The Three Little Letters that Have DeSantis on the AttackRoundup
tags: Florida, higher education, diversity, Ron DeSantis, DEI
Khalil Gibran Muhammad is the Ford Foundation professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability Project, or IARA. Erica Licht is research project director at IARA.
In January, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans to ban the College Board’s Advanced Placement African American studies pilot course in his state, saying that the curriculum had a political agenda. The College Board has since revised the course amid a storm of controversy — and strong evidence that DeSantis’ administration had a direct influence on the decision to gut it. The outcome, sadly, has meant diminished national education standards for this vitally important coursework.
Now DeSantis is going a step further, announcing plans to end initiatives focused on diversity, equity and inclusion — which frequently are grouped under the acronym DEI — in public colleges and universities across Florida.
The move would effectively dismantle the relatively new efforts to address racial inequality in institutions of higher learning in the state, many of which were put in place following protests over the killing of George Floyd by police.
DeSantis’ anti-DEI proposal would prohibit all public universities in the state from creating and funding DEI programs and would even block the use of private non-taxpayer funding for these purposes. The intention, he freely admits, is to dry up resources for existing diversity programs so that they will “wither on the vine.”
The decision to zero out DEI programs in Florida’s colleges and universities is an attack on data-driven methods that have been shown to result in better performance and retention for students of color and a more racially diverse and effective teaching faculty. But the positive effects of these programs are felt far beyond the classroom.
Universities in Florida and elsewhere are the very laboratories that show us how to achieve fairer and more inclusive classrooms. They are workplaces that model and test these ideas for the benefit of the broader society. DeSantis’ new policy harms students, administrators, educators and parents — particularly people of color, who stand to gain the most when the institutions they find themselves in begin to reflect society’s diversity.
But it also runs counter to a significant body of research that demonstrates that these programs are critical to the inclusive, high-functioning classrooms and workplaces that we should aspire to create in the 21st century. While Florida has become ground zero for attacks on diversity initiatives, DEI efforts are also under assault in other states, including Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.
And the onslaught against DEI comes at the very time that business is embracing the benefits of such initiatives. Tech giants Slack and Intel are among numerous companies that have benefited from workplace DEI programs by focusing on building a more racially diverse staff as well as making structural changes that encourage more inclusive decision-making, hiring and contracting.