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Amid Push to Ban DEI from Campus, New Florida Law Mandates Schools Teach the Dangers of Communism

The shuttering of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offices in Florida universities is causing concern for students and faculty alike. Professors and students express concern about how it is changing campus culture, and tie it to a newer law mandating teachers address the dangers of Communism.

Photo by Caleb Woods via Unsplash

By Gael-Lynn Laguerre | MediaLab@FAU

Apr 30, 2024

Florida students and staff claim universities are overcompensating in their response to  Senate Bill 266, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law on May 5, 2023 – nearly a year ago. 

Following the crackdown on DEI programs across the state, the Florida House passed a bill on March 6 with a 106-7 vote that will require all K-12 students to be taught the history of communism under Senate Bill 1264. DeSantis signed the bill into law on April 18.

After being elected in 2019, DeSantis became known for his controversial positions on sociological and political issues, specifically regarding the education system. One of the main focal points of his legislative agenda was the transgender community, targeting bathroom usage and gender-affirming treatments.

The notion behind bills 266 and 1264 come amid an “anti-woke” agenda promoted by DeSantis and fellow Republicans. This rhetoric was a main portion of DeSantis’ presidential campaign and has bled into Florida’s educational policies.  SB 266 has been set in motion to target what DeSantis calls “indoctrination” in schools. 

It bans the “toxic” teachings of critical race theory and other forms of “identity politics” through the Stop WOKE Act and the Parental Rights in Education Act – popularly known as the “Don’t Say Gay bill” – activated to stunt social activism in K-12 schools, universities and corporations in December 2021. 

SB 1264  prevents higher education institutions from spending money on political and social activism initiatives that promote “woke” ideologies. The teaching of wokeness includes the concept of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs, which have been gradually shutting down since the bill went into effect last July.

Due to this legislation, universities including FAU have closed down most of their equity-promoting offices. Advocates say DEI programs have given students the resources they need to better understand their identities and those of their peers who come from different cultures, backgrounds, and values.

“Florida Atlantic has never had a central Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Office. Instead, Florida Atlantic has placed its focus on programs that directly advance student success, as opposed to growing the institution's administration with additional positions and salaries,” FAU’s Media Relations office said in a statement released in March..

“To ensure full compliance with the Board of Governors’ Regulation, however, the university has made some changes,” the statement continued. “The Division of Student Affairs’ Center for Inclusion, Diversity Education and Advocacy ceased operation at the beginning of the 2023 academic year. Additionally, the university is currently conducting a thorough review of all general education courses for compliance and is developing a process through which programs that may involve expenditures subject to review under the new Board of Governors’ Regulation are appropriately vetted by the institution.”

With nearly half of its student population identifying as people of color, the recent shift has raised concerns among student and employees left to navigate such a change.

According to the latest FAU Diversity Data Report (2021), FAU’s student population was 39.8% White, 27.4% Hispanic or Latino, 19.5% Black or African American and 4.5% Asian. 

“If you combine all of our Hispanic and people of color student body, it outnumbers our non-Hispanic, white student body,” said Dr. Carla Maria Thomas, Assistant Professor of English at FAU. “It sounds tone deaf from the upper administration to not realize that our student body actually wants this and needs this for their success.”

Many faculty members are confused and unsure about how exactly these diversity restrictions should impact their teaching, Dr. Thomas explained.

“I think a lot of it just has to do with basic confusion right now,” said Dr. Thomas. “We don’t really know what we are allowed to do. We know certain things are being eliminated but others things are being encouraged in the same breath.”

Thomas went on further to share their  concern for this law’s impact on the political climate on campus and how they have  witnessed the results firsthand. 

“A student recently did not like the content of my class because I had Hispanic, queer, trans, and Black poetry scattered amongst my medieval and early modern poetry demonstrating how the past motivates the present,” Thomas added.

“I’ve taught the same exact syllabus for six years here, and I've never had a student complain about the content until now, and I don’t think that it is a coincidence that it happened within the last year.”

DEI Disappearing from Florida's State Universities

After the passage of SB-266, FAU had to close its Center for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEAs). Geanny Ruiz, former FAU Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs coordinator, described a considerable loss of community and resources for minority students and staff due to the closing of the offices.

“Those departments were meant to really protect, provide resources and support for traditionally marginalized identities,” said Ruiz. “Those were spaces they could come and feel safe and feel seen, even if it just for an hour out of their day, just talking with their peers. It was something that they could do that the institution provided.”

Ruiz said higher education institutions could counter this legislation by researching federal nondiscrimination laws and refraining from overcompliance. 

Laws that protect individuals in the state from discrimination based on race, religion, or sex could be cited in defense of the DeSantis administration’s attack on DEI, Ruiz said.

“You have to get creative; you must read between the lines,” added  Ruiz. “To get a clear understanding of what these laws are saying, how can we be compliant without being complicit, and how can we ensure we are not being overly compliant? A lot of the harm being done and caused by these laws takes place when schools decide to be over compliant and end up doing things that don’t necessarily need to be done.”

The closing of DEI programs continues to be a reality for all Florida universities. The University of Florida (UF) followed suit and eliminated 13 full-time DEI positions before closing the office of its Chief Diversity Officer on March 1.

Maxx Fenning, a senior business administration major at UF shared his feelings about how the legislative changes have discarded progressive, inclusive initiatives in Florida’s education system.

“Florida has for some time now had one of, if not the best, public college systems, in part because they've had resources for students to thrive in an academic environment,” said Fenning. “To be able, no matter who they are or who they love, to access education. We took a really great thing and threw it in the dumpster with so much of the legislation we’ve seen push through within the last two years.”

Fenning also serves as president and founder of PRISM, a non-profit organization working to expand access to LGBTQ-inclusive education and sexual health resources for youth in South Florida. 

Fenning elaborated on how restricting DEI and other critical race theory classes also narrows the view of the world that educators teach.

“The banning of DEI on campuses, removing sociology as a core course and the demolition of tenure for professors and so many things that are meant to instill fear in academia,” said Fenning. “They are meant to silence folks in an academic setting and whittle down discourse to one idea, one view of the world and how it’s been and how it should be, and I really think that is a sad sight to see.”

Communism To Be Taught in Florida Grade Schools

The Florida House passed SB 1264  on March 6 with a 106-7 vote that will require all K-12 students to be taught the history and evils of communism. Gov. DeSantis signed the bill into law on April 17 to “strengthen” Florida’s standards on these teachings.

SB 1264 states that students must be informed about the “increasing threat of communism in the United States and to our allies through the 20th century, including the events of the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China and other mass killings from communist regimes.”   

“We will not allow our students to live in ignorance, nor be indoctrinated by Communist apologists in schools,” DeSantis said in a statement on April 17..

The move has attracted attention across the country and around the world. “Teaching five-year-olds about communism is performative and unnecessary,” tweeted Peter Schorsch, the publisher of

Many eductors have concerns about the bill and its potential repercussions.

“I find it incredibly relevant that our right-wing government is tying in the need to teach the history, probably scare tactic, of communism alongside refusing to allow us to talk about marginalized groups,” commented Thomas. “It’s almost like the beginning of a new McCarthianism era if we’re not careful.”

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