What Happened to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at CF?


This poster affirming CF’s commitment to DEI is still posted in Building 8 of the Ocala Campus.

At the start of the Spring semester, CF had a robust Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative. Not anymore.

In response to Governor Ron DeSantis’ recent push against Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs, the College of Central Florida joined other Florida College System (FCS) schools to release a DEI statement on Jan. 18.

A key component of the statement is that colleges, including CF, will no longer fund any programs or courses requiring education on intersectionality or critical race theory (CRT).

The College of Central Florida is one of 28 state colleges that co-signed this statement by the FCS Council of Presidents.

Intersectionality is the idea that people experience different levels of privilege based on their social identities, including race and gender. 

Critical race theory examines the relationship between race and politics, social structures and legal systems, acknowledging that racism is still inherent in modern society and seeking to understand and combat it.

The statement also said DEI programs have failed to meet their goals on Florida college campuses and claims they have instead “come to mean and accomplish the very opposite” of diversity, equity and inclusion by promoting intersectionality. 

Since the statement was released, almost all mentions of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have disappeared from CF’s campus and website.

What does this mean for CF students?

For many students at the College of Central Florida, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion provides assistance by supporting diverse clubs like the African American Student Union (AASU) and the Gender & Sexuality Alliance (GSA), as well as events like CF’s recent Lunar New Year and Black History Month celebrations. DEI’s goal is to affirm students’ identities and help them feel welcomed on campus.

Others, however, see DEI as an unnecessary expense, discriminating against the majority by favoring the socially marginalized. Governor DeSantis is among these critics, calling DEI and CRT “discriminatory initiatives.”

For the majority of CF students, though, DEI is a mystery.

Few local news outlets have highlighted this issue, and many CF students are not yet informed about the FCS statement or how state politics might soon affect their education. Many of these students also currently benefit from DEI initiatives.

“I had no idea. Absolutely zero clue,” said Aritza Reyes Drullard, an Afro-Latina student at the College of Central Florida, about the presidents’ statement.

Another CF student, Kyle Odlum, said he would not have known about DeSantis’ actions if not for social media.

What state government says – and what it doesn’t

On Jan. 31, Governor DeSantis announced plans for 2023 legislation to reform higher education in Florida. This includes eliminating DEI programs and other forms of “identity politics,” according to the news release.

“In Florida, we will build off of our higher education reforms by aligning core curriculum to the values of liberty and the Western tradition, eliminating politicized bureaucracies like DEI,” added DeSantis.

The Florida College System Council of Presidents affirmed all of these goals in its statement, promising to remove all instances of DEI by Feb. 1. However, it did not clearly define what policy changes this might entail. 

The College of Central Florida provided no additional comment on the statement, saying it “is complete and stands on its own.”

The impact on all Florida colleges

Dr. John Avendano, president of Florida State College at Jacksonville, read the statement on behalf of the Florida College System presidents during a recent Board of Education meeting.

When the Patriot Press reached out for comment about the future of state college DEI programs, Avendano said that the language may change, but inclusionary efforts will continue.

“The only major change we had to do was the title of the position that we started, obviously, was the Executive Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the directive was that you can’t have those titles, so we changed that title,” said Avendano. “Now she is the Chief Officer of Organizational Culture and Engagement. My colleagues around the state liked it so much, they’ve kind of picked up the same title, so you might see that in a few institutions.”

Similarly, the College of Central Florida has removed all mentions of DEI from its website, and the former Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Mary Ann Begley, has been renamed the “Director of Compliance and Planning” as of Feb. 2023.

It is unclear how diversity-based scholarships, clubs and courses at CF will be affected.

The Patriot Press reached out to Dr. Begley for comment about the implications of this change. Begley declined to comment.

Avendano went on to claim that, despite losing state funding for DEI, colleges like CF and FSCJ might still be able to fund DEI using private grants.

“We continue to have some significant grants from both donors and companies that the focus is on inclusion,” said Avendano. “It’s not state money.”

However, Governor DeSantis’ Jan. 31 news release actually states that the proposed 2023 DEI legislation will prohibit “higher education institutions from using any funding, regardless of source, to support DEI, CRT and other discriminatory initiatives.”

Although the “other discriminatory initiatives” are not defined here, opponents of DeSantis’ plan fear it could lead to a complete elimination of all DEI programs. 

CF students weigh in

The Florida Department of Education said that defunding DEI and CRT will “embrace academic freedom.” However, many CF students disagree.

“You can’t have freedom if you’re telling people what they can and cannot learn,” said Devyn Waters, president of CF’s African American Student Union. “That is just putting limits on our education, and if we put a parameter on how far we can go with educating ourselves, we’re never going to learn.”

The FCS presidents’ statement says that, if CRT and intersectionality are ever discussed, it must be taught “as one of several theories and in an objective manner.”

“It’s kind of insulting to treat the Black experience and, you know, things that actually happen, as if they were theoretical,” said Odlum.

Waters agreed, adding that history shouldn’t be treated as theoretical, either.

“As far as I’m educated, there are plenty of different theories that can be talked about hand-in-hand with critical race theory, but saying that we aren’t going to just teach it — it’s almost taking a piece of history away,” said Waters. “It’s limiting what history we do learn. History can’t be limited to just the history we want to believe in.”

Waters went on to emphasize the importance of DEI at the College of Central Florida.

“Taking away funding from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion doesn’t just take away from African Americans. It takes away from international students, it takes away from the GSA and it takes away from so many other organizations and groups that oftentimes people don’t think Diversity, Equity and Inclusion affects. When you take that away from them, you take away who they are as people. We already spent years struggling to be recognized. Why let us do all of this hard work and then take it away from us?”

The future of diversity at CF

When asked what steps CF should take to support its marginalized students, the consensus was clear: listen to them.

“Have events that students can actively speak on, utilize social media — I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong. If anything, we’re doing the best we possibly can,” said Odlum. “I think that just hearing other people out is the most important thing to do.”

Odlum shared this at a recent Black History Month open mic event on CF’s Ocala campus. It is unclear if events like this will be allowed to continue in the future.

Many students want CF to stand up for DEI and the communities it benefits.

“This is a perfect time to take a start and say, ‘We support our students more than we care about dollars.’ The people matter more than the dollars,” said Waters.

However, others think it’s necessary to take the safe route for now.

“I would like for the college to take a stance against it, but, at the same time, I understand that DeSantis is in charge of state funds and things like that, so it could be a problem,” said Reyes Drullard. “Maybe the college could ask people around their feelings on it and decide from there what to do. Really all I can think of is to give the marginalized communities a voice and hear them out.”

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