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Florida’s ‘Stop Woke’ law could endanger USF students’ education, professors say

The Stop Woke law would limit classroom instruction of topics dealing with race and gender in Florida’s public universities. ORACLE GRAPHIC/JEISLIAN QUILES-SIERRA

Elizabeth Aranda has been educating students on Latino history for over two decades. Aranda, a USF sociology professor, said she wouldn’t be able to do her job if Florida’s “Stop Woke” law were put into effect. 

“Imagine you are an orchestra conductor but you’re missing every third page of the musical score,” Aranda said. “There would be no song to play. That’s how I envision having to teach under this law.”

“Stop Woke” would limit discussion of race, gender and other topics in state university classrooms. It also threatens professors with loss of tenure if they violate the law.

Though the law passed back in 2022, it was blocked by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in November of that year after students and professors raised legal challenges.

Related: Faculty express relief after injunction of Stop W.O.K.E. Act – The Oracle

In a recent hearing on June 14, lawyers for the Florida Board of Education presented arguments to lift the injunction before a panel of three federal appeals court judges in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This includes Judges Britt Grant and Barbara Lagoa – both appointed by former President Donald Trump – as well as Charles Wilson, appointed by former president Bill Clinton.

Amid the hearings, USF professors expressed concerns that the law may represent censorship in higher education.

A USF spokesperson said the university will continue to monitor all legal developments surrounding the law and will update the community as needed.

A decision from the court, however, may take anywhere from three months to a year, according to Jerry Edwards, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and NAACP Legal Defense Fund are some of the groups representing Florida students and professors who filed suit against the law.

“The government winning would be very damaging to our system of higher education, at least for public universities,” Edwards said. “It would strip away all of the academic freedom that has existed, and that would allow the state to construct its own truth and indoctrinate students into its preferred way of thinking.”

The law bans school instruction that makes people feel “guilt, anguish or other psychological distress” related to race, color, national origin or sex because of actions “committed in the past.”

Proponents of the law, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have argued the law is a way to fight against “woke indoctrination” and teachings such as critical race theory.

“In Florida we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory,” DeSantis said in 2021. “We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other.”

In the June hearing, Charles Cooper, a lawyer representing the Florida Board of Education, argued that a public university professor’s speech is the government’s speech in the classroom. 

“The government can restrict professors on a content-wide basis and they can restrict them from offering viewpoints that are contrary,” Cooper said.

Cooper also said this would mean professors cannot criticize the governor in the classroom. 

Aranda said Cooper’s assertion “flies in the face of academic freedom” and expressed concern over the practical implications of the law.  

“Whenever the political party of the governor or the majority in the legislature changes, would we then need to change the curricula to reflect new state policies and priorities,” Aranda asked.

USF professor Adriana Novoa, one of the state faculty members who filed a suit challenging the law, said the highest price will be paid by students.

“Any degree that you get from Florida will be suspected,” Novoa said. “Because you will not be taking classes according to your disciplinary concerns, you will basically learn according to these viewpoints that are decided by the state.”

Related: Student, professor file lawsuit against USF BOT, state officials – The Oracle

Novoa said there’s already pressure building among faculty members. Though the law isn’t in place, many are concerned for the future of courses dealing with race and gender.

“This is happening already,” she said. “We are missing professors, we are missing people who have decided to quit academia altogether or move to another place.”

Some courses dealing with gender and race offered at USF include “Racism in American Society,” “Intro to the Black Experience,”“Female Experience in America” and “Sexuality Studies.”

The university also has majors in Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies. A Queer and Sexuality Studies minor is also available.

Aranda said she might not be able to teach one or two classes and others would have to be “greatly” modified “so as to not run afoul of the law.” She said this would lead to an incomplete curriculum. 

Aranda did not specify which courses might be affected.

Novoa said the humanities might be the “beginning” but laws like this one could impact other fields of study as well. 

“It will have a huge impact on your degree in the future and that is something that students need to start realizing,” Novoa said. “This is not about professors, it is about education.”

Camila Gomez, Editor in Chief

Camila Gomez is the editor in chief of The Oracle. She's a political science and mass communications double major. She started at The Oracle in fall 2022 as a correspondent and worked her way up to managing editor. She grew up in Nicaragua and has a strong desire to build community through her reporting. Reach her at