground, accused state Republicans on Monday of trying to censor what adults can learn.

“Last year during the battle to defeat HB 7 and HB 1557, it was said the students were too young to learn about such topics,” Robinson said, referring to two pieces of legislation that proponents argued granted more parental rights in education and stopped the spread of discrimination but opponents said limited academic freedom.

“Yet today you have before you a bill that seeks to dictate what is learned at institutions of higher learning by adults,” Robinson added. “It just goes to show you that this fight was never about what is appropriate for children. It is about control, it is about censorship, it is about big government dictating who we love, what we learn, what pronouns we use, and what books our children can read.”

Tags Critical race theory Education Florida HBCUs Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis Shevrin Jones

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