SDS protests DEI bill, shows support for students, university employee facing charges

Students for a Democratic Society protested against House Bill 999 and called for charges to be dropped against the Tampa 5. ORACLE PHOTO/ANANYA SIRAGAVARAPU

On Monday at noon, 30 Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) members and supporters clustered behind the Marshall Student Center (MSC) to protest the charges pressed against the Tampa 5 and to create further awareness for the governor’s push against diversity, equity and inclusion.

The crowd was also included representatives from USF Students for Socialism (SFS), wielded signs featuring slogans like “Fund education not discrimination,” “Down with DeSantis” and “Drop the charges.” 

The Tampa 5 consists of four USF students and one USF employee who were arrested by the University Police Department (UPD). The group was protesting attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in higher education by Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Patel Global Center of Sustainability on March 6, according to an article from the Oracle published the same day. 

Four of the Tampa 5 were arrested and charged with assault or battery of law enforcement on March 6, while on student — senior sociology major Lauren Pineiro — did not face charges until a month later.

Now, the student protestors face the threat of expulsion and criminal misdemeanor, according to Pineiro, who was retroactively charged by USF police and faces the potential to not walk at graduation. 

“I wasn’t one of the four who was originally arrested, but a month later I found I was being charged academically and criminally,” Pineiro said. “So we all have felony charges, misdemeanor charges and I could be expelled before I’m supposed to graduate in a couple of weeks.”

Junior accounting major and SDS member Yuki Shao, who was present during the arrests, said UPD’s handling of the protests were uncalled for.

“March 6, 2023 was one of the most frightening days as a USF student activist. Four protestors were brutalized and arrested by USF campus police,” Shao said. “They were not read their rights, not told where they were going, and were held in extremely hot police cars without air conditioning for three hours while the police deliberated over what they could charge the protestors with.”

Pineiro said she hopes Monday’s protest raises concerns for the injustice.

“I hope this event shows that we want to protect student protest on campus. I think what happened on March 6 was inexcusable… so I think that this event is really important in showing the solidarity that the students have, as even people who aren’t students are here to show support for us and stand in solidarity,” she said. 

The main goal of Monday’s protest is for the university to release a public statement addressing the USF community stating it stands in support of diversity but also condemns what happened on March 6, according to Pineiro. 

Pineiro said SDS also demands Chris Daniels, chief of UPD, be removed from his position. 

“We also want Chris Daniels, the chief of police, to be fired for brutalizing us,” Pineiro said.

Additionally, SDS wants President Rhea Law be held accountable for her reluctance to comply with their requests by asking her to withdraw from her position, according to Eithne Silva, an SDS member and humanities graduate student.

“She won’t talk to us about increasing Black enrollment. She won’t say anything about these attacks against public education. She paused the search for a new vice president of DEI, and she had USF police attack students and young women,” Silva said.

The group of 30 protestors’ chants included “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white,” “Money for schools and education, not for racist legislation” and “Admin take a stand, oppose education ban.” 

Florida State University (FSU) SDS also attended the protest to stand in solidarity with Tampa Bay SDS.

Alex Carson, Vice President of FSU SDS,  said SDS groups statewide refuse to be silenced by the suppressive efforts of the Florida College System.

“SDS has been trying to build the student movement as we’ve been doing for over the last decade, and that’s why the university administrations are worried and attacking SDS,” Carson said. “They understand that the real threat to these bills is a strong student movement that’s united with the labor movement, that’s united with the community organizations.”

Carson rallied the crowd with the chant “From Tallahassee to Tampa Bay, student protest is here to stay.”

Pineiro said attendees of the protest unanimously pleaded for USF to rectify the treatment of the Tampa 5. They also voiced their collective concerns of the perceived lack of diversity in student enrollment.

“We’re students of this campus. All we wanted to do was protest diversity and meet with our president and we should be allowed to do that,” Pineiro said.