Conservatives took a victory lap early this year when Florida lawmakers defunded programs pushing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), what they call a "woke" social justice concept, at state colleges and universities.
Critics of DEI argue that it precipitates policies that discriminate against whites and conservatives.
Proponents of DEI argue that the ideology maintains opportunities for underrepresented populations and corrects the wrongs of what they call "systemic racism" in America.
Although DEI practices are no longer allowed at Florida universities and colleges, three University of Florida (UF) insiders—a staffer, a faculty member, and an administrator—spoke to The Epoch Times about an environment on campus that they see as hostile toward conservatives.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the UF insiders shared their experiences of how voter registration searches are used to screen out Republican job applicants. They described hiring committees that pass over, from their vantage point, better-qualified white males for lesser-qualified minority candidates for jobs.
They allege that UF students who attend conservative events are spied on and endure a double standard for grading. They said some conservative employees on campus fear for their jobs and worry about their safety if they're outed.
As part of UF's social justice agenda to right the wrongs of historical racism, white employees were encouraged to join a 12-step program called Racists Anonymous, and students were encouraged to report perceived "biases," according to documents and reports.
University of Florida officials didn't respond by press time to requests from The Epoch Times for comment.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who's running for president, has made wiping out DEI programs one of the centerpieces of his administration. He often says that Florida is "where 'woke' goes to die."
This spring, he signed SB 266 into law, which bans DEI programs at the state's public universities and colleges. At the signing, he said a more fitting definition for DEI would be "discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination."
Florida's new legislation bars the state's public universities and colleges from advocating for DEI or engaging in "political or social activism," as defined by the State Board of Education and the regulations of the Board of Governors.
Is 'Woke' Dying on Campuses?The recently formed advocacy group NCF Freedom banded with professors and students at the New College of Florida, where DEI was dismantled after Mr. DeSantis appointed new board members. They filed a lawsuit saying the new legislation banning DEI unconstitutionally prevents them from expressing certain viewpoints.
Some state lawmakers agree.
But the lawsuit isn't the only thing keeping the law from having its intended effect. Another hurdle is procedural.
The Florida Legislature left it to state regulators to define some of the terms in the new law. That could take months to complete, according to the Florida Board of Governors, which operates the public university system.
The Florida Board of Governors didn't provide The Epoch Times a timeline for those definitions to be put into place and also didn't disclose the consequences that schools would face for breaking the new law.
Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for Mr. DeSantis, told The Epoch Times that the law is in effect, but the rules aren't. He expressed confidence that when rules are established, the DEI practices "will all go away."
So for now, in a state where "woke goes to die," DEI remains alive and well, despite lawmakers' attempts to shut it down.
Even after rulemaking is finalized, the state likely is in for a prolonged fight to remove DEI entrenched in campuses.
Defiantly Defending DEIInsiders at UF—representing faculty, staff, and administration—allege that DEI practices are vigorously protected at the state's flagship university.
UF was recently named the No. 1 public university in the country by The Wall Street Journal. However, it ranked near the bottom for free speech in a new report by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).
A report on UF was released this spring by Christopher Rufo, a conservative writer, filmmaker, and activist who specializes in researching leftist programs that have been injected into education. He was appointed by Mr. DeSantis as one of six new board trustees for the New College of Florida.
Both reports show that the university created a far-reaching DEI bureaucracy that cost millions of dollars. Mr. Rufo's report tallied 1,018 separate DEI initiatives at UF, including a so-called Racists Anonymous program for employees.
Salaries for Chief Diversity Officer Marsha McGriff and three other employees in the office amount to almost $600,000, according to university records.
The chief diversity officer reports to UF President Ben Sasse, a former U.S. senator from Nebraska who began at the university in February. Mr. Sasse is a Republican.
Anti-racism efforts listed there include a workshop for staff and faculty in the art department run by The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond. The group offers lessons on social class and power because "the fabric of racism is inextricably woven and constructed into the founding principles of the United States."
The site encourages students to report "microaggressions," which are said to be biased remarks that may intentionally or unintentionally hurt someone's feelings. People who feel they've been victims of microaggressions are asked to give the perpetrator's name, the identity group targeted, and the incident location.
Name GameThe UF insiders told The Epoch Times that multiple colleges and departments at the university have changed the name of DEI programs to things such as "accessibility" or "culture" and "social impact."
The ideology remains the same, they said, and some of the UF insiders’ colleagues across the campus openly applaud the idea of continued promotion of DEI.
A review of the university's 16 colleges in August by The Epoch Times found hundreds of references to DEI or social justice. However, the terminology has been changed in some programs, efforts the insiders claim is an attempt to obfuscate social-justice messaging.
In other areas of the university, remaining DEI efforts are out in the open.
Colleges under the medical sciences umbrella still had DEI officers in place as of August, according to an insider who asked to be identified only as Chloe.
Defying the LawAltony "Tony" Lee III, the interim assistant vice chancellor for public affairs at the State University System in Florida, told The Epoch Times in an email that "indoctrination" has no place in higher education's mission.
"The State University System of Florida is 100 percent committed to the full implementation of SB 266," Mr. Lee wrote in the email.
That feeling isn't shared on the UF campus, said an insider who asked to be identified as Kate.
In August, an administrator in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences announced to faculty and staff that DEI is there to stay, despite the law, according to Kate.
