Student groups protest DeSantis’ education reform

Dylan Gentile, Staff Writer

Students at the University of West Florida protested at a speakout coordinated by Students for Socialism and the Young Democratic Socialists of America on Feb. 23, 2023. On the steps of the Pace Library, they set up a loudspeaker and microphone and had a lineup of people speaking out against recent reforms made in the state education system by the Florida Legislature and Ron DeSantis.

They voiced concerns over the future of higher education at UWF, with the turnover of administrators at New College by the governor and restrictions on studies such as African American History. One former teacher, Hannah, spoke out about how she had to leave the education field in the wake of the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. See the video below for Hannah’s testimony.

A crowd of roughly 30 people lasted throughout the protest, with groups of students stopping by to listen on their way between classes. Campus police monitored the demonstration from a distance and only intervened to prevent an altercation between a student and a group of religious demonstrators. There were three demonstrators, one stirring up attention while preaching against LGBTQIA+ issues. The demonstrators were unaware the student protest was occurring that day; they come most Thursdays, according to a younger member from Cross Church. Colby, a religious demonstrator who has been to recent school board meetings, shares his opinion in the video below.

The two student organizations that coordinated the event have been going to Escambia County School District meetings in hopes of preventing book removals in the district. The district removed three books with LGBT themes the previous Monday. More are set to go under review by the district, and the students are concerned that it could become a situation similar to Duval County, which has banned 176 books, including a biography of Rosa Parks, according to Pen America. Chiara, president of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, speaks on the issue in the video below.

The student protesters didn’t stop at education. Speakers talked about subjects such as affordable housing, access to healthcare, food insecurity and other issues they feel have worsened under the current governor. Laylah Curran, president of Students for Socialism, expressed concerns that the growing culture war and book bans are present to distract us from larger underlying problems in the state. Laylah explains her viewpoint in the following video.

I reached out to UWFGOP on Instagram and UWF Turning Point via email for their opinion on the matter and received no response. A scan of their social media appears to show that they have been inactive for several years.