UPDATE 1/11/23: Today the NAACP and others filed a motion to stop the memo below, on the grounds of the Federal Judge’s November injunction against the enforcement of HB7. It remains to be seen if that will stop the college administrations from compiling and submitting the lists anyway, but it’s a good first step.
If you pay any attention to Florida politics or Florida higher education, I’m sure you heard about the New Year “gift” our so-wonderful governor gave us. It was reported on in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, but in case you didn’t see that, here’s a copy of the memo sent by the Governor’s office just after Christmas to all State University System schools.
The important part to see there is the line “provide a comprehensive list of all staff, programs, and campus activities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory”. If you don’t find that horrifying then I’m begging you to read some American history about the Red Scare, the Lavender Scare, and other times when people of power have made “lists” of people they don’t like.
This is particularly troubling because DeathSantis is no longer even pretending that this isn’t about all DEIJ initiatives and “only” about critical race theory. The people caught up in this list, if the institutions follow the directive closely, would include such wide ranging groups as minority student unions, LGBT student unions, and others; employee affinity groups for marginalized groups; a huge range of Grant projects; and any DEIJ committees the university might have. This of course also targets specific professors who are teaching diversity-related courses, but it’s going to affect university staff as well such as library staff, grant staff, and others. This broadly-worded memo is nothing short of a witch-hunt for anyone who holds beliefs in line with what DeathSantis terms “wokeness” and what I would term “basic human decency”. Naturally, this is going to fall hardest on the most minoritized among us. Every person of color, LGBTQ person, and disabled person working at any school in the state of Florida has a big red target painted on their backs right now, and DeathSantis is taking aim. He is trying to make the entire state into a haven only for far-right ideology, and we are not stopping him, he is bulldozing right over us.
As both an LGBTQ and disabled person, I have to admit I’m scared. I’m looking at leaving the world of higher education, a world I love and have wanted to work in for almost 20 years, because it’s not possible for me to leave the state right now, but it is possible for me to join an organization not under the direct power of a fascist bigot. Things have already been precarious enough for minorities in higher education, with lack of pay and lack of union support, as well as constant political attacks throughout the state. But with the gloves now clearly off and the governor’s office aiming for a complete hostile take-over of all the bastions of progressive thought (see the New College Debacle for what that looks like), people are likely to start fleeing the state for their own safety. It’s already happening somewhat.
The biggest question right now though, is how the colleges and universities respond. Will they be thorough in their naming of names as the memo indicates, listing every tiny activity that even touches on DEIJ topics? After at least a decade of increased focus on DEIJ initiatives, that would make for a huge list, potentially touching on half the people on any given campus. Or will the institutions play dumb and only provide lists of things that actually have DEIJ in their name? That is a much smaller list, but still touches on quite a number of lives on each campus. January 13th is the deadline to submit the lists, which is a rather short window for a very thorough scan of campus activities. Will institutions drag their feet and claim they didn’t have enough time and make the governor extend the deadline? If they all got together and coordinated they could certainly do that. Drag this out long enough and eventually something might be done about it. Who will the institutions throw under the bus, and who will they protect with their silence? My money is on throwing black and queer people under the bus and painting targets on our backs for whatever DeathSantis has planned with these lists.
Because that’s the thing. Nobody makes a list just to file it away and never do anything with it. What is DeathSantis’ plan with the lists? What is he planning to do to start weeding out the people he doesn’t like? What overt actions will come from the lists, and what indirect actions will be taken? How public will these lists be, and how will that open those of us on the list to attack by right-wing terrorists tacitly supported by our very government? Maybe I sound like I’m catastrophizing from one memo, but we have seen these tactics before, and not even just in distant history. Making the lists was the very first step used to attack diverse books in libraries and deputize every conservative yahoo to harass innocent librarians. This is just expanding that list-making into new spheres, to start new witch-hunts to harm and demoralize minorities and their allies. This is a real and imminent threat and we must build up our communities to protect the most vulnerable from the reign of terror that we seem to be unable to stop in its tracks.
So, what are you prepared to do to protect your community members from this newest attack?