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US: anti-DEI rules spark “exodus” from Florida

Last month, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a mandate into law prohibiting public colleges from spending money on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives for students, faculty or staff.

Winn predicted that Gen Z would not “stand by” nor “be dictated to” about how and what they are taught

The law, starting July 1, also limits what public colleges in Florida can teach. It states that “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities” are prohibited.

A separate bill signed by DeSantis in May proposed banning colleges from requiring DEI statements as part of enrolment or hiring processes and imposing consequences for those who violate it.

One week later, DeSantis announced his campaign for the 2024 US presidential election. His attacks on DEI, critical race theory, decolonising the curriculum and rights for the LGBTQ+ community have largely composed his legislative agenda.

This January, the DeSantis administration rejected the College Board’s Advanced Placement African American Studies course. And the administration has engaged in efforts to limit discussion on LGBTQ topics in schools, even removing books with gay characters from classrooms and school libraries.

“The anti-DEI legislation has resulted in an exodus of faculty, staff, and students from those states”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group, all issued travel advisories for Florida, a state in which tourism is one of the largest industries.

As a result of the political climate, faculty and staff at some institutions are leaving or are actively searching for employment outside the state. Many HEI leaders fear these measures may negatively impact enrolment at Florida’s universities, particularly for international students belonging to historically marginalised groups.

Amer Ahmed, vice provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Vermont told The PIE, “The anti-DEI legislation has resulted in an exodus of faculty, staff, and students from those states, particularly with regards to people who hold historically and systemically marginalised identities and/or conduct research or work that has connections to DEI.”

Ahmed added that the exit has manifested itself in applicant pools at UVM.

Jewell Green Winn, executive director for international programs, senior international officer, and chief diversity officer at Tennessee State University told The PIE, while she is not surprised, “it is very disappointing and quite disturbing that politicians continue to insert themselves into the fabric of higher education”.

Winn predicted that Gen Z would not “stand by” nor “be dictated to” about how and what they are taught.

“Only time will tell but it is going to be interesting to see how the politicians respond to the strong loud voices of marginalised groups and their supporters,” she asserted.

Ahmed concluded, “We need to demonstrate how effective DEI strategies can benefit all people and foster innovation, creativity, and inclusive excellence.

“Harnessing the strength of diversity through inclusion, equity, and belonging can transform our ability to create solutions to complex challenges in our world.”

Brittani Smit, associate vice president at IES Abroad spoke with The PIE, and expressed it can be difficult to maintain optimism about the future given these challenges. However, she added, “It is crucial that we stay encouraged as we push towards a better, more inclusive future. That future depends on our collective ability to collaborate effectively across our differences, and we need more open-minded global citizens in order to do so.”

Smit said continuing to advocate for increased global mindedness and encouraging student engagement via high impact practices can help achieve these goals.

Referencing studying abroad as a key practice, Smit noted it has the capacity to “expand students’ potential by honing their intercultural and problem-solving skills, and deepening their capacity for humility, empathy, and fairness, all of which are critical for progressing towards the future we hope to see.”

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