Sunday, May 19, 2024
EducationLGBTQ+ Rights

Florida colleges and universities shutter LGBTQ centers, diversity programs

On July 1, Florida’s S.B. 266 took effect, prohibiting any state or federal funding from supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at the state’s institutions of higher education, leading to the subsequent dismantling and closure of LGBTQ+ support offices and programs in Florida’s public colleges and universities.

With over two decades of LGBTQ+ experience supporting college campuses, Campus Pride warned that the closures of these offices and other support programs will negatively impact recruitment and retention, as well as the overall safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ and allied students across the state of Florida.

“The repercussions of Florida’s S.B. 266 are creating a climate of fear for students and young people who rely on LGBTQ+ and other inclusion-focused centers—and that fear is apparent, from students, faculty, staff, all the way up through campus administrators to college presidents,” said Campus Pride Founder, CEO and Executive Director Shane Mendez Windmeyer. “It is deeply disappointing that Florida college presidents have not banded together and found another way to keep these centers open, by securing alternative funding or rallying together in opposition to the law’s implementation.”

In May, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law S.B. 266, called “An Act Relating to Higher Education,” which prohibits Florida state colleges and universities from expending state or federal funds to support or maintain “programs or campus activities that advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, or promote or engage in political or social activism.”

When the law went into effect on July 1, it immediately terminated funding for virtually all programs operating under the auspices of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

According to Campus Pride, the University of North Florida (UNF) has seen the dissolution of the LGBTQ Center, the Interfaith Center, the Intercultural Center and the Women’s Center as a direct result of the law—leaving students who rely on their services without needed support.

Windmeyer explained that some of the Florida public colleges have always paid for the LGBTQ+ center or office and other support programs from student fees or a mix of student fees and state funding. As Windmeyer shares: “There may be Florida campuses that have found ways to continue in quieter, more obscure ways to support their students, their LGBTQ+ programs and other diversity work.”

“Florida’s college presidents are not talking about what’s going on for fear of retaliatory actions by Governor Ron DeSantis. Nobody wants to be the next New College of Florida, where the president was kicked out and Governor DeSantis appointed an entire new Board of Directors on campus,” said Windmeyer. “We need to let people know. Future students should be aware before enrolling on campus. Not having these resources, programs and offices will directly harm student safety, and negatively impact current retention efforts and future recruitment at these Florida colleges and universities. It is already happening.”

“Governor DeSantis and his legislative allies have done damage to Florida’s education system and the reputation of our state’s colleges and universities that will far outlast their political careers,” said Brandon Wolf, press secretary for Equality Florida. “DEI programs are designed to ensure campuses are inclusive of and welcoming to all students and staff—and they set students up to thrive in a world made stronger by its diversity. Yet, the DeSantis regime, in their war on academic freedom, has defunded these crucial programs. Florida’s economy will be robbed of top tier talent, students will be robbed of a world class educational experience, and campuses will be less safe because of this nakedly political attack on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

According to Campus Pride, LGBTQ+ youth populations—especially LGBTQ+ youth of color and trans youth—are disproportionately at higher risk of negative health outcomes, depression and isolation. The first college LGBTQ+ center was created in 1972 at the University of Michigan and there are now over 300 resource offices or centers across the country. Research shows that these support offices and services are vital for LGBTQ+ youth and allied young people, contributing to their feelings of safety on campus, leadership engagement, academic persistence and academic success.

Although the University of North Florida and other campuses are expressing a commitment to “reassigning” staff members impacted by the closure of these offices, the outcome for employees remains uncertain, while disruption to their lives and careers is guaranteed.

“It is truly a sad experience, when our political leaders use people as pawns in their political games,” said Manny Velásquez-Paredes, director of the LGBTQ Center at the University of North Florida. “It is clear to every rational human being that diversity, equity, and inclusion are meant to create awareness and embrace, celebrate, and include our differences. However, politicians have chosen to engage in political culture wars and have decided the best way to beat us is to divide us. Their attacks on the LGBTQ+ community have been deeply felt this past legislative session with over 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in the US. Are they afraid of the LGBTQ+ community, or are they afraid of our voting power? Because these attacks on the LGBTQ+ community only make us stronger, we are taking names and will be voting against all of those who introduced an anti-LGBTQ bill, or voted to pass one.”

— Source Campus Pride

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