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OPINION: DEI programs need funding to maintain USF’s core values

Desantis is proposing the elimination of DEI programs in Florida’s public universities, which will hinder the academic success of students across the state and impact USF’s values. ORACLE GRAPHIC/ GRANT GONSALVES

One of USF’s main goals is to create a diverse community that promotes discovery and learning, according to its website. Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced the elimination of funding for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs in public Florida universities, according to a Jan. 31 article by The Oracle. 

Diversity is of value to USF, and the community that the university represents. By defunding the DEI program, DeSantis is hindering the university from maintaining this goal.

USF’s student demographics show that 45% of students are from various ethnic backgrounds, as shown on the USF website. With this large number of students, it is extremely essential to continue supporting the efforts of the DEI program. This program at USF works to promote diversity and inclusivity in campus groups, classes and among faculty by developing institutional diversity programs and encouraging an inclusive university culture across all three campuses. 

The DEI program does this through programs such as its Special Enlightenment Workshop Series, Diversity Seminars and Diversity Lecture Series. With proper funding, the program will continue to push the goal of creating a safe, welcoming community for students, no matter their background. 

Diversity is not only important for the community, but also for education. A diverse campus allows interdisciplinary learning, according to the American Council on Education. This allows students from different backgrounds to learn from each other and build off of each other’s ideas or perspectives.

DeSantis believes that by eliminating the funding for DEI programs in public Florida universities, the discussions and arguments about political and societal problems will decrease.

“We are also going to eliminate all DEI and [critical race theory] bureaucracies in the state of Florida. No funding and that will wither on the vine, and I think that that’s very important because it really serves as an ideological filter, a political filter,” he said in a Jan. 31 press conference

Students have the freedom of speech wherever they are and eliminating DEI programs will not stop arguments or discussions regarding politics or certain ideologies. Students will continue to express their opinions no matter the status of the DEI office. By taking this away, students that advocate for diversity in schools will have to fight harder than before.

DeSantis is hurting education. Since the purpose of this funding is to increase diversity in universities and to allow students from diverse backgrounds to feel comfortable at these schools, the lack of funding could result in a decrease in students from diverse backgrounds. 

A lack of connection and inclusion has already led many students to fall behind academically. Some have even dropped out of college for good, according to a 2022 report by Hanover Research. Programs funded by DEI give these students a place to connect with one another.

For many years, the U.S. has experienced discrimination among various societal groups. Fortunately, more action has been taken, including the work that those involved with DEI programs have put in. In universities, students who experience discrimination show signs of poor mental health and high-stress factors, as described in a May 2019 Socius study.

Seeing that USF has such a high percentage of students from a variety of backgrounds, the elimination of this program and its staff could result in a significant impact on these students’ mental health. African American students in universities that are less diverse are more likely to feel discriminated against, unsafe and disrespected, according to a Feb. 9 study by Gallup. 

By having DEI programs, inclusion can be promoted and campus culture can feel more accepting. As mental health among students decreases and stress factors elevate, students will have a difficult time focusing on academics.

It is crucial that the public universities affected by this proposal and their students take a stance against this and advocate for the continuation of DEI program funding. DeSantis needs to take action and continue to support these values of creating a diverse and welcoming community for all students.