UNF students strongly oppose cutting diversity programs

UNF students strongly oppose cutting diversity programs
UNF students strongly oppose cutting diversity programs

The vast majority of University of North Florida students say that diversity, equity and inclusion programs have positively impacted their college experience, according to a survey conducted by the student government.

In its monthly Osprey Voice survey in February, the university’s student government asked classmates about their use of the programs and classes UNF identified in a DEI audit for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office.

Of survey respondents: 68% said DEI programs impacted their college experience positively or somewhat positively; 66% said the programs are “definitely not” discriminatory against students; and 73% strongly support that teaching about race, gender and diversity is offered at UNF. Around 800 students responded; someone associated with the university shared the results with WJCT News.

In late December, the governor’s office asked state universities to provide information on “the use of state resources on programs and initiatives related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory within our state colleges and universities.”

UNF reported spending about $3.5 million on its Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Intercultural Center, Interfaith Center, LGBTQ Center, Women’s Center and OneJax Institute, among other programs and course offerings.

A large majority of student respondents to the recent UNF survey value these programs. Of 663 respondents, 68% said the campus LGBTQ+ center positively impacted their college experience (20% had no opinion). Of 670 respondents, 67% said the Office of Diversity and Inclusion positively impacted their experience (20% had no opinion). The survey results reflected similar percentages for Interreligious Center and Intercultural Centre.

DeSantis has vowed to cut spending on DEI programs until they “wither on the vine.” A bill before the Florida Legislature — HB 999 — prohibits state colleges and universities from spending money to “promote, support or maintain any programs or campus activities … that support diversity, equity and inclusion or rhetoric of critical race theory.”

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About a hundred students confronted UNF President Moez Limayem during a statewide walkout last week about his response to the governor’s higher education initiatives, asking him to commit to preserving all existing programs.

Limayem said he aims to find alternative funding for any program the state stops funding — if state law allows it. He said the university will follow any law that comes down from the Florida Legislature.

Florida’s legislature tried to prevent instruction about race and racism in a way that causes individuals to “feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress,” during last year’s legislative session, but a federal judge blocked that law — which DeSantis called Stop the Woke Act — from coming into force in higher education.

UNF Senior Alivia Kalin, who is also an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society, told WJCT News last week, “If we went against what DeSantis is planning and trying to do, to shut down our programs, I feel like that would be strength . There will be many of us who will fight back.”

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