UCF students push back against Gov. DeSantis’ anti-diversity efforts

UCF students spoke out against Gov. Ron DeSantis' push to eliminate diversity programs. Their protests draw a mixed response from school trustees.

Some University of Central Florida (UCF) students are pushing back against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to shake up diversity efforts at the state’s universities.

The celebration of diversity defines UCF, argued student Grace Castelin who added, “I refuse to stand by to watch the institution destroy itself.”

Castelin was among four students addressing trustees at their board meeting, which came a day after hundreds of students protested on UCF campus, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The newspaper reported students held up signs that read, “Kick DeSantis out of education,” “Stand up against fascism,” “Diversity is power,” and “What happened to the First Amendment?”

The students’ opposition Friday to measures that could eliminate minority student scholarships and limit what their professors can teach drew a response from several school trustees. Some school leaders spoke supportively of the students and the importance of diversity while one trustee argued he favors the state’s efforts, calling equity a “two-way street.” 

“As Chair of this board, to our students and to our faculty in particular, we’re listening. We hear you,” UCF trustee Alex Martins said Friday. “We’re here to support you, and your words are not falling on deaf ears. We will continue to do everything in our power to support you so that this university can continue in the great direction that it has in the past.”

John Miklos, a DeSantis-appointed UCF trustee, said he favors the Legislature’s efforts.

“Equity is kind of a two-way street, and I think it’s important that we help meet the needs of the students, but we meet the needs of all groups,” Miklos said. “We need to see what the Legislature is going to come up with and see where that goes. I would say, I’m likely in support of the direction of the Legislature.”

Miklos added the students should “keep a place at the table and work with us through this process.”

DeSantis has made headlines and pushed for a cultural war against organizations he deems as “woke.” One of his targets has been universities and colleges, where DeSantis argues his fight against school programs on diversity, equity and inclusion is meant to “elevate civil discourse and intellectual freedom in higher education.”

One UCF student told trustees that “UCF is not a woke school. We are partnered with companies that make weapons like Raytheon and Boeing.”

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


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