Faculty, Students Gather in Response to Ron DeSantis’s Higher Education Agenda

BOCA RATON, FL – On Thursday, students and faculty gathered around the Student Union in response to two recent requests from the office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. One request is tied to information on transgender students, and some fear the other could put diversity programs in peril.

In January, representatives from the governor’s office contacted state universities to get information about inclusion, diversity, and equity programs along Florida campuses. Students and others who are worried about the precedent of these requests across the state coordinated their efforts, and several walk-outs the same time and day. 

Women gender and sexuality studies master’s student Kendall New came to show support for transgender students all across Florida campuses and to show support for the diversity, inclusion, and equity programs. 

“It’s been proven in the past that diversity and equity inclusion has been proven to be useful in schools, not only for students of color, but queer students,” New said. “It’s absolutely necessary for people to be comfortable on campuses, and it’s proven to show students that they feel inclusive on their campuses.”

New feels “enraged” that at what she believes is Ron DeSantis’s mission to end diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. She sees the potential move as disheartening for the students of color and transgender students, and she plans continue to show support. 

“Quite frankly I’m enraged. Obviously I’m not a student of color, and I’m not a trans student, but I am a queer student. While my rights are not on the line, and while my safety is not on the line, I do stand with my siblings and students of color,” she said. 

Senior  sociology major Lillie Feller, came to the walkout to show her support for transgender students. She is also the President of the FAU chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).  

“The purpose of showing our support for the walkout is to show that people in these public institutions care about what’s going on, and are not just going to let these things happen without trying to do anything about it, or say anything about it,” she said. “Because when you don’t say anything about these sort of issues, or you don’t show your support for issues like these, then that’s when people feel like they can just do whatever they want, and start harming people particularly already vulnerable communities, and so the biggest takeaway would definitely be that we don’t stand for that at FAU.”  

 Journalism professor Aaron Veenstra, a member of the faculty union, said that this is more than just walking out — to him and others, this is about Gov. Ron DeSantis’s attack on education as a whole.  

“This is part of a broad attack on higher education. And not just higher education. It’s lower level public education as well: high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, the entire public education system,” Veenstra said. 

As an educator, Veenstra fears that he wouldn’t know what to do or say that is appropriate for his students. 

“This creates a situation purposely by the actions of the government, where educators do not know what risk they are in. The state government and the governor’s office specifically, have refused repeatedly to tell schools and public libraries specifically what they can and can’t do,” he said. 

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