Students at the University of North Florida protested the imminent closing of the school’s four diversity centers, including the campus LGBTQ center, on Wednesday.
The protest took place on the same day as the Florida Board of Regents, the governing body of the State University System of Florida. voted to ban it funding diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and activities at the state’s public universities. The vote comes months after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the event a law that prohibits all public institutions of higher education in the state from using state or federal funding for diversity programs.
In a letter to the university community Wednesday evening, President Moaz Limayem said the UNF office of diversity and inclusion in Jacksonville, along with its interfaith, intercultural, women’s and LGBTQ centers, will be closed under the new law.
Limayem said the four university centers would be “phased out” immediately, but added that registered student organizations aimed at promoting diversity would remain active on the university’s campus and no staff would lose their jobs. He did not take into account the protests of the students or their views on public policy.
“We want UNF to be a place where all people feel safe and welcome and where there is no place for hate,” Limayem said. “This semester, we will begin to look for ways to reinforce UNF’s values in everything we do, and we will review and expand resources as needed to ensure the success of all members of our campus community.”
Cassandra Edwards, a spokeswoman for the university system, said in an email Thursday that Florida “will remain focused on a high-quality education for our students and will not allow indoctrination.”
UNF student Lissie Morales was among the protesters, many of whom waved rainbow Pride flags and chanted, “What are we doing? Stand up, fight!”
“The center gave me friends; it gave me an education to learn more about my sexuality and my sexual orientation,” Morales said This was reported by NBC affiliate WTLV Jacksonville. “When it comes to participation, it warms my heart to see people care about something as much as I do, especially when it comes to the LGBT center, because that’s one of the reasons I came to UNF in the first place.”
In 2022, UNF was among 40 institutions in Campus Pride’s list of best universities For LGBTQ students.
Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former Florida House Democrat and policy adviser at the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, called the new state law “a rubber stamp for Ron DeSantis’ agenda of censorship and surveillance.”
“The Board of Governors had an opportunity to put the brakes on, but instead shamefully pursued their censorship agenda to serve DeSantis’ failed political ambitions,” Smith said in a statement Wednesday.
A representative for DeSantis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The regulation comes as Florida continues to strengthen its reputation for passing anti-LGBTQ laws and laws aimed at limiting diversity initiatives.
Florida made national headlines when it enacted what critics called a law.Don’t Say Gay” A 2022 law that would limit the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools from kindergarten through third grade. DeSantis signed a bill into law last year expanded the law addressing students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Florida lawmakers sparked protests last year Block Advanced Placement course on African American studies from being taught in high schools.
Since the beginning of the year, Florida lawmakers submitted About a dozen anti-LGBTQ bills. These include a sweeping measure that would require Floridians to sign an application when they apply for new driver’s licenses and state IDs to confirm that the gender markers on their birth certificates will match their new IDs. Another bill would allow some published accusations of homophobia and transphobia to be reviewed.”defamation per se.”
There have also been student protests against Florida’s policies on LGBTQ issues common. In November, students at a high school in Coconut Creek, about 15 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, organized a march after their principal and other school staff were reprimanded for allowing a transgender girl to compete on the school’s girls’ volleyball team.
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