I had the shameful experience of witnessing the Florida Board of Governors pass Regulation 2.016 on January 24. In a matter of hours, we saw the devastating consequences:  the University of North Florida shuttered its Intercultural Center, LGBTQ Center, Women’s Center, and even its Interfaith Center – amid outrage, heartbreak and protests from students

Governor DeSantis and the Florida legislature’s passage of SB 266 and the Board of Governors (BOG) and Florida College System (FCS)’s adoption of implementing regulations will continue to inflict harm across Florida’s universities and colleges, as we at PEN America forewarned

Yet there are steps the BOG and FCS could take immediately to curb the damage from this anti-diversity legislation. I wrote to Chairman Brian Lamb and Commissioner Manny Diaz (LINK), asking for the BOG and FCS to answer critical questions. 

During January’s meeting, the BOG responded to a public comment noting concerns for the potential impact of SB 266 and the implementing regulations on student groups. But members of the BOG stated without hesitation that this fear was misplaced and that Regulation 9.016 specifically exempts student groups from these regulations.

Yet on the very same day, the president of the University of North Florida announced the closure of its Intercultural Center, LGBTQ Center, Women’s Center, and Interfaith Center. While these are university centers, they provide resources, space, and assistance to student groups. 

UNF is unlikely to be the last to shutter such spaces with the result that student speech and expression will be chilled, if not suppressed.

The BOG and FCS should immediately clarify any and all impact that Regulation 9.016 will have on student groups and on university and college centers that support them. While student groups may be able to continue in their existence, what about the following scenarios?

  • Can student groups hold meetings on campus or other university buildings?
  • Will student groups be provided campus security for any public events or meetings?
  • Will student groups be allowed to promote their meetings and events on campus?
  • Will student groups continue to have faculty supervisors, mentors, or sponsors that assist in their formation and operation?
  • Will universities be able to advertise these student groups and promote their events?
  • Do the answers to any of these questions change based on the type of student group or the content of their messaging, events, or meetings?
  • Do Florida universities still support religious freedom and interfaith dialogue?

These are critical questions and Floridians deserve answers.

UNF is shutting its doors to an interfaith office whose vision was to “promote interfaith cooperation as a UNF priority and establish religious pluralism as a cornerstone of diversity on campus, in the community, and beyond.” The LGBTQ center “envisions a university where all people are fully included and affirmed, and where justice, equality, and respect prevail.” This is not indoctrination. These are the types of visions and efforts that bring us together and make us worthy of a #1 ranking.

I hope that Floridians will join me in demanding clarity and protection for students on Florida’s campuses. The BOG can be reached here and Commissioner Diaz can be contacted at [email protected].