Florida Students Unite To Protest Against Ron DeSantis


On Thursday, college students in Florida at a series of institutions across the state assembled to protest some of the policies pursued by the state’s GOP Governor Ron DeSantis and his allies.

Although the DeSantis team infamously pushed back on an Advanced Placement (AP) course in what is termed African American Studies, which if permitted would be for high-schoolers, that’s not where the governor’s apparent interest in what is objectively rolling back the basics of academic freedom ends. The text of a proposed bill became available this week that is extreme to the point that it bans majors — or minors! — in gender studies, critical race theory, or intersectionality, although these concepts go largely undefined in the proposal itself, suggesting the bans if enacted could be used against a variety of academic programs Republicans don’t like.

The bill would also block schools covered by the legislation from using any money in support of “campus activities that espouse diversity, equity, and inclusion or Critical Race Theory rhetoric” — a remarkably broad category that would effectively shut down free speech in these areas if enacted. Protests on Thursday took place at prominent institutions, including the University of Central Florida, Florida International University, Florida State University, and others. Florida State University (FSU) is in Tallahassee, which is the state capital of Florida, and the campus is situated just a short walk from the governor’s mansion, where demonstrators planned to march. Elected officials both current and former participated in the demonstrations.

Former state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who lost his race for re-election last year, joined a crowd of students at the University of Central Florida he identified as in the hundreds. “Young people are organizing to protect academic freedom, diversity programs (DEI), and LGBTQ students— all under attack in Florida,” the former legislator said on Twitter. “We need to save the Multicultural Student Center, LGBTQ+ Support Services, Hispanic Serving Institution Programming and Outreach AND MORE!” Smith said students at the school would rally again on Friday. Meanwhile, current state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D) joined demonstrators at FSU. College students elsewhere also participated. Across the state, the demonstrations were largely fashioned as a walkout, meaning participating students would leave whatever they were doing to join the display of opposition.

The potential threat is substantial. The newly proposed legislation specifies that students in general education courses dealing with communications be engaging with works from the “Western” tradition, suggesting an intentional exclusion of possibilities outside that area of study, and bans teaching American history in perceptibly critical terms, even if a course just sticks to the facts. No general ed course is allowed that “defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence” — a broad category again designed to ban dissent. The idea DeSantis is some kind of defender of freedom is objectively a laughable piece of nonsense.