(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) — Hundreds of students across Florida walked out Thursday in protest against Gov. Ron DeSantis and his policies concerning higher education.
Students walked out of their classrooms at the University of South Florida, University of Florida, Florida State University, and more in opposition of his efforts. Some high school students also joined in on the statewide walkout.
DeSantis recently announced plans to ban colleges and universities from having programs on diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as critical race theory.
Critical race theory is a discipline that seeks to understand how racism has shaped U.S. laws and how those laws have continued to impact the lives of non-white people.
DeSantis also signed the so-called “Stop WOKE” Act into law in 2022, which restricts race-related curriculum and conversation in workplaces, schools and colleges. However, it has been temporarily blocked from being implemented in colleges and universities. The law is still being battled out in court.
“I think people want to see true academics and they want to get rid of some of the political window dressing that seems to accompany all this,” DeSantis said at a January news conference about the effort.
Students protesting DeSantis say they value their academic freedom and liken the efforts of his administration to censorship.
“We want to take these classes and for the state to come in and say, ‘Well, we might not want to allow you to have that’ … At what point are college students going to be considered adults by the state of Florida?” Jonathon Chavez, president of College Democrats at USF, told ABC News.
He continued, “We want to make our own decisions and our education, how we want to better ourselves. We think it’s quite silly that the state would try to restrict that.”
DeSantis’ office did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.
Dream Defenders, a group of Black and brown anti-racism activists, are hosting “Black History teach-ins” amid the walkouts to combat the plethora of efforts from DeSantis to restrict race-related education.
“Ron DeSantis has been on a rampage. He’s banning books and flags in classrooms everywhere. He’s making sure our history isn’t getting taught. He’s getting rid of teachers, professors and faculty that look like us and support us,” said Nailah Summers, the co-executive director of the Dream Defenders, who publicly called for a statewide day of action, along with the newly formed Stand for Freedom, a coalition of student organizations spanning Florida’s college campuses. “He’s made it harder to protest, harder to vote, and harder to live in Florida.”
DeSantis’ administration is also under fire by demonstrators for reportedly requiring state schools to provide information about gender-affirming care they’ve provided for students.
“At our schools, we found that transgender students [had stopped] receiving those services”, said Chavez. “They don’t know what that is going to be used for. They’re scared that it might be used to restrict them further. And that’s a very real and tangible outcome for a very simple request.”
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