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UNF students soundly oppose slashing diversity programs

Published on March 2, 2023 at 5:12 pm

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

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

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Of respondents in the survey: 68% said DEI programs affected their college experience positively or somewhat positively; 66% said the programs are “definitely not” discriminatory toward students; and 73% strongly approve of classes about race, gender and diversity being offered at UNF. About 800 students responded; someone affiliated with the university shared the results with Jacksonville Today.

In late December, the governor’s office asked state universities to provide information about the “expenditure 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 it’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Intercultural Center, Interfaith Center, LGBTQ Center, Women’s Center and OneJax Institute, among other programs and course offerings.

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

DeSantis has promised to cut spending on DEI programs until they “wither on the vine.” A bill before the Florida Legislature — HB 999 — bans state college and universities from spending money to “promote, support or maintain any programs or campus activities … that espouse diversity, equity and inclusion or Critical Race Theory rhetoric.”

Student body president Nathaniel Rodefer presented the survey results to the university’s board of trustees this week, asking them, “How are we going to make plans to make sure that we are still serving our student body in the face of being compliant with the law?”

“It became apparent from the survey results that if all UNF does is get rid of these centers and get rid of these courses, it would leave a lot of students underserved,” Rodefer said.

About a hundred students also confronted UNF president Moez Limayem during a statewide walkout last week about his response to the governor’s higher education initiatives, calling on 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.

The Legislature tried last year to bar instruction on race and racism in a way that makes individuals “feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress,” but a federal judge blocked that law — which DeSantis-dubbed the Stop Woke Act — from taking effect in higher education.

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


author image Reporter, Jacksonville Today Claire has been a reporter in Jacksonville since August of 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. Reach Claire with tips, ideas or comments at (904) 250-0926, claire@jaxtoday.org and on Twitter at @ClaireHeddles.
author image Reporter, Jacksonville Today Claire has been a reporter in Jacksonville since August of 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. Reach Claire with tips, ideas or comments at (904) 250-0926, claire@jaxtoday.org and on Twitter at @ClaireHeddles.