"'The state has decided to get rid of DEI, but I'm here to tell you that we're not getting rid of it," the administrator told employees, she said. "We just rebranded it."
Others in the room voiced support, "kind of cheering," Kate said.
A third insider, who asked to be identified as Nadine, said she recently received an email from the UF Human Resources Department inviting employees to an optional "cultural wellness" training. At the end of the course, it was said to have been designed "to promote social justice," she said.
In August, an email from Human Resources to newly hired faculty included information about an orientation presented by the chief diversity office on "her personal DE&I philosophy," according to insider documents reviewed by The Epoch Times.
Employees and supervisors could earn certificates by completing training on "cultural inclusion," "managing hidden biases," or "LGBTQ+" inclusion.
There's nowhere for employees or students to report DEI practices inconsistent with the purpose of SB 266, insiders told The Epoch Times.
Skin Color Over MeritKate described "huge fights" on hiring committees about giving jobs to, in her opinion, less-qualified minorities over better-qualified people who happened to be white men. From Kate’s perspective, whites were only hired if they were overwhelmingly qualified.
She also says she has heard those advocating for DEI bluntly telling others on hiring committees, "We don't need any more white men."
"If the two candidates are close, and even if the white man is better, but it's close, they'll go with whoever the diversity hire is," Kate said.
Supervisors are required to take "inclusive hiring" training. At least one person on every hiring committee needs to complete the course, she said.
Further, based on Chloe’s observations, the university can get around the prohibition against race-based hiring by offering applicants an optional questionnaire in which they're asked to identify their race, gender, ethnicity, sex, and disability. Chloe believes that these "inclusive" hiring guidelines put white male job candidates at a disadvantage.
As for hiring practices, Chloe noted that if top candidates are white males, they likely get a phone interview, while minority candidates usually get invited to on-campus interviews.
Punishing Campus ConservativesThe DEI culture on the UF campus has created a hostile environment for conservatives or anyone who doesn't support DEI, according to the UF insiders.
"You feel like you're in danger—and I'm not even making that up—to be on campus and to be outed as a conservative," Kate said of her personal concerns.
She has seen flags in support of former President Donald Trump ripped off cars and witnessed alarmingly hostile student protests when conservatives were scheduled to speak on campus. She's worried about the potential for violence.
Managers check the voter registration of job candidates to make sure Republicans were weeded out, according to Chloe.
"It started to become very common practice, which is completely not appropriate," she said.
Kate and others say they hide their personal support for conservative ideas and lawmakers, while those who promote left-wing ideologies speak openly of their support.
"I'd love to have a DeSantis sign in my window," Kate confided.
But she fears retribution.
Activists didn't want Mr. Sasse to get the job because of his conservative stance on abortion and the LGBT movement. The protest reportedly was organized by groups including UF College Democrats, Graduate Assistants United, and Young Democratic Socialists, a communist organization that touts itself as one of the largest student groups at UF.
"He was forced out of the building, and staff were left with students banging on windows and yelling," UF insider Nadine said.
Democrats in ControlUF sits in the heart of Alachua County, a Democrat-controlled area in the center of a primarily conservative state. Democrats control city and county government, and voter rolls show that Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 2 to 1, according to state records.
Leftist activists in Alachua County routinely come onto campus and pose as students to agitate or protest, according to Chloe.
The campus culture takes a mental toll on conservatives, she said, because, as she perceives it, staff and faculty actively seek to identify dissenters.
"I had to change my voter status so I wouldn't be identified," Chloe said. "I cannot be honest about who I am and my beliefs because I would not be able to get promotions."
Similarly, Nadine expressed her opinion that employees moving up in their careers are those who embrace social justice ideology. For those not on board with left-wing causes, "it's very obvious that your career is going to stall here" at UF, she said.
People outside the university environment might not understand that a professor's entire career is at the mercy of his or her peers, Kate said, but that makes it extremely difficult to be successful as an open conservative in a liberal school.
Students in the CrosshairsIn December 2022, students attending a Florida university told The Epoch Times about their frustration with what they see as an anti-white, anti-Christian, and anti-American campus environment that made them feel uncomfortable at best and under threat at worst.
At UF, employees aren't the only ones being monitored for political affiliations, according to Chloe.
Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior adviser to President Trump's 2020 presidential campaign, came to UF to speak in 2019. Some administrators attended with the goal of identifying students that "they could no longer trust and associate with," according to Chloe.
Some students at UF have confided to Nadine that they've noticed that skin color and LGBT status can factor into success at the university, Nadine said.
Privately, white students have voiced concerns to her about a double standard and "different grading scales," she told The Epoch Times. They see minorities doing what they feel is less work but receiving the same degrees, she said.
The course asserts that minority students at UF must deal with "racial microaggressions."
The class syllabus states that UF, before desegregation began in the 1960s, "practiced an unyielding form of racism" that excluded black, Asian, and Latino students. The course encourages students to "fight discrimination and become activists," the description shows.
The Epoch Times requested comment from Ms. Grall but didn't receive a response by press time. Cynthia Roldan, UF's director of communications, and Steve Orlando, the university's interim vice president of strategic communications and marketing, also didn't respond to requests for comment by press time.
Despite these challenges to conservative voices, Nadine is committed to staying in her job at the university, she said, because someone has to stick around to fight the discrimination and ideological stranglehold that social justice has on campus.
"I pray every night that I will have wisdom to offer students," she said, "and [that] somehow, by staying, I will be the one to right the wrongs."