University of South Florida students defend affirmative action, demand increased Black enrollment
Tampa, FL – On Tuesday, February 21, around 20 students at the University of South Florida gathered outside of the Marshall Student Center to show their support for affirmative action and diversity programs, and to demand increased Black enrollment at their university. Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) called this protest alongside other SDS chapters to bring attention to two U.S. Supreme Court cases which might overturn affirmative action measures, one against Harvard University and one against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Speakers made references to the racist Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, who has demanded numbers for how much funding is spent on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs around the state. This move led Florida community college presidents to announce that they would restrict funding for diversity programs from this point on. He has also blocked the formation of an Advanced Placement course on Black history for high schoolers, and his policies demand that kindergarten through 12th grade teachers remove so-called “critical race theory” (teaching about the racism and oppression against Black, Chicano, Latino, Asian and other nationalities) from their curriculum.
The Florida legislature has passed similarly restrictive legislation barring minors from health care related to gender and sexuality. DeSantis has also begun bearing down on colleges for data on these services and its use by LGBTQ students and staff.
Students have been protesting at USF, calling for increased Black enrollment, since before 2020. In the wake of the Justice for George Floyd uprising, the university administration at the time promised that they would boost recruitment at Black-majority high schools in Tampa to meet this need. But they have not since acted on this promise.
“Here at USF, SDS has been fighting to increase Black enrollment on campus since 2020, but this is a fight that has been around since the 1960s,” said Lauren Pineiro, an organizer with Tampa Bay SDS. “Universities only changed their racist and exclusionary policies and implemented diversity programs because of student activism in the past. Only a strong student movement can save them now.”
Last month, student protesters disrupted the new university President Rhea Law's inauguration to remind her of the school's promise. Cowed by the protesters, Law in her speech said, “Big changes are coming.” But protesters correctly pointed out that these promises still prove empty.
Jaden Patel, an organizer with Tampa Bay SDS, spoke on the topic of education about Black history and said it was fundamental to understanding the United States.
“I had a great teacher in high school who taught me about Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and racist violence, but who also taught me about great revolutionaries such as Langston Hughes and Malcolm X,” Patel said. “It's essential that Black history be taught in schools. You can't erase what Black Americans have gone through over the last 400 years and then say, 'everyone in America lived happily ever after.' You need to teach the history of the struggle. We need to fight for this to be a part of everyone's education.”
Lauren Pineiro went on to present the protesters' demands: for the university to take a stand and own up to the promise they made three years ago.
“So, are we just going to sit by and let bigots like Ron DeSantis and the majority Republican-backed Supreme Court rip away access to education? Hell no!” Pineiro said. “We must defend affirmative action. We must demand that USF does not comply with any of DeSantis’s attacks on diversity. We demand that they save diversity programs and expand current programs to protect Black, Chicano and Latino students. We demand that USF owns up to its promises and increases Black enrollment now!”