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Graduating seniors ask: Would I have attended a Florida school if DEI was banned?

A young woman wearing glasses smiles for a picture. She's outside, with a archway and trees behind her.
Danielle Prieur
Meg Asbury is a graduating senior at Rollins.

With a proposed bill that would restrict DEI initiatives at public colleges and universities in Florida, some current students are asking if they'd have chosen their schools if this had happened before now.

A bill making its way through the Florida legislature would restrict Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI, initiatives at public colleges and universities in Florida.

As WMFE’s Danielle Prieur reports, while some students are now reevaluating whether Florida is right for them, for others, the proposed legislation is a step in the right direction.

Graduating senior isn't sure she'd come to Florida amidst DEI bill

It’s a warm, sunny afternoon and Meg Asbury, a senior at Rollins College in Avon Park majoring in philosophy, is sitting by the Mr. Rogers sculpture on campus.

Asbury says since the Postsecondary Educational Institutions bill or HB 999 was introduced in the Florida House, she’s been thinking a lot about her choice to come to Florida for college. She said if she had to make the decision all over again…

“I don't think I would come to Florida, I think I would, my other school was, I was looking at was in Washington, D.C.," said Asbury. "And I think that aligns a bit more with my morals.”

The bill in question would ban public colleges and universities from using state or federal dollars to promote DEI initiatives. It would also make it easier to remove majors or minors that teach about race, gender and sexuality. 

Asbury says, she knows this bill wouldn’t directly impact her private college. But as a queer woman, the rhetoric around the bill makes her feel unsafe.

“I've already heard of people having harassment stories of being seen out with their partners in Florida, because the Florida legislation is giving them a platform to have public opinion about this.”

Survey shows high schoolers ruled out schools based on perceived politics

A new nationwide survey of graduating seniors conducted by a Maryland think tank found that one in four seniors across the US ruled out schools and universities solely based on the perceived politics of the state where they’re located.

Students who were liberal, LGBTQ or not the first in their families to go to college tend to use this criteria more than their peers. But conservative students also pay attention to a state’s politics.

Supporters of the bill believe DEI forces division and exclusion in higher education. 

Conservative students support DEI bill, but say it's too little too late

Cody Larsen is a senior at Stetson University, studying political science. This semester, he’s interning in Washington, D.C. He said DEI initiatives, along with classes like critical race theory and feminist theory, have made it hard for him to be a conservative on campus.

"What these classes do are teach students that conservatives, and that anyone that doesn't believe in these topics are horrible," said Larsen. "And that they shouldn't be supported and it divides people."

Larsen gives this example of how his friend, a fellow conservative, was treated by a teacher because he’s Republican. It made Larsen question his decision to go to a private college in Florida.

"They were in class talking about Nazi Germany about Republicanism," said Larsen. "And his teacher obviously knew he was a conservative and kind of made made a direct point looking at my friend straight in the eyes, subtly calling him a Nazi sympathizer or something along the lines."

Counselor says financial need still factors into college choice

Politics aside, at Marion County Public Schools, where Belleview High counselor Keri Bowman works with graduating seniors, she said most of her students are still choosing to go to Florida schools citing cost.

“We are a rural school, and when students are looking for whatever they're doing next, we find that financial reasons seem to be a big indication of where they're going and why they're going there.”

College professor says DEI bill makes it harder to attract new faculty

Back at Rollins, professor Margaret McLaren says she hasn’t noticed a real change in enrollment in her feminist theory classes since the passage of the Stop Woke Act and the Parental Rights in Education law, and now the discussion around HB 999.

She has, however, noticed it’s getting harder to attract new faculty to campus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signaled that he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.
Copyright 2023 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Danielle Prieur