An art exhibit scheduled for April at the Manatee-Sarasota campus of the State College of Florida has been canceled after college officials objected to its use of the words “diversity” and “inclusion,” according to ARTnews. The organizer, the arts and education nonprofit Embracing Our Differences, canceled the scheduled exhibit rather than comply with the university’s request to remove the words.
Organizers said the request from college officials was made on the same day that Republican governor Ron DeSantis made an appearance on campus to promise sweeping higher education reforms, including defunding diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in Florida’s public colleges and universities. DEI efforts at state colleges have been increasingly under fire from conservative lawmakers and activists, with DeSantis paying particular attention to the topic as he looks toward an expected run for the White House.
Organizers said they rejected the request as contrary to their values. A former SCF president has since denounced as censorship the move by college officials.
News of the controversy comes as pressure on DEI initiatives is beginning to take shape in Florida’s Legislature.
Prefiled legislation in the Florida House and Senate takes aim at the use of statements on race in university hiring practices, equating such practices to political loyalty tests. The legislation, which would appear to bar the use of diversity statements, also tasks the Florida Board of Governors with establishing an Office of Public Policy Events, with locations at all 12 state universities.
The legislation describes “political loyalty test[s]” as the practice of requiring or requesting job applicants at Florida’s public colleges to provide a statement supporting “any ideology or movement that promotes the differential treatment of a person or a group of persons” related to race.
The proposed Office of Public Policy Events, according to the legislators’ language, would “organize, publicize, and stage” debates, lectures and related events reflecting “widely held views on opposing sides of the most widely discussed public policy issues of the day.”
Florida will convene its regular legislative session in March.