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Florida bill targets "diversity, equity, or inclusion" on college campuses

Correction: This article originally stated that the bill had passed in the Florida House. It had not yet been voted on and changes have been made to reflect that.

The Florida Legislature is debating a bill that would ban state colleges and universities from using funds to "promote, support, or maintain any programs or campus activities that espouse diversity, equity, or inclusion [DEI] or Critical Race Theory rhetoric." The bill would also give the state's board of governors the ability to remove "any major or minor that is based on or otherwise utilizes pedagogical methodology associated with Critical Theory."

Opponents of the bill, H.B. 999, worry that its language is too vague, and could be used to ban activities promoted by multicultural student unions, Black fraternities and sororities, and courses in Jewish history, women's studies and LGBTQ+ studies. 

An official analysis of the bill cited examples of current courses that would be banned under the proposed legislation, including Florida Atlantic University's "Gender and Climate Change" and Florida State University's "Social (In)Equalities: Social Construction of Difference and Inequalities."

A tweet about the bill from comedian D.L. Hughley outlining some of the other programs thought to be at risk even went viral on social media.

While the bill does not explicitly ban many of the groups mentioned in the tweet, activists and lawmakers alike have voiced concern over how the language could be used to target certain programs.

When asked Monday by Democratic state Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson how the bill would impact student centers such as "Black student unions, pride centers, multicultural student centers and multi-faith advisory boards," the Republican who introduced the bill, state Rep. Alex Andrade, said that for the "vast majority" of the groups mentioned, "It doesn't. The bill does not apply to them."

"Those student groups may continue to operate how they see fit currently, subject only to the policies and procedures that are content-neutral that apply to all student organizations on campus," he added.

Democratic state Rep. Angie Nixon attempted to amend the bill to offer further protections for specific groups she believes are at risk. Her amendment was voted down by the House.

"Let's stop going down this dangerous road of censorship and limiting free speech in our public institutions of higher learning and get back to solving the problems that Floridians ask for," Nixon tweeted Monday.

Andrade on Wednesday took to Twitter after former state Rep. Carlos Guillermo, an opponent of the legislation, noted that Andrade was the only Republican who offered any debate or explanation on the bill, writing "It's tough to debate while being shouted down and threatened by angry liberals… DEI advocates HATE open debate."

When Guillermo responded and accused Andrade's fellow Republicans of being "scared" of their consituents, Andrade replied, "This is your brain on DEI."  

The American Historical Association has condemned the bill, writing in a statement, "We express horror (not our usual "concern") at the assumptions that lie at the heart of this bill and its blatant and frontal attack on principles of academic freedom and shared governance central to higher education in the United States."

"This is not only about Florida. It is about the heart and soul of public higher education in the United States and about the role of history, historians, and historical thinking in the lives of the next generation of Americans," the AHA added.

Andrade, who has taken to Twitter to seemingly promote the bill, writing "DEI advocates HATE open debate" in a quote tweet response to former Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who publicly denounced H.B. 999.

Andrade has also responded to multiple tweets of varying subject matter, "This is your brain on DEI."

